Review: Rodells, Watford

Feast

Feast

They say the best things in life are worth some effort. If you want some excellent food, popping to the food court at the shopping centre ain’t going to make your taste buds’ dreams come true. So when I say that you all better bloody travel to Watford, you better bloody travel to Watford. In fact, I’m probably going to be shouting about this for the rest of the year. Zone 3 just became so much trendier. Watford is the place to go. Watford is the new East London. (Just with fewer moustaches and fixies.)

All of this enthusing is due to one place: Rodells.

Rodells... usually found without monkey-girl on lamp post

Rodells… usually found without monkey-girl on lamp post

Rodells

Rodells

Rodells is more than a restaurant; it’s an institution. It’s a food haven, a theatre, a family home, an evening hang-out and a democracy.

Rodells is the kind of place where you can spend five hours enjoying a meal. Which is exactly what we did.

Admittedly, I was a little sceptical when I received an email inviting me to Watford, but as I read on, my interest was piqued. Most restaurants have a speciality, even if it’s broad and regional in scope. ‘Modern European’ or ‘Pan-Asian’ might sound familiar. My most eclectic experience was probably when I visited a restaurant in Brasov that specialised in Mexican, but also served Hungarian and Romanian (and incidentally was fantastic).

Rodells takes eclecticism to a new level. The theme: world tapas. The reason: one man called Mario Tavares.

Cooking is like taking a photograph, Mario tells us. There is that one second where everything aligns and you have a beautiful shot, and a second later, the moment’s gone.

We’re sitting in a cosy upstairs room with Monty Python projected on the back wall. Rodells is a rather characterful property on the corner of some crossroads. Downstairs is a bar and some wooden counter seating, and larger restaurant tables are dotted around the two upstairs rooms.

Silent entertainment

Silent entertainment

Spending his early years in Macau, Mario moved to London just before his teens. However, the capital couldn’t contain him: he travelled the world as musician and film producer, playing for Motorhead, Paul Young and Keith Allen when he was a stand-up. During his adventures, he did what any self-respecting foodie would do and ate his way through a variety of cuisines. Yet Mario took his love of food one step further: he tracked down recipes.

‘I do a Thai green curry that’s not a Thai green curry,’ he tells us, perched at our table. ‘I learned the recipe in Kerala.’ It’s the kind of story that makes you blink twice. Whilst on the beach, he had been approached by a guy who sold three items: coconut oil, green curry and sunglasses. Brave or reckless – take your pick – Mario tried the curry and was blown away to the point where he pestered the man for the recipe.

Mario is clearly as creative as his background and the surrounds suggest. Food for him is ‘performance’; it’s an art form. Before he creates anything, he visualises it clearly in his mind. The theatrics extend to visitors’ dining experiences. Originally, each table had a blackboard built into them, each with a different menu. People had to strategically choose their menu depending on what they wanted to eat. For a past Valentine’s Day event, Mario hired an actress to sit drinking wine alone at a table. Whenever anyone went to the toilet, she would follow them and have an angry conversation on her phone at her good-for-nothing boyfriend who’d stood her up. This idea is so cheeky and hilarious that I grin every time I think of it.

As for the menu, we weren’t quite prepared for the scope of it: Korean, English, Portuguese, Louisianan, Caribbean, Cuban, Mexican, Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Spanish, Lebanese, Cantonese… the list goes on.

Arriving at Rodells, we had been greeted by a tall, good-looking young man, who thankfully insisted on talking us through the list of world cuisines.

‘I’m very into food,’ he said.

‘I’ve come to the right place,’ I thought.

Is our waiter a red hot model? Why yes. Am I posing shamelessly with him? Why yes?

Is our waiter a red hot model? Why yes. Am I posing shamelessly with him? Why yes.

Choosing what to order was agony. Today’s menu contained no less than 28 tapas dishes and three larger dishes. As an obsessive foodie, I got out my biro and began marking ‘definites’ and ‘potentials’, whilst grilling our waiter, Louis, on his preferences. The menu changes daily; Mario’s repertoire consists of 130 dishes that he has collected over the years. He has two assistant chefs, Louis informed us, but they can only cook four dishes to the right standard. We all try them and vote whether they’re good enough, he explained. What a lovely gastronomic democracy.

Pretty pretty food

Pretty pretty food

Flat iron steak

Flat iron steak

In the end, we ordered one of the ‘mains’ that Louis raved about – flat iron steak (£14.50). This was served beautifully rare with a delicate pepper cream sauce and some of the best frites that we’ve had in a while – frites that actually tastes of potatoes rather than crispy air. The steak was clearly fantastic quality but had been a little over-enthusiastically peppered, which detracted from the flavour of the beef itself. Fortunately, the cream sauce did much to alleviate any mouth-burning and was also delicious in its own right.

Mac 'n cheese sushi style

Mac ‘n cheese sushi style

Next up, we had ‘mac n cheese sushi style’ (£8). Before you wrinkle your nose with revulsion, let me state now that no raw fish was mixed with cheese or pasta! The macaroni cheese is cooked, then rolled in breadcrumbs into a cylindrical shape and sliced like sushi. Each delicate ‘sushi’ piece is then topped with a blob of sweet mustard sauce. Not being the biggest macaroni cheese fan in the world and highly wary of ordering pasta out in this country, we only chose this based on rave reviews from previous bloggers and being assured it was a ‘favourite’.

One mouthful and its popularity suddenly made sense. It was not the rubbery, chewy lump I had expected but was soft with perfect consistency. The cheese, in our opinion, was a little too strong for the dish, but we fully enjoyed the concept: it’s rare that a single dish becomes an experience in itself.

Nonya chicken curry

Nonya chicken curry

Next up, we tucked into another customer favourite – ‘nonya chicken curry’ (£6), described as the ‘sexiest curry in the world’. Nonya – or nyonya – is a Malaysian curry that’s prepared by women for women. Women feeding women? How could that not be sexy?! Seriously, and with all mildly crass jokes aside, this curry had a very sexy flavour. It was mild but rich, with faint hints of lemongrass. The chicken was a little dry, but the sauce was so amazing that I would happily eat this every day. I would drink it for breakfast.

Jambalaya with some mac n cheese sushi style to the left

Jambalaya with some mac n cheese sushi style to the left

Along came a jambalaya with prawns and chorizo (£6). The rice was cooked to perfection and pepped well with fresh oregano. Sadly, the chorizo was bland and so there was little smoky, garlicky, paprika flavour to permeate the rice. This was the only disappointment for me.

Portuguese stifado

Portuguese stifado

For the savoury dishes, we finished off with a Portuguese stifado (£6), which Mario sometimes also calls Greek stifado as the dish is also found there. This is a beef stew that’s wonderfully flavoured with cassia bark – like a warmer, less sweet and earthier variation of cinnamon. It’s a dish that is truly comforting and is popular across the ages.

The dessert menu was profoundly traumatic. There was far too many delicious things begging to be sampled. In the end, we ordered three desserts – purely for quality control purposes. Obviously. Ahem.

Marry me.

Marry me.

The brownies (£4.50) were pleasant yet unremarkable, but the lemon and ginger cheesecake (£4.50) was marriage material. The base was crisp and thin and the flavours were so expertly balanced that the lemon and ginger pulled off a perfect duet in my mouth, scoring a 10.

The best carrot cake in the world

The best carrot cake in the world

Concluding the munchathon, we delved into possibly one the tastiest carrot cakes in the world (£4.50). It was again harmonious with warm spice cut by beautiful sweet icing. This is the kind of cake that would audition other cakes to get into cake heaven.

If food is performance, then Mario has mastered his ingredients well – they sing and dance to the taste buds. Occasionally, they might miss the odd beat but the show remains a stunning success.

Rodells 4.5/5 – Brilliant tapas-style dishes from around the world in a homey setting. Bring your friends and dig in!

Food 4/5
Value 4/5
Service 5/5
Atmosphere 5/5

Web: www.itsrodells.com / @itsrodells
Where:
1a St Johns Road, Watford WD17 1PU
When:
Lunch 11 – 3pm; Dinner 5 – 11pm; Breakfast – delivery to some local post codes.

A Meal at Mosob / Why I Want to Move to Eritrea

Injera plus delicious dishes...

Injera plus delicious dishes…

The place: Mosob
The food: Eritrean

Original article: The Beaver

London is a food-lovers’ haven by anyone’s standards, but it’s particularly exciting if, like me, you grew up in the English countryside. In these dark backwaters, the only restaurant serving ‘foreign’ cuisine is a Pizza Express or an occasional Ask—unless you count the obligatory Chinese and Indian take-aways. Such a background means that London presents itself as a gourmet gauntlet, where each cuisine must be sampled and the best restaurant found.

It was with this mission in mind that I found myself trusting the Circle Line and heading out to the distinctly suburban Westbourne Park for some Eritrean cuisine. This was guaranteed to be different.

Unassuming from the outside, Mosob is tastefully furnished with wood and basket lampshades, invoking an Eritrean theme.  The term ‘mosob’ refers to the traditional, circular, handwoven table, on which Eritrean food is served and communally enjoyed.  Sadly, while there were examples of Eritrean serving plates with their basket lids dotted around the restaurant, diners do not actually enjoy a meal from one of these beauties, but must accept a plain old table.

On arrival, we were initially worried by the absence of other customers, but we were early and the restaurant soon started to fill with diners and their discussions of which dishes to share. We were greeted warmly and were talked through our dining options, settling on the Massawa two-course set menu (£33.95). This is especially designed for novices, or to get diners to eat more than they would normally, or perhaps both.

For those who are new to Eritrean cuisine, an integral part of any meal is injera, a flat, round bread that essentially looks like the love-child of a crumpet and a pancake. Spongy and sour, it is used as both cutlery and a plate. Dishes are served on top of the injera plate, and separate rolls of injera are used to scoop up the food, with the base being saved until last. A spoon should only be used for applying sauces, but may be appropriated for eating if you’re sneaky and realise that the scooping method is a lot harder than it looks.

Injera rolls

Injera rolls

Our starters proved that injera really does come with everything. We had spinach injera rolls, timtimo (red lentil) injera rolls, and some falafel. Though tasty in their own right, these were enhanced by the accompanying spiced yoghurt and awaze, a fermented chilli paste that is similar to kimchi in its tanginess. On instructions to mix the two, we quickly discovered that our preferences were divided, much to the amusement of our waitress: “That is how it always works out. One person loves the chilli, the other loves the yoghurt.”

Having polished off the starters, we were promptly served a giant plate of four dishes and salad, smothering an injera base. Before tucking in, we were given further etiquette instructions. You must eat only with the right hand and you should never lick your fingers. Within 5 minutes, however, it was too late: food dribbled over our hands, as we scooped and gorged our way through a meal of spectacular tastes.

The meat dishes consisted of derho quluwa—cubed chicken sautéed with peppers and onions—and the smoke-inducing zigni. Listed on the menu as a “richly spiced lamb stew”, this description did not even go half way to encapsulating the depth of flavours that erupted and evolved with every mouthful. Those who struggle with spice should avoid this dish. I must confess that I required an extra pot of yoghurt but our waitress approved: ‘I always eat it with yoghurt,’ she explained, ‘not because the spice is too much for me, but because the yoghurt brings out the flavours better’. My hardened, spice-loving friend suddenly began spooning copious amounts of yoghurt onto his plate.

The show-stealer of the evening, however, was not the zigni, although it was a very close call. It was not even a meat dish. Surprisingly, the timtimo crept up on us and won. It simply consisted of red lentils cooked with onions, garlic and spices, but its flavour went beyond the straight heat of chillies to a warm spiciness that was infused with a faint hint of sweetness.

Yum

Yum

The Massawa set defeated us: ‘the best bit’—the base of the injera soaked with all the sauces was left shamefully unfinished. The meal ended with some rather weak tea, but this could not detract from the overall happiness from satisfied bellies, friendly service and a pleasant atmosphere.

For a reasonably-priced, superb set meal, and with plenty of other options on the menu, a trip to Mosob should be an imperative. Gather a group and go and gorge. The weather may be cold and Westbourne Park may be a trek, but Mosob has enough spice to warm you up for weeks.

Mosob 4.5/5

Food 5/5
Service 5/5
Value 4/5
Atmosphere 4/5

From Taiwan to Ethiopia

Chicken with coriander in a traditional restaurant in Taipei

Earlier this year, I spent a long weekend in Taipei and fell in love with the place. Of course, one thing that greatly impressed me was the food – familiar from my time in China, but with elements unique to Taiwan, such as the heavy use of garlic and coriander. Imagine my excitement when I found out that there was going to be a Taiwanese food festival in London.

Tickets had sold out online but were available on the door; my friend and I duly queued up at the Irish Centre (a bizarre choice of venue) and waited, eyeing up people with goodies walking past.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. An official cut us off and turned us away. All tickets were sold out.

Hungry and downtrodden, we were determined to be well-fed. Utilizing the power of technology (ie. a smart phone), we left Irish Taiwan and trekked a mile to Ethiopia.

The Place: The Queen of Sheba
The Food: Ethiopian

Queen of Sheba has a charm, a kind of homey cosyness. We sat down and after much debate about just how spicy the chef’s special spicy sauce would be, ordered two dishes to share:

Ingudai W’et – “A delicious mushroom stew marinated in onion, olive oil, ginger, garlic, simmered in red pepper and wine sauce.”

Doro Alicha W’et – “Tender chicken on the bone, simmered in a mild blended sauce of Ethiopian butter, onion, ginger, garlic and cardamom.”

This was my first time eating Ethiopian food, and for those who are also new to it, let me explain.

All dishes are served on a spongy, sour flatbread called injera, which is how I imagine the offspring of a pancake/crumpet coupling would turn out. It is traditionally made with teff flour, but the owners explained to me that they were having some difficulty mixing teff flour with English water, and were therefore using a variety of flours instead. (Teff is also very expensive in the UK). It is always served in a sifet, a kind of basket.

Sifet

Injera acts as both cutlery and a plate. You break off small pieces from the rolls and use them to scoop up the dishes. Once the rolls are finished, you can start on the “plate”, the best bit as we were told, because it has already soaked up all the flavours.

On its own, I found it far too sour but it complimented the strong flavours of the dishes. I also found it far too heavy, leaving me longing for a spoon!

Doro Alicha W’et (chicken stew) in the middle, Ingudai W’et (mushroom stew) at the edges

No-one can accuse Ethiopian food of being bland. The flavours pack a powerful punch, but it’s hard to distinguish the ingredients individually. Out of the two stews, the chicken was my favourite – I found it had a creamy, citrus flavour (although no citrus was mentioned!)  which went well with the injera. My friend preferred the mushroom stew, but I found the tangy pepper sauce obliterated the taste of the mushrooms.

Overall, the flavours were a little one-dimensional for me. Sometimes as you eat, flavours transform over the course of a mouthful or even a few mouthfuls. These dishes gave their one shot flavour bomb, and I was left craving a bit of depth and variety.

However, settled in a cosy room, tearing food apart with my hands, and being served by a very friendly Ethiopian couple meant that my visit to the Queen of Sheba was extremely enjoyable. I intend to return and try some of the fried dishes and a creamy stew. I think there could be some winning dishes just waiting to be discovered. Alternatively, if anyone has any recommendations for Ethiopian cuisine, please email me.

Overall 4/5

A great place to try good quality Ethiopian food in a relaxed setting.

Food 3.5/5 – I couldn’t fault the quality, but the flavours didn’t have the wow factor. It might have been my personal taste – I intend to go back and try more dishes.

Value 4/5 – Dishes ranged from about £8 – £11. Although small on initial inspection, when combined with injera, there is no way you could leave with an empty stomach.

Atmosphere 4/5 – Relaxed and cosy.

Service 5/5 – The couple couldn’t do enough to help us order, advise the chef to go easy on the spiciness (my friend and I can only do medium), and explain about Ethiopian cuisine. Really delightful.