Restaurant: The Village
By Boeing: 4038 miles
By Boris Bike: 4.1 miles
Hammersmith is little more than a populated roundabout. Unless you chance upon the river where a brace of fine old pubs await dining options are plentiful but unenticing. Catering predominantly for well oiled, late night stragglers baffled into foraging by the sheer volume of bus stops in the vicinity kebab shops compete cheek by jowl with pizzas. Nestled amongst these is a poorly lit corridor. I walked a few yards in before retracing my steps to check the sign outside. I progressed once more towards an unmanned coffee machine. Thankfully I saw a waitress walk past and down some stairs hidden from view. I followed nervously. It opened out into a tiled basement with red walls, scattered with occasional tables. I took up residence in the corner, close to a shelf gouged out of the wall and sparsely adorned with cultural objects.
It was half full on a Monday night, which was impressive. Most of the other diners were Somalian teenagers occasionally pausing smartphone videos to try some food. On the nearest table was a Somalian émigré introducing a Sri Lankan friend to his cuisine. It gave me the chance to earwig and learn something. The key ingredients were sweet potato, avocado, lamb, chicken and prawns. A few sprinkles of a very hot sauce appeared to liven things up. But what first caught my eye were the drinks. With no alcohol on offer the accent was on juices and smoothies. I briefly considered an avocado smoothie but couldn’t quite square the concept of a savoury smoothie. Neither did I splash out on a pitcher of Vimto, through fear that the resultant sugar rush could lead to fainting in the corridor.
Having selected a 7 Up I browsed the starters. There was an impressive choice: Somali falafel, chicken with pineapple or avocado, crispy cheese or goats cheese and salad. The Arabic influence along with a bountiful larder made for a compelling choice. But being contrary I ordered Moofo, a traditional bread, and sauce. The bread was heavy, unleavened and very far from being unpleasant. The sauce though was distinctly odd, a tepid, oddly sour leek soup.
For the main I plumped for a pancake. An odd choice you may think, but I was thinking back to glorious Ethiopian and Eritrean injeras, stuffed with curries and spiced lentil. In so doing I overlooked lamb shanks and spatchcock chicken. Pleasurable and nourishing sounds came from the neighbouring table shortly after more dishes were served. My pancake turned out to be conventionally English, or at least much closer to our February staple than the bubbling buckwheat platters of East Africa. It was filled with marinated and fried chicken nestled in a tomato and cream sauce and topped with cheese and a salad. It was very tasty though disappointingly unexotic.
Learning from my fellow diners I added some of the chilli sauce and was rewarded with heat and tang.The Somalian community in London has grown considerably in size and it is perhaps surprising that there are not more restaurants showcasing its cuisine, particularly given the variety of dishes available. Perhaps it is a cuisine suited to home cooking, to feasts shared with family. That is what the village offers, albeit a family feast served in a dark, poorly lit basement.