Taste of Lewisham. If you asked the average person what that is, they’d say “guns.” I’ve lived there for years though and I love it. It’s in the middle of a facelift. Where they could be building more affordable homes, they’re building a hotel. I look forward to that coming in very handy, in 4098, when the Olympics come back to Greenwich.
Lewisham’s an exciting place to live for a food-loon. I met a chap on a cookery course who told me of this “hidden gem.” He said Taste of Lewisham didn’t look much but was the best Sri Lankan food in London. So Mikey (my fellow) and our friends Luke and Alexa were excited.
If I hadn’t had the heads-up about the décor, I’d have jumped ship immediately. Strip-lighting buzzed over scratched black glass tables and plastic chairs. Three huge fridges roared about being on like robot lions. It was like sitting down to eat in the lovechild of a prison and an air hanger.
It was empty and, humiliatingly, I’d booked. We opened our paper menus and began decoding. It was impossible to work out what was enormous or tiny and we had communication issues with our waiter. I considered ordering a Rose Milk. Mikey said it sounded like one of Agatha Christie’s victims. None of us were fussy; we were game for an adventure. We ordered a random selection of things which seemed the most unknown to us.
The food began arriving in small enough portions so as not to scare us but the presentation did. Every single item came so covered in giant slabs of raw onion and tomato that you couldn’t see it.
We had an aubergine bhaji which was really delicious. Lightly spiced and melting, with a hint of caramel where it had been delightfully slow-cooked. I wish we’d left then.
We had small fried balls of chicken and paneer. More intriguing was Fish Fry: fried king fish. It was a paprika-red slab of fish, skin on and massive spine bone still in, next to half a lime and, wait for it, about half a raw onion. It looked like it was going to be a mouthful of Uluru but it turned out to taste of oily raw onion.
Finally our bravest starter, Thair Vada. A bowl of deflated, savoury, warm doughnuts served in a bowl of cold, plain yogurt full of dry curry leaves. Fascinating. It made your mouth pop with giant cumin and mustard seed explosions of joy. Then grimace, twitching, at its slimy hot-cold lumpiness.
Then out came the feast of tragedy. Enormous serving-dish after giant-bowl after mega-plate. Usually I’d have just asked for a doggy bag. I’ll happily trough up leftover curry for breakfast but it wasn’t that sort of dinner.
I had Vegetable Kothu Roti. It was rice with peas and raw onions which came next to a hot sauce. If it was on Masterchef they’d have called it ‘textures of dynamite’. Mikey had a crab curry. It was a whole crab with a sort of murky, grey paste of power-spices on it and no necessary tools to get into it. Then Luke and Alexa’s curries arrived which were 90% lava. Then came the dosas. What’s a dosa? Well, it turns out it’s a two-foot-long, fried stiff, sweet pancake. Inside are bits of grizzled lamb with bones, egg, raw tomato and MORE RAW ONION, next to some dips. In its favour: it smelled incredible. Not in its favour: everything else. It all tasted of fire and grit. It was a messy muddle of heavy spices, lost nuance and cut, crabby hands.
Alexa’s ‘strawberry’ one had as much to do with a strawberry as lard has to do with one of your ‘five a day’. It was a luminous glass of crystals of bright pink sugar and jelly. Just looking at it gave me a headache. My plain one was worse. It was a pint of bitter yogurt mixed together with an entire sea of salt. It made me gag. Then we found a hair in it. BLURGH. To everyone else’s delight Luke renamed the drink ‘ejaculatte’. I think it was the worst thing any living being has ever put in a glass. The staff just grinned at us. It felt less like being in a restaurant and more like being in a zoo.
I’ve never seen the man who recommended it again, which is lucky for him.
Taste of Lewisham, 19 Lee High Road, Lewisham, London, SE13 5LD
Tel: 0208 297 6452
Opening Hours: 11am – 11pm (every day)
Accessible: Step-free access to the restaurant but there are two steps to the very small and narrow toilet.