I figured I should celebrate the life of Chavez at a Venezuelan restaurant in London, but couldn’t find one. There is apparently one in some place called Crystal Palace, but I don’t know where that is. It’s probably not safe to go there. So I looked for other dictator food in London. The problem I discovered, is that modern dictatorships are pretty barren places for foodies.
Most nasties rule over oil rich kingdoms whose food seems to consist of some variant of ground chick peas and kebabs. Booze is usually banned and the water is imported. It’s a cuisine best left to impecunious college students. Another hotspot for dictators is Africa. I don’t get the point of becoming an African dictator – the countries are mostly dirt poor to begin with, so where’s the fun in becoming overlord? I didn’t feel like eating UN food rations either, so decided to keep looking for better dictator cuisine.
Spain is a late comer to democracy having being a dictatorship till 1975. Generalissimo Franco was properly nasty, although he did make the trains run on time which is a very hard thing to do in Southern Europe. Spain has good food and wine and was once Venezuela’s colonial master – it was an appropriate choice of cuisine with which to commemorate Comrade Hugo. I joined Mini Me and the Irish Cyclist at Camino Cruz del Rey (literally the path to the cross of the king) in the Regent’s Quarter, in King’s Cross. It’s not the most promising part of town to look for food and wine, but Camino and Bar Pepito, it’s sibling sherry bar across a courtyard, are a unique find.
This is a sprawling restaurant encompassing two decent sized rooms, the tiny sherry bar across the courtyard and lots of outdoor tables connecting the two. In the main restaurant we sat under a glass dome in a casual light filled room with rough wooden tables, leather banquettes, a zinc topped bar with low stools and plain grey flooring punctuated with splashes of colour from traditional Moorish tiles.
Bar Pepito serves fifteen different sherries from a changing menu – all available by the glass. The sherry here is a far cry from the ghastly tipple your incontinent aunt got pissed on. This is the good stuff ranging from fino, which is dry, crisp and pale; manzanilla, briny with a sharpness that hits you in the back of the throat; to darker richer styles like the Oloroso “antique” Fernando de Castilla which is incredible value at £7 (US $10) for a glass of 20 year old wine.
We ordered several rounds of dry sherry which is perfect as an aperitif, cleansing the palate and awakening the taste buds. The more compex, sweeter styles are perfect with a cigar after the meal. Camino has a good range of Spanish wines available by the glass, carafe and bottle. The serving sizes are well adapted to tapas and sharing, allowing the table to match the wine to the food and to personal preference. We had the Artesa Tinto Organica 2010, an organic rioja/tempranillo which was easy drinking with characteristic ripe plum and cherry flavours.
Tapas is the food order of the day here. We tasted a range encompassing chorizo, black pudding, padrone peppers (mild, deep fried peppers in salt – a personal favourite), tortilla, squid ink flavoured black rice and deep fried baby squid. This is not haute cuisine – it is simple, rustic fare and Camino does it well. We had wonderful service from our Argentinian waitress, including an in depth explanation of why she had the words “just take a deep breath” tatooed on her bosom. If you must get a tattoo, pick a phrase in a language you have a decent handle on…
Over more sherry we pondered whether we knew of any teetotallers we liked. Hugo Chavez was a teetotaller. By definition teetotallers are humourless individuals who get upset when other people are having a good time. We raised a glass to good times. Joder la revolucion!
A Little More Satisfactioning
There are a surprising number of dictators out there. Here’s a list. Their food isn’t always bad but you do have to pick your way carefully. Here’s a selection of London’s best dictator cuisine:
China – Visiting Chinese friends claim that Barshu has the best Sichuan cooking in London. The spices will leave you deliriously numb. The dim sum at Royal China regularly features amongst the best Chinese meals in London. For authentic Cantonese barbecued duck, served by authentic rude Cantonese waiters, go to Fours Seasons on Queensway. Take away is recommended.
Cuba - Floridita. Florida is where all the good Cubans live. Floridita is a celebration of the place that was Cuba. Live music and good food slightly spoiled by the bridge and tunnel clientele. Check out the Garden Room at the Lanesborough Hotel for a good selection of pre-Castro cigars.
Iran - Alounak (Bayswater and Olympia). My Iranian friends rave about this inexpensive BYOB restaurant. The ovens (which appear to burn the restaurants down at regular intervals) churn out wonderful breads and grilled meats.
Russia – Novikov. Okay it’s actually Italian and Asian cuisine but it’s run by Russians and you have to be an oligarch to afford to eat here.
Vietnam – Vietnamese cuisine is much more than pho (beef soup) and Cay Tre Soho teases out the subtle nuances.