Eating out in London can be pricey business – especially if you want quality food, plentiful quantities and nice wine. That's why Time Out's Cheap Eats section is so popular, people queue for hours, sometimes, for some bargainous and delicious lamb chops at Tayyabs. So if I told you about a basement Portuguese restaurant would do you the biggest meal you could imagine, meat, salad, sides, and lots of glorious red wine for £17, you'd think I was pulling your leg, right?
Well, I'm not, but it's so good I'm not going to broadcast here for the googles. I'll tell you about how excellent it is and get in touch if you want the details.
First up, like most cheap eats, don't bother if you want flashy décor, starched tabe cloths and subtle service. We're talking the basement of a shop on a main road in Stockwell. It's canteen like, paper table cloths, charmingly shabby and folksy, and, as is quite traditional for your workaday Portuguese joint, television mounted to the ceiling and on. But unlike many of London's cheap eats, you won't be rushed, table turned and the service is warm and generous.
I was running late so I didn't see whether there was a menu. I suspect there wasn't, and my friend Moira, who lives around the corner and whose Portuguese friends introduced her to the joint, just spoke to the waiter and he said what was available that day. Standard portuguese fare is quite simple – focused on meat, fish, potatoes and greens, all delicious for its freshness and the quality of the olive oil used.
The spread we ordered, between the seven of us, involved two plates of chips, a MASSIVE plate of salad, deep fried madeiran maize and herb cakes – bit like polenta, two sea bass and two hefty long skewers of flavoursome chunks of lamb which had been grilled.
The lamb hung on skewers from the ceiling and the waiter stuck a piece of bread at the bottom of the skewer to soak up all the meat's juice. The lamb was medium rare, but crispy and charred on the outside and so succulent, and just simply seasoned in salt and pepper and maybe a bit of paprika and garlic. It reminded me of distant memories of barbecues with family friends in Portugal, all that smoke and delicious meat.
The fish was, true to form, amazingly fresh. Just plainly presented with lemon, it was perfect with chips and salad. I've had so many meals in Portugal as simple as that, sat by the Atlantic and eating fish fresh out of it. This was up there with the best, although I'd have paid a bit more to be transported to having a seaview in Sesimbra.
There were no puddings, but when we asked about the other food they served, the waiter brought us a bowl of pearl barley soup to give us a taste of what else they did. And the wine was just astounding for the price. Even if I wasn't half Portuguese I'd still say Portuguese wine is some of the best in the world, once you've steered away from the Mateus Rose. Our red was bold and rich, and the quality surprised by not-yet-induced-into-the-world-of-Portuguese-wine-friends - we got through a good four bottles of it.
So yes, all that for £17 a head between the seven of us. I challenge you to find better value high quality food and wine in London. So if you're keen to go yourself, drop me a line on robbie(dot)desantos(at)gmail(dot)com