09 September 2010
The Hummingbird On Stroud Green Road
One of my favourite hidden restaurants in London has been for many years, The Humming Bird, at 84 Stroud Green Road, which serves traditional Caribbean cuisine. Sophie and I visited there on Monday with my brother, getting drenched on the way back in torrential rain. It is located on an interesting stretch of road that includes Cats for Thai food, Nandos for South African, Venezia for pizza and further down Dotori for Korea/ Japanese.
The Hummingbird is certainly not a place for the squeamish nor those who like their restaurants glamorous and glitzy, falling down on their decor, slow service, lack of ambience and they have had a credit card machine that has been broken for years (I suspect they have never had one). As for ambience, it has been empty save for us every time I have eaten there, but with a fairly busy take-out traffic. But I am one of those who likes that sort of decaying ambience, feeling uneasy, uncomfortable and generally becoming a clutz in smart and fancy places.
For me, it seems like traditional homely food like that your granny might make for you, rather than anything innovative. It is known locally as the roti place, so do not go too clever, but like in many restaurants around the country stick to the middle of the road and you will be fine.
We ordered Jerk Chicken, Sprats and Cheese & Potato Bake for Starters (Sophie had that for her main course) and Barbecue Chicken and Goat Roti for main courses. These were washed down with Carib beers, while I had a Seven Up. I then dared to try a couple of the traditional sweets sitting in the take away cabinet at the front.
The service was quick and we shared and enjoyed the decently spiced Jerk Chicken and Sprats that had the right amount of chilli heat. However, the Sprats are not done fresh to table as you can see them waiting obediently and prefried in the takeaway counter, so they lack that freshly fried, crisy lightness that I like from sprats or whitebait. The Cheese & Potato bake was fine, but I was not in the mood for it, as it was what it was - a cheese and potato bake.
The Goat Roti was just what I wanted - simple flatbread wrapped around a delicious goat curry*, which was well spiced in a traditional Trinidadian style curry. This really was good, family-style cooking. My brother ate Barbecue Chicken which was a good contrast to the spicy heat of the Jerk Chicken, with a good sweet barbecue sauce, although I would have liked some more smokiness and heat to come through than just straight sweetness. Overall, I thought these were good, middle of the road dishes.
I then ventured to try to traditional sweets that I had noted in the window over the years, but had always shied away from. Firstly, there was a garish looking coconut sweet with a bright red centre, and secondly, a 5cm diameter brown ball coated in sugar. The coconut sweet was tough and sweet and not as nice as having traditional coconut ice, while the ball was an experience. I was warned that "the tradition is that only pregnant women like these"; they are tamarind balls, where the tamarind is boiled with some sugar, moulded and then coated in sugar. By 'eck but it was sour, really bitterly sour and then it was full of the big tamarind seeds; let us put that one down to an experience, but one not to be repeated.
The cost of the whole meal (excluding tip) was £35 for three, which certainly wins on the value for money scale.
As I said at the outset, it still remains a great place for a simple meal. However, if you want anything extraordinary or to cater for more than a few people, this is not the place. But I still love it for its faults, because it does what it does well, really well, while it will remain a hidden gem because of its faults.
* Goat curry is often made with mutton in the UK, so do not be put off by the idea of goat.