Who doesn’t love a good Mediterranean grill house? There’s something refreshing about the lack of pretension and the unshowy consistency.
The local default is City Road, where there’s a cluster of good ones, but this is another dispatch from the Canton food mile.
If you’re planning on a takeaway, you wait at tables in the front: but if you want to enjoy your meal ‘in’- and you should- then you’ll have to take it in the rear. In a manner of speaking.
No, really, wait: it gets better, honest. In that little dining room at the back, a mish-mash of wooden panels, exposed brick, rugs and tiles seats just under 40. Drinks choices are limited: there’s no alcohol, so the closest you’ll get to toasting each other with orange wine is with cans of Fanta.
You might want to make sure you’re wearing your glasses too, because from a certain angle you can easily mistake one frieze for the Canton headquarters of some ancient fertility cult, or something to rival the more debauched secret frescoes of Pompeii.
Which begs the question: if a massive eruption was to suddenly engulf Canton, what would anthropologists two thousand years hence make of the evidence? Ah Canton. You’re never boring.
They have a cafe just up the road, recently rebranded as Hoja’s, run by the owner’s sister, which does the kind of Turkish coffee which gets your day off to a good start and various btpreakfssts and lunches. (Have the menemem). But SEN is all about what comes off that grill. There are burgers but you don’t come here for a burger. You come here for plenty of lamb and chicken. Plenty of chicken and lamb and smoke.
This food is made for sharing so we order a heaped mixed shawarma and dig in.
‘Kissed by smoke’ and ‘a lick of char’ are the go-to clichés here, so we’ll take those as read. I’m sure I’ve used those before and if I haven’t someone soon will. And more than once. We come back for a heaped helping of the good stuff: kofte, shish, shawarma. All exactly how you’d want them to be- juicy, tender, well seasoned, subtly herby, gently smoky. And plentiful.
Lamb chops have been marinated in a bath of olive oil, Turkish pepper paste biber salcasi and chilli flakes, finished with a flurry of parsely, and all you want to do is pick them up and get to work, loving how tender they are tender and worrying at the little singed strips of flesh which cling to the length of the bone until your hands smell of meat and smoke. Which is always, always a good thing.
But it’s the consistency that makes this a place to recommend- it’s easy to sneer at places like this as ‘just another kebab house’. The skill in delivering plate after plate of expertly judged grilled meat shouldn’t be overlooked. These people know their stuff.
I’m not smitten with the bread- on one of our three recent visits it’s limp and uninviting, and even when fresher it falls short of the made to order stuff you’ll find at the best of City Road, those blistered, crisp-soft naan from the likes of KBS or the soon to reopen Mowlana. But that’s a quibble: the grill at SEN will make sure you leave full, happy and planning your next one.
SEN BBQ, 146 Cowbridge Road East
Tuesday to Sat: 2-11pm
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.