Crisp, hot and heady with spice, the falafel is a stalwart of Middle Eastern cuisine. In search of an authentic experience of the chickpea fritter, I travelled to a small Palestinian café nestled in the heart of the curry mile.
The suitably named Falafel Café does not aim to compete for the diner’s attention in the neon glow that is created by the surrounding plethora of curry houses and shisha bars. An underwhelming and dimly lit front to the café gets straight to the point and simply states ‘Falafel’ in both English and Arabic. The bluntness of the exterior is a promising sign, it immediately instills a sense of hope that the substance of the experience is going to be in the quality of the falafel.
The initial reception on entrance to the café is not entirely welcoming, my friend and I are met by intrusive stares from the owner and his tea-slurping regulars. The owner sits confidently in the corner of the room assured of the fact that his falafel recipe will keep the doors swinging.
His confidence lacks any sociability with the customer, and his passiveness could almost be interpreted as a belligerence to the diner. The interior of the café has a canteen feel as the harsh industrial lighting strips the room of any ambience.
There is a splattering of interesting Palestinian kitsch’s across the walls which instil character into the otherwise nondescript room. On approach to the counter the staff are amiable and if asked will take their time to talk you through the various mezze and shawarma options available.
My friend and I settle on ordering one falafel mezze meal (given that it is the name sake of the café) and one lamb mezze meal (for the sake of diversity) with an Arabic coffee and mint tea to accompany.
We take our seats by the window of the café and start to warm to the auditory delights of the Arabian pop music that quietly fills the room. It is not long before the food comes, and it is soon apparent that the falafel is by far the superior dish.
The falafel’s perfectly crisp exterior gives texture to the dish whilst the gently crumbling warm interior gives all the flavour to the fritter. The spices of cumin, coriander and garlic are faultlessly balanced and it is easy to see why the falafel is such an indomitable feature of Middle Eastern cuisine. It becomes clear that the owner’s belief in his authentic falafel recipe is justified, and he remains quietly resting on his laurels in the corner of the room.
The mezze that accompanies the falafel and lamb consist of a parsley cucumber and tomato salad, home-made hummus, pickled beetroot, red cabbage, tahini and Kobeda wraps. They are clean and fresh and perfectly complement the falafel and lamb as the main stays of the dish.
The lamb is crisp and nicely spiced but a little dry, and by far the inferior dish to the falafel. The falafel is quick to go, and as my friend and I finish the lamb, we query any logic we had in ordering a lamb mezze at a café named Falafel.
Once all the food has been eaten, the excellent people-watching opportunities of the window seats on the curry mile provoked us to linger, as we soak in the fresh mint tea and Arabic coffee.
The food at falafel is incredibly reasonably priced; a falafel wrap will set you back just three pounds (the same price as a meal deal). There is also a broad range of Fatayer options available on the menu, if the falafel is not tickling your fancy.
A combination of the cheap price and the location of Falafel, being just ten minutes walk from the students union make it a great university lunch option. So next time you pass through the curry mile make sure to slow down, ignore the tidal wave of neon signs and loud traffic and keep your eyes posted for a quaint little block in the heart of the madness called Falafel.
Point of note: the owner smokes inside which may tarnish some people’s enjoyment of the experience.