Croatia

Riviera Bistro, 265 High St, Acton, London W3 9BY

11 April 2016

A pleasant spring evening brings us to Acton for Croatian food. Spirits are high, with Croatia a long-favoured holiday destination for at least two thirds of our party. Memories abound of a rainbow of home-made liqueurs, roasted sheep’s head, stuffed cabbage and seafood so fresh it’s still trying to swim.

We find Steve sitting in the window, looking ready as ever. He’s already checked the menu in search of Zagorski štrukli, as recommended by his Croatian friend Niko. It’s not available, but the Riviera Bistro does offer pleasant Croatian pop music, folky, with accordions, and a warm welcome – a smiling, motherly approach, and a sense of someone eager to share the food of their homeland with you. It’s a shame, therefore, that there’s no-one here but us. Business is bad in the area, we are told, and they are pleased we have travelled to find them.

Slivovitsa

Non-Croatian wine with a slivovitsa chaser.

There’s no Croatian wine available today, so we take French, then get some Slivovitsa to go alongside it. This plum brandy is sweet but not syrupy, and we choose Sir od Dalmacije (slabs of Dalmatian cheese) as hors d’oeuvres. The cheese is pleasant, if a little mild in flavour, but is well complemented with prosciutto and olives. We add Prženi kolutići lignje (deep-fried calamari), with high expectations, since it’s a common dish out there and – it’s calamari. Not bad, but tending slightly towards the rubbery.

Sir od Dalmacije

Sir od Dalmacije and friends.

For mains we order Pašticada, a dish of slow cooked beef served with gnocchi, and Pileća prsa u šugu, chicken breast with oyster mushroom sauce and roast potato chunks. The pašticada sauce is very intense, a rich red-wine reduction with parsley, nutmeg, prunes, and plenty of tomato among other elements. It is quite sweet, very tangy, and quite delicious at first taste, though it overpowers everything on the plate so that meat and gnocchi impart only texture, and it becomes a bit much. The meat itself it a bit stringy, and doesn’t melt as you might hope after a good slow-cook.

The chicken is good, though the sauce is a touch too creamy. Subtlety is not the order of the day, but the oyster mushrooms and penty of pepper add a punch of flavour that keeps things interesting.

We conclude with Rožata, a Dalmatian creme caramel that proves creme caramel is similar the world over, and Knedle sa šljivama, sweet plum dumplings made with a fried shell of potato, which are the absolute star of the show, warm, comforting, and very moreish. This is accompanied by a digestif of Orahovica walnut schnapps, a smooth Croatian classic that should really be served with every meal.

Riviera Bistro

The quiet life, in the Riviera Bistro.

The Riviera Bistro serves solidly-made Croatian food, and is worth seeking out for anyone with a taste for the Dalmatian coast. It isn’t the slickest iteration of this cuisine, but it certainly offers all the right flavours.

Scores

Food: 3.5/5
Atmosphere: 4/5

Congo, Democratic Republic of

The Bash, 71 West Green Rd, London N15 5DA

30 October 2015

When we arrived at The Bash, at just after 7 on a Friday evening, we were the only customers – usually a bad sign in a restaurant. Not so in The Bash. With mixing decks against one wall, tv screens and mirrors abound, and a couple of ornate golden thrones positioned expectantly behind a velveteen curtain, it was clear that the party was on its way to Seven Sisters; we’d simply arrived embarrassingly early.

The Bash serves ‘Congolese and African cuisine’, so we were keen to sort the chef’s specialities from the more general crowd-pleasers. Nigerian Guinness was the best we could do from the drinks list. It’s almost exactly like Guinness, but it’s been escorted out of Ireland, marched over to Nigeria, and then shepherded back to the UK, which makes it much stronger (and yes, they drink it in the Congo). Sophie opted for a large red wine, and large it was: approximately half a bottle. A not unpromising start then, and we turned to the menu.

Deciding to hedge our bets, we went for a mix of dishes between us. The chicken in peanut sauce sounded a safe option to everyone, and it proved to be rich without being claggy. Ntaba, or grilled goat, had a delicious barbecue flavour, very smoky, lightly spiced, dark in colour, and moreish. The grilled freshwater tilapia was served whole, slow-cooked with onion and tomato, and pulled pleasingly away from the bone with a good measure of moistness. It was served with a selection of chilli sauces, one of which was ferociously hot – though I won’t spoil it for you: you’ll have to visit and brave your own game of sauce roulette for that.

The side dishes were a little unpredictable. ‘Sweet potato’ was actually fried and baked plantain on this occasion, but we pretended not to notice. The revelation was the Kwanga: cassava bread, another member of the fufu family which we’ve laboured through on countless other occasions. In appearance this particular version was akin to the Cameroonian tentacled version we had recently in Deptford, which was one of the worst of the lot, being rubbery, dry, and confusing. Incredibly, The Bash’s version was not bad. It was well balanced, lightly salted, moist, and entirely edible. We didn’t finish it, but we could have, and that’s the point. Fufu is the filling food of much of the world, just like the humble potato here. And, just like our subterranean staple, it turns out fufu can be made palatable in the right hands (admittedly, not ours), so well done The Bash.

We’d gone in with low expectations, which can be great preparation for this sort of thing. It may have been the Nigerian Guinness, huge wines, sparkling setting ,or the fact that we’d managed fufu, but we emerged into the night well fed, and with a newfound sense of optimism.

Food: 3/5
Atmosphere: 3/5