Magazine article The Spectator

Granita, Euphorium and Jindivick

Magazine article The Spectator

Granita, Euphorium and Jindivick

Article excerpt

WHEN I lived in Islington in the mid-Eighties, Upper Street was a cheerless thoroughfare, dominated by Islington Town Hall, which suspended weekly totals of the unemployed from its ramparts. There were a few bleak and cheap restaurants, largely ethnic. A decade later, Islington has become trendy Blairland, and, according to Vicky Leffman, co-proprietor of Granita, there are now 92 places where you can eat in Upper Street. Thus eating out in Islington is no longer a matter of taking in a vegetarian curry surrounded by a coven of nursing mothers.

Vicky Leffman left her job in Marks & Spencer's head office to open Granita the name picked at random from a food dictionary - with her partner, the Egyptian chef Ahmed Kharshoum, early in 1992, and they are thus pioneers of chic Islington feeding. It was at Granita that Tony Blair had his historic dinner with Gordon Brown. It cannot have been the surroundings that inspired their harmony, for it is an unattractive, canteen-like, coffin-shaped room, with one wall white and the other yellow, and pin-head spotlights glaring from the ceiling. With nothing hanging on the walls and no carpet on the floor, the noise level is disagreeably high, and the seating on hard, varnished, wooden chairs uncomfortable.

Granita's surroundings may be grim but the cooking and service are admirable. The menu is short (five each of starters, main courses and desserts), and Mr Kharshoum's cooking pleasantly idiosyncratic with an oriental flavour. Trainee headhunter Shauna Cockburn and I both enjoyed our meals. She began with a flat mushroom, leek and potato soup, with chervil, which she found clearly flavoured, with the chervil adding a nice twist, and I had an excellent peppery Thai mackerel salad, with ginger, lemon grass, chilli, coriander and roasted peanuts. Shauna continued with roast pheasant, accompanied by mushrooms, tarragon, tomato, spinach, and roast potatoes that could have been crisper, and I had good grilled calves' liver interestingly accompanied by a pumpkin raviolo, delicious sage fritters, and grilled courgettes: an exemplary dish. To finish, we shared a pleasing cold butterscotch pudding with fresh raspberries, and, with coffee and a bottle of Vacqueyras 1994 from an intelligently chosen list, our bill came to a reasonable 49.20 plus service. Granita also offers a set lunch at 11.95 for two courses and 13.95 for three. Not a pretty restaurant, but one doing a good job.

Euphorium is further up Upper Street towards Highbury Corner, and has just expanded into the premises next door, though the Monday night I ate there customers were distinctly lacking. …

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