‘I ate at the ‘best’ Somali restaurant in London and the food was so good I felt like I was stealing when they only charged me £9′5 min read
The portions at London’s ‘best’ Somali restaurant are almost twice the size of what other restaurants would give you
I must admit I was a little underwhelmed when I turned up to the Somali Town Restaurant in Streatham, South London. On first impressions, it didn’t look at all like a restaurant that had been rated 4.7 out 5 stars on both Google and Deliveroo.
Looking in from the outside on Gleneagle Road, it didn’t seem to me a lot of thought and effort had been put into the design of the restaurant, and my opinion this didn’t change after I entered. To be honest, it felt more like stepping into an internet café than a top rated restaurant.
There wasn’t anyone greeting me at the door and showing me where to sit. When I asked for a table for one I was just told “you can sit anywhere brother”, even though most places had been taken. I found a table that already had a plastic pitcher of water on it and sat down, assuming it was free, and a waiter soon came to take my order.
It was going to be my first time trying Somali food, so I wasn’t sure what to get. I asked the waiter for a menu and he simply said “brother, you see me, I am the menu”. I laughed thinking that he was joking, but after a few seconds I realised he was dead serious, so I asked him to recommend something I could only find in Somalia.
“Meat, chicken and rice”, was his response, mentioning food that’s pretty much universal to every country in the world. I did my best to hide my disappointment out of politeness but was beginning to think I’d made a mistake by coming.
In a desperate attempt to redeem my decision to come, I asked the waiter if there was anything special about the way the food is prepared, that makes it unique to Somali cuisine. I was hoping to hear about different herbs and spices they use, or special marination techniques, but all he said was “all food comes with a banana”.
Clearly most people who ate at Somali Town Restaurant were regulars and largely from the Somali community. Anyone was welcome in the restaurant – but you are expected to go with the flow and embrace their way of doing things. Despite being unsure of what food I might end up with, I reminded myself that there was surely a reason why hundreds of people left raving online reviews about this place.
I thought maybe I had just been too spoiled in my life in regards to my customer service experiences and judging the restaurant by the standards I was used to would be a little unfair, although I think it’s safe to say that at most top-rated restaurants in London you’d expect at least a napkin and cutlery on the table. Instead, I saw customers passing a roll of kitchen towels around between themselves.
Within two minutes of placing my order, I was given a small bowl of soup and some salad. I was half-thinking ‘this isn’t what I ordered’ and half-thinking ‘I hope they don’t add this to my bill’, but started eating anyway. After that, the waiter brought over my dish – the meat, chicken and rice (with banana) – and the portion was humongous.
I honestly didn’t know how much my meal was going to cost me before I ordered as I wasn’t given the opportunity to see the prices, but after seeing such a generous serving, I assumed it was going to cost me at least £20. Either way, it was already too late, and the food looked way too good to waste.
Having taken my first bite of the meat, I started to understand why the restaurant was so popular. For what the restaurant lacked in decor and finesse, it made up for with its flavoursome food.
The meat and the chicken were cooked to perfection, and the rice topped with peas, green beans and carrots almost made me feel like I was eating at a carvery. But what really won me over was the combination of chopped pieces of raw onion mixed in with sultanas, which gave the rice a real kick.
Finishing the meal was a struggle, just because the portion was so large, but I kept telling myself it would be a shame to leave even a morsel of it on my plate. By the time I was finished I was stuffed. I didn’t really have room in my stomach for the complimentary banana, but out of my respect for Somali cuisine and culture, I devoured that as well.
Unfortunately the restaurant doesn’t have any Somali dessert, otherwise I would have eaten that too, but they did have something called Shaah Cadays, a special Somali spiced tea with milk. The tea, which was mixed with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and cloves, really helped the medicine go down.
When it was time to pay, I first had to double check the money in my account to make sure all that food wouldn’t take me into my overdraft, but I was utterly shocked when I saw what it all came to – £9! For £9 I literally ate what in other restaurants would be considered two dishes containing meat, chicken and rice, soup, salad and tea…oh and of course, a banana.
I felt so guilty when paying the bill, I had to ask the waiter if he was sure he hadn’t made a mistake. When I left, I felt like I’d just robbed the restaurant, and was almost expecting to be caught up with half way down the road to be told that I’d underpaid.
But no, Somali Town Restaurant simply allowed me to walk away scot free, and it was then that I realised why the restaurant had such great reviews.
Often restaurants in London use luxurious interior design, fancy leatherback menus and posh cutlery to disguise the fact that their food is actually quite bland, but at Somali Town Restaurant, their focus is primarily on making sure that the food they put in front of their customers is delicious, filling, affordable and representative of their Somali heritage and identity.