Thai Crystal

In September 2015, a bus crashed into Thai Crystal and made a right mess of the frontage. The owner, Nim Hoy, had already lived through much worse – her family was killed in the 2006 tsunami. Ever since then, the wife and I have wanted to eat there in some weird show of support and solidarity.

Thai Crystal is the smallest of two Thai restaurants on Westow Hill and it’s the cosier (some would say dingier) of the pair. The ceilings are lower, there’s much less natural light and the decor is way more beige, but the place has a warm, friendly feel to it. The homely atmosphere is really brought to life by the staff though. Three different people took our order, delivered our food and checked in on us, and each one of them shared a few words and really seemed to care that we were having a good time.

After the obligatory prawn crackers I started with a hot and spicy chicken and tomato broth that was both hot and spicy (so many are one without the other). It came in a small bowl but it was substantial and warming – not something I needed on this humid evening, but something I definitely enjoyed.

Thai noodle meal

My drunken noodle jay (egg noodle with tofu) was less spicy than advertised but perfectly serviceable. The squidgy tofu had proper flavour to it and the carrot sculptures on the side of the plate were delightful. The olive in the salad felt out of place though, a refugee from Lorenzo down the road perhaps?

As good as the food was, my greatest compliment goes to the staff. In my experience, Asian restaurants are usually terrible at dealing with gluten-free diets – they either don’t know what gluten is and have no idea whether their dishes contain it, or they confidently tell you everything is fine only for the wife to suffer the symptoms of a gluten hit an hour after leaving. Not only are the menus at Thai Crystal clearly labelled for all manner of allergies, but our waiter took it upon herself to check with the kitchen to see if the soy sauce contained wheat (it did). Top marks from my wheat-intolerant wife.

thaicrystaluk.com

Roti Brothers

Several food vans have occupied the small car park opposite Poundland, but itinerant meat-heaters Roti Brothers seem to be sticking around. In fact, my visit coincided with the news that they are to open a kitchen in the Crow’s Nest just round the corner. Given what they can do with a handful of chuck beef and a brioche bun, this can only be good news for revellers at the late-night bar.

This mid-week lunchtime burger was unexpected. A second sinkhole had been discovered under the tracks near Forest Hill so the train situation was worse than usual (that’s saying something when your local TOC is Southern Rail). I found myself working from home, with nothing in the kitchen and an uncharacteristic lunchtime hunger, so I marched up Anerley Hill in search of food.

There are very few places you can eat al fresco on the Triangle but the Roti Brothers’ van has a pleasing assortment of tables and chairs. I ordered the Bro’s Signature Cheeseburger (medium rare) with rosemary chips, and made myself comfortable for some good old-fashioned people-watching.

Burger and chips

The quality of burgers in London has increased massively over the last ten years. Peak Burger is behind us now but the burger bar is still very high. And Roti Brother’s cheeseburger did not disappoint: the patty was seared on the outside, pink in the middle, the strong cheese wasn’t just an extra source of grease (although if fulfilled that role marvellously), the pickle was tangy and the bun held together until the last bite. The lettuce was a silent partner in the whole affair, but who orders a burger for the lettuce?

The chips were of the triple-cooked variety: ultra-crispy on the outside, ultra-fluffy on the inside. Nothing to fault there. There’s also a lovely bit of theatre as they’re tossed in salt and rosemary before being brought out to you.

It’s only burger and chips, so let’s not go overboard, but Roti Brothers do a good burger and chips. A damn fine burger and chips even. Maybe the best burger and chips on the Triangle.

In the spirit of full disclosure, please note that I was given a free dessert – a slice of rhubarb and apple cake with a pistachio topping. I don’t believe this was an attempt to bribe me but I report it anyway, just for the record. The evidence has, unfortunately, disappeared now but it was delicious. A very fine cake. Something similar will be on offer at the Crow’s Nest soon.

twitter.com/rotibrothers

Mi Cocina Es Tuya

If there is a prize for most welcoming restaurant host on the Crystal Palace triangle we may have a winner. The wife and I stuck our heads through the door one Friday night and sheepishly indicated that we wanted a table for two; the lady running this small Venezuelan restaurant gave us a huge smile and didn’t stop beaming for the entire time we were there.

It genuinely felt like she was happy for us because we were getting to eat Venezuelan for the first time. In fact, there must be quite a few people who have had their first experience of Venezuelan food here – there is a handy laminated booklet explaining arepas, cachapas, tostones and everything else.

The reason we chose this place tonight was because it had been mentioned to me twice in the previous week: once in a text message from a friend and once on the excellent Answer Me This podcast. And because of the South American fondness for maize, much of their food is naturally gluten free – important if your restaurant buddy can’t eat wheat. The fact that the walls are covered with freaky, homemade masks is just a bonus.

Venezuelan food

We chose a few dishes to share: mini-empanadas, black beans, salad, mini-arepas and a chicken cachapa. First things first though: the chilli sauce in this place is perfect. It has just the right level of heat and a sweet but vinegary tang to it. It’s almost worth going back for alone.

As the food piled up, we piled in. It’s all honest, uncomplicated food with no unexpected flavours or textures – the chicken tastes like chicken and the pork tastes like pork. The menu is not particularly varied but I’m fine with that. I could go back and order exactly the same thing, and I would enjoy it because it would make me feel good inside.

Mi Cocina Es Tuya is not a fancy place. It’s small, and the tables and chairs are of the cheapest quality. In fact, I don’t even know if it’s called Mi Cocina Es Tuya because the largest letters on the front say ‘Cafe Latino’. But it’s a friendly place and the food has a home-cooked, comforting quality about it. Go for the cuisine, stay for the welcome.

micocinaestuya.co.uk

Dem

It’s meat and salad time. It’s meat and salad time. Meat and salad! And yoghurt!

When I heard that Camberwell’s FM Mangal, my favourite Turkish restaurant south of the river, was opening a second branch in Crystal Palace I punched the air with delight. Not only was I going to have a local source of quality iskender and yogurtli, but I wasn’t going to have to visit the Mexican restaurant that it replaced in my attempt to eat at every place on the Crystal Palace triangle.

I’m going to open myself up to criticism here and say that I think Turkish food doesn’t look particularly difficult to make. I don’t mean that as a criticism – its simplicity is a virtue, and it means that quality in Turkish cooking is judged on ingredients, proportions and not overcooking the meat. The menu in one Turkish restaurant is much the same as in another, but anyone who’s eaten at more than a handful of London’s many ocakbasi will have a favourite. Why this one over that one? It will probably be a little thing like how much garlic they put in their humus or the thickness of their kofte that sets them apart.

Meal in Turkish restaurant

As you would expect, Dem serves similar food at a similar standard to FM Mangal, but where the Camberwell restaurant is ill-lit and crooked, Dem is light and open and airy. It feels more family friendly and more orderly.

There is still the imposing charcoal grill near the front though, where lamb, chicken, tomatoes, peppers and onions all jostle for position over the heat.

We had a lot of food that day. In fact, we over-ordered so I wasn’t able to eat as much of the flatbread as I normally do. We gorged ourselves on lamb with yoghurt, falafel with humus and those grilled onions you get in pomegranate molasses.

It’s all straightforward, simple food and it was all cooked perfectly. Dem is a very welcome addition to the Crystal Palace restaurant scene.

demrestaurant.co.uk

Mediterranea

Our visit to to Mediterranea was at the beginning of February – nine days before VD – and the decorations were out: big red letters saying ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’, shiny hearts hanging from the ceiling… I know VD is a big deal for restaurants but it felt a bit weird to be surrounded by its tacky trappings so far out from the actual event, especially when this place is actually quite charming and romantic without all the decorations.

So far: definitely not love at first sight.

Clearly influenced by the Valentine’s mood, we ordered a shared starter of grilled calamari, and it was lovely. I mean rubbery. It was rubbery. To be honest, I’d expected better of a restaurant that calls itself ‘the true taste of Sardinia’.

So far: I’m checking the exits, thinking up credible excuses to leave.

The mains saved it. My pizza was pretty much perfect. Like all the best pizzas, it was just simple toppings – buffalo mozzarella, spicy salami and fresh chillies in this case – on a thin base. The wife’s sea bream was crispy and flaky in all the right places and served up on a bed of wild rice, tomatoes and olives.

Meals on table in restaurant

So far: maybe this could go all the way (to dessert).

On second thoughts, not today. What sort of local restaurant reviewer do you take me for? I ask for the bill, pay up and promise to call and organise another visit.

mediterranea.co

Roasted Bean

Coffee and cake is one of the great Sunday rituals. You emerge from your house between 10 and 11, stroll through the park – past the dinosaurs, the rusty laptop and the remains of the Crystal Palace – and arrive at the Triangle, ready for a sit down, a cup of coffee and a slice of cake.

Roasted Bean is still relatively new to Crystal Palace but it’s a good addition. It has a smart grey frontage and as you walk through the door the first thing you see is ten hoppers of coffee beans (previously, the only place you could buy coffee beans was at Bambino’s).

We arrived around midday and the place was packed. The only table left was the worst one – right at the back and opposite the toilet. The rest of the welcome was friendly though – the cheery staff were happy to describe the cakes and to help us make our choice.

Coffee and cake

I opted for a coconut and blueberry slice while the wife went for the only gluten-free option, a chocolate Guinness cake. The slice was moist but firm and the chocolate cake ‘delicious’ and ‘not too rich’. If, like me, you prefer your coffee on the strong side you should ask for an extra shot as their standard cup isn’t particularly strong, but it has a soft, comfortable flavour that feels right for a lazy weekend.

Sunday coffee and cake is a simple pleasure. It’s easy to get right and Roasted Bean didn’t disappoint.

The Crystal Palace Market

It was the day before New Year’s Eve and I wanted to treat the wife to a good meal out at somewhere a little bit special. She said she wanted fish so I booked us in at The Crystal Palace Market, a smart restaurant that’s also a smart butcher-slash-fishmonger-slash-deli.

It was pissing it down that night so it felt particularly good to walk through the heavy velvet curtain curtain into a warm, cosy, twinkly environment. This is a great winter restaurant – the whole place feels candlelit even though there’s a well-illuminated open kitchen at one end of the room. Looking around I could see groups of diners huddled round rustic plates of unfussy food.

We started the meal with a near-disaster. The wife can’t eat wheat so we had asked the waitress which of the dishes were gluten-free. When our starters arrived I looked suspiciously at the crumbs and pine nuts scattered around her artichoke and mozzarella and had a nibble. It tasted an awful lot like toast. But before we could call our waitress back, the owner of restaurant spotted I wasn’t happy, stepped up, asked what was wrong and whipped the plate away. A crumb-free, gluten-free version turned up soon after. My carpaccio of sea bass was, thankfully, incident-free, although drowning a bit in vinegar.

Starter in restaurant

After that the dishes kept on coming: ribeye steak, plaice, greens, spuds, chips, salad, roasted vegetables… We’d definitely over-ordered – I don’t think I’d realised that the mains came with salad as a matter of course. We struggled through somehow, mouthful by tasty mouthful.

Steak and salad

The Crystal Palace Market is one of those places where everything is prepared just right. The greens had the right amount of bite and the chips the right balance of crispiness and fluffiness. The steak was as ordered (medium-rare, since you ask) and the spuds were cooked just shy of the point at which they fall apart. None of it is particularly complex – their secret is doing the of preparation and presentation basics well.

thecrystalpalacemarket.com

Little Palace Cafe

Bacon, fried egg, bubble, beans, black pudding, toast, tea.
That’s my typical order in a greasy spoon. Only have the sausage if you think it’s going to be a premium meat tube. Tinned mushrooms are to be avoided and scrambled eggs are only for people who like theirs chewy.

I went off piste at Little Palace Cafe. Maybe I lazily ordered the set breakfast, maybe I just got confused at the counter. Either way, I ended up with bacon, fried egg, bubble, beans, mushrooms, tomato and sausage. And toast and tea, of course – no mistake there.

English breafast

The place was busy, full of Saturday morning people regretting the night before and working up the courage to do some chores up the Triangle. They all had what I was having, or some variant thereof.

And it was pretty good. The bacon was thick and firm, the tomato properly blackened on the grill, the beans, er, beany, and the egg dippy. The mushrooms didn’t promise much on first impressions but they were surprisingly good, earthy rather than watery. Instead, it was the bubble that disappointed – carrot and peas instead of cabbage, hardly any potato lumps and no more than a couple of mouthfuls. I ate the sausage but only to remind me why I don’t usually order the sausage in places like this.

It wasn’t anything to write home about (or to write a blog about for that matter) but it was a pretty good breakfast in a friendly environment and there was more tea in the pot than I could drink in one sitting. And it was £5.95. Five pounds ninety five.

The Godfather

Crystal Palace is blessed with pizza places: Lorenzo’s, Pizza at the Palace, The Godfather and now Four Hundred Rabbits. There’s a Domino’s too if you can’t be bothered to leave the house and you think their limited selection of toppings is sufficient (I don’t).

All of this choice means that you have to be good if you want to survive in SE19.

Everything looked good as I first walked through the door. Wood oven? Check. Italian tiling? Check. Friendly waiter to greet me? Check. It was busy that evening so I was directed to a small table at the back of the restaurant where the lighting was bad (not dim, just plain bad) and the furniture ugly (think Ikea’s Billy bookcase in table and chair form: functional, ubiquitous, cheap and charmless).

I ordered the Ortolana – a white pizza (no tomato sauce) with provola cheese, peppers, aubergine, artichoke and mushroom (£7.95). It arrived quickly and the toppings were spot on. They were chunky, flavoursome and in just the right quantity. The base was soft, doughy and pillowy which some people like, I’m sure, but I prefer a crunch. I also like my chilli oil to have a bit of a kick but the bottle on my table was just ‘oil’.

Pizza

The food at The Godfather is okay, the staff are friendly enough, it just isn’t a particularly nice environment for a meal. Go for a quick bite to eat but don’t go for a romantic dinner. Better yet, go to one of the other local pizza restaurants instead.

thegodfather.co