Saturday, 5 February 2011

[Restaurant - Eritrean] Hand's-off, MAI Zigni! MINE!; Mosob of Maida Vale

Location - Maida Vale, London [UK]

Torture; the forcing of actions on an individual against their will to inflict as much physical and/or psychological damage in order to obtain a certain goal. Suffice to say, I applied a lot of said torture in my incessant obsession for Zigni of late, and after tonight, I can certainly say. It was worth it. Nevermind the sobbing shells of my friend's former selves that resulted. I. Got. My. Zigni.

All is now right with the world. That is all.

It is actually very difficult to remember where my actual obsession with Zigni started out - I think it was last summer where when in Saudi Arabia I had Zigni for leftovers for lunch, made by a Colleague of my Father's, who is Ethiopian, and at once, I was dumbstruck. I was literally left in a state of clinical, brain-dead, Zigni-induced Coma. It was, amazing. Oh, I guess that wasn't so hard then. However, that was not enough, and on returning to England, I forget how the obsession was reignited, but I vaguely remember Googling something, and finding the results for Injera, and on reading on I had one of those peculiar moments where I was adamant that I could recall the taste of the food. It was very strange as I could not for the life of me remember WHERE I tasted it, but I know I had had it, and what it tasted of. Suffice to say, there would only be one way to satiate this - if I could recall a taste by simple reading of a name, it would haunt me till I were to replace half my bodyweight with said food item.

I can safely say that the above was perhaps a motivating factor for the entire notion of wanting to travel the world and try out new ways of creating myself epic constipation through excessive face-stuffing - mind you, I always loved to eat, but just remembering the epicity [Copyright, mine] of Injera and Zigni, made me sought to find such an outlet in the UK, to at least tide me over till I returned to Saudi Arabia. And save me from the fatal mediocrity of Edgware Road. Surprisingly, Zigni seems to be a fairly recognisable dish here, perhaps glorified by the idiotic, Covent Garden-trolling "Trendy" Hippy ethnic-loving students like the ones sat next to us last night, and as such, it was not hard to find an outlet. What was difficult was finding one in a Reasonable area [i.e. as Huzaifah will concur, above the River] - my only motivating factor for Mosob was that it had garnered largely unanimous reviews from the likes of UrbanSpoon and London Eating, as well as...well. The website was pretty. I had initially wanted to go to Zigni House, but that was a bit too far East. We are a very open-minded group you see - we concentrate outings above the river, more towards the West. Blatently because, err. We have ample valid reasoning for such.


So, outing organised, frantic over excited booking made ["I'm Italian, I love Zigni! I lived in Saudi, we can take our spices, don't hold back!], reasonable group invited, done. The group consisted of myself, Huzaifah - who's father was born in Asmara, and who frequently has Zigni at home, my Sister - who ate the Zigni from which I had the leftovers in Saudi, Vera - a family friend who is so enamoured with Zigni, that she has legally included it as her middle name [Not really, but until last week, I had actually believed such was the case], and her friend. Who was a vegetarian. And therefore, a blasphemer. Unfortunately, I was not able to relegate her to a desolate corner, or to voice this opinion.

On arriving at the venue, pleasant, superficial surprises abound - Huzaifah's fear of straying into "the Ghetto" were suitably cast aside when we walked into a cosy, unpretentious outlet [the website led me to believe we'd be met with TGI Eritrea Dungarees], with plenty of locals sitting around. My over zealous booking obviously rang a note with the restaurant as I was greeted as "The Zigni Man". After an hour waiting for the remaining guests, our patience/resolve had disappeared, and so me and Huzaifah dived straight in...quite literally...

~ Starter ~
- Qategna

...That's what waiting for an hour will do. I had finished my Qategna rolls before remembering to take a picture. Which took around 0.54ms. I devoured them. And. Epinoms. I chose Qategna for one reason. Well. Other than the fact that it was spicy, and deep-fried. in Ghee. I chose it because it is almost pronounced the same as my surname. Destiny? You try convincing me otherwise. You'll end up like them.

Immediately, the taste of Injera was met with a matching of the taste I could remember - whilst by no means a light dish, it was absolutely delectable; the sourness of the Injera worked with the Harissa-ish spices to create an awesome amalgamation of flavours. Whilst not spicy enough for me, adding some Awaze spice dip only added to this. It was over so quickly. I needed moar. MOAR. And we should have as we waited ANOTHER hour before the others had arrived. I don't think me and Huzaifah could have shown more restraint to be brutally Honest. I would've deep fried my arm in Ghee..

~ Main Course ~
- Mixed Platter [Zigni, Derho Qulwa, Bamia Mis Siga, Hamli Mis Ajibo, Mosob Special]

Whilst I was ready to consume my weight in Zigni, mainly due to the one hour we were forced to wait after starters for the remainder of the party to arrive, I was assured that there would be enough Zigni if we shared a platter to at least feed a developing African nation, and hopefully satiate me as well. It had better.

I was not disappointed.

Again, I almost struggled to maintain restraint, nearly eating the camera in a flurry to take a picture before the platter was consumed. This was, a platter of which no greatness of such calibre had ever met before. It was the "Expendables" of wins, you know, in promise, without being a complete failure. Like the film. The Zigni was delicious, though, I think the reams written in the introduction would somewhat serve to set a tone on my ability to leave bias out of a review - however, spices were distinct, and supporting in flavours, rather than overpowering, leaving the meat to shine through. Difficulty was met in the lack of cutlery - the injera bread is essentially an Eritrean Pocket Knife of dining, for not only is it a bread, but it also doubles up as cutlery. Ok, a two trick pony. However, as my experience at Mirch Massala made obvious, I'm somewhat lambasted for wanting cutlery, as, you know, that's so wrong. Though. Attempting to keep everyone's hands off without getting mine on would have proved counter productive in its irony, hence the title. Perhaps I should have licked my hands and plastered them all over the Zigni. Hmm.

Anyway, the rest of the platter was equally amazing - the lentils extraordinarily so, being incredibly hearty and buttery, which were served with the Lamb Chops and equally buttery smooth/flavoured Spinach [Mosob Special]. The lamb chops, wow, they looked like charcoal briquettes but tasted amazing, with a slightly sweet tinge to the flavour. The Chicken [Derho Qulwa] and Okra Stew [Bamia Mis Siga] were also delectable, the Okra stew especially so, combining some earthy flavours with the sharpness of the Okra. If there were one qualm however it was for a slightly shattered expectation, brought on from my rather forthcoming announcement on the phone - nothing was especially spicy for me, despite having rattled off my Saudi Arabian upbringing. Others didn't agree but they're infedels to spice.

~ Dessert ~
- Bigusto Nonna

Obviously, with the sheer quantity of epicity [Again, Copyright] experienced until now, something had to fall clear of the standard, for otherwise the universe would implode from the intense unbalancing of the forces of nature. And as such, this balance was redistributed by the mediocrity of the pre-packaged dessert. Huzaifah's Tiramisu' was an Ice-cream and my pie obviously came in a box - the only highlight were the toasted pine nuts which gave a satisfying crunch, otherwise, it only served to provide a pallet cleansing sweet note. And thus. Forgiven.

Actually, not quite. Well, it wasn't terrible, though on next visit I would probably do without.

~ Drinks ~
- Mi
és [Eritrean Honey Wine]

Another intriguing indigenous part of the Zigni experience was apparently the combination of the Eritrean/Ethiopian Honey Wine, which I thought I must try. It was described to have a slight bitterness to taste with the inherent sweetness that served to freshen the spice of the food yet not weigh down. Unfortunately, the amount you see above was all that was left, or maybe there was more left but I ignorantly asked for "Tej" only to be corrected that the Eritreans called it "Mies", and so I was punished for this transgression. And it could not be fully enjoyed with the food as I had to wait two and a half hours before it arrived with the arrival of the guests.

What was of note though was that it was a very interesting drink - bittersweet, yet a strange absence of after-taste. Quite palette cleansing. Though why anyone would want to cleanse their palette of heavenly Zigni, I do not know. Hell. Dip me in Berbere and I will GLADLY smell of Zigni for the rest of my days too. Or until I eat myself.

- Bunne

Considering it was nearing the 4th hour of our dining experience, I was a bit tentative about going through a "Ceremony" for my coffee, but I insisted. I need not have worried again, for using the word Ceremony is probably a bit overwrought.

It is probably something aimed more at newcomers, or those idiot students. It's basically just drinking coffee in Arabic-style finjals, combined with popcorn and the ambience set with the incense, but having already been there for a few millennia it probably didn't suit, especially as only 3 of us had the coffee. Correction, two people had a couple of cups each, and I had the remaining gallon. Not too much heartache I suppose - I needed some means of dissolving the Zigni-flavoured awesomeness in my belly, and something to keep me awake on the 80mi return journey home. So perse', the ceremony was wasted on us, as if the entire ordeal were to take place within 4 hours it would have been fine, but adding another 2 hours for coffee as would probably would have suited, was not in the cards. Not when we arrived at 7:30 and it was already 11:30.

The coffee by the way was excellent - not as strong or as bitter as an Italian Roast espresso, but very smooth to drink, a lovely coffee. Shame we couldn't enjoy it to its intent for the aforementioned reasoning - Huzaifah probably held back as espresso tends to have the uncanny ability of liquidating his bowel movements in the blink of an eye, quite an astounding phenomena.


Overall, the experience was tempered with awesomeness, more awesomeness, and wins of epic proportions. And I could keep adding internet-geek 'leet speak but it wouldn't adequately convey the awesomeness. Whilst service was a bit slow - obviously, us making a 19:30 Appointment, and having guests arrive upto 2 hours late perhaps did not necessitate a brevity of response - it was almost as amazing as the food. All it needed was to be deep-fried in Ghee.

At once we were almost involved as regulars, as if we were trying to be made to feel as part of "the family", as cheesy as it sounds - perhaps something those infernal students convinced themselves of - with the waiters explaining their origins, showing us books of Asmara, and introducing us some interactive games to stave off our hunger/boredom whilst waiting for the guests. Granted, I/we did feel heart-broken when the same treatment was reserved for all the other customers, but I guess love must be shared. Hmph. And this is nothing to say of the food - it all added to an amazing experience.

I'm only talking about the food here, that was the core of my life-affirming event, but the rest was nice too. Drawing from the title, not only was, and Eritrean dining is, a hand's on experience, short of elbowing everyone in the jaw and running away with the platter, I was forced to scream out the title influence in my head for it was hard to keep hand's off. I need not have worried yet again though, as the torture is due to begin all over, as I very much doubt I will be able to restrain myself when it comes to annihilating the leftovers for lunch.

If you hear an explosion from the South Greater London Area, with a resultant spicy aroma and shards of injera flying everywhere, you'll know the score.

Mosob on Urbanspoon
[I has no shame]

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