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April 26, 2013updated 29 Jan 2016 2:48pm

Sitwell Scoffs: The Travellers Club, the Embassy Cafe, As Greek as it Gets

By William Sitwell

William Sitwell’s week of scoffing is followed by a slightly bleak visit to a homeopathist

PERHAPS I HAD it coming. The Thursday night judgement on my diet, dispensed as I lay on a homeopathist’s couch in a terraced house in Willesden, followed a pretty regular week of over-eating.

The Travellers Club

Maybe the gods who seek balance in the world felt the wines I drank on Tuesday night were the tipping point. I was in the Travellers Club (a location about as far from a club for travellers as you can imagine), the lavish gents’ establishment Charles Barry designed in 1832 on Pall Mall in London.

My host was amusing himself about the wine list. There was a smooth Meursault, which had just enough bite to cope with a gloriously creamy prawn cocktail. Then a 1997 Chateau Mouton Rothschild  – deeply rich, dry and plummy (which is what my host aspires to be) — I sipped it with dover sole and I like red wine with fish. Although I’d like this wine with anything. Taramasalata or ice cream; if that ’97 Mouton R was the only thing on the wine list, I’d call it on.

The bottle was over before my fish dish was complete (it was a tad overcooked and the veg were old school, small barrel-shaped things of no discernible flavour) so next up was a Chateau Pichon from 2002.

A friendly, soft number, it calmed our little crowd as we anticipated the pudding trolley that followed (I went for a tip top classic chocolate mousse) and a bottle of sugary, sweet and outrageous 1995 Chateau d’Yquem. We then soothed ourselves with a decent and aromatic 1999 Nuits St Georges. There may have been cheese. I can’t quite remember.

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The Embassy Cafe

‘So no fruit that day,’ said the herbalist, homeopathy type person, as I recounted my week’s eating. There wasn’t fruit either when I had lunch at The Embassy Café on Bramley Road.

I’ve passed by this café countless times over the decades but never been in, although I’d heard good things about its lasagne. Located on the corner of a Victorian terrace, it’s been used frequently in TV series, from Minder to Spooks and – no doubt to the disappointment of location scouts – has been spruced up recently. I had a vast plate of lasagne and chips, very fresh and  tasty, great value and a very cheery place indeed.

As Greek As It Gets

As was As Greek As It Gets, a restaurant owned by a charming man from Mykonos, on Earl’s Court Road.

Now I’ve often heard debates about Greek authenticity. There’s an island near Rhodes called Halki where I once had a very tedious discussion with an Englishman drunk on retsina (and yes I may well have been talking to myself) about how Greek Halki was.

‘Halki’s very Greek,’ he said. ‘Very, very Greek.’ I think he meant it was quiet, quaint and the food was disgusting. But perhaps he had a point.

You could sail around the Greek isles with a Greekometer. Not Very Greek on one end of the scale, Very Greek on the other, with the ultra touristy bits appearing on the lower end of the scale.

I used to work on an island called Leros, famed for its – now defunct – mental hospitals. It was a beautiful and crazy place and, dare I say it, very Greek. But was it As Greek As It Gets? Well I would say so: long retsina – fuelled nights, crazy music, mad dancing, lots of Greeks shouting. Along with lovely grilled calamari, fresh bread, lemony chicken, tzatziki and random tuna salads.

My evening at As Greek As It Gets was a one-retsina bottle night with lashings of good food (most of it) so I know from personal experience that it wasn’t quite as Greek as I know it can get.

We devoured tartly delicious taramasalata, wonderfully soft and tender grilled chicken, proper Greek salad and a delicious plate of drippingly sweet cake.

The prawns cooked in ouzo, feta and tomato weren’t a triumph and the beef cooked in honey wasn’t quite as deeply luxuriously as I’d hoped. But it was some of the best Greek food I’ve had for a long time. Certainly better than anything I ate on Halki so I’ll go back soon and invest in more retsina, a mere sip of which transports me to Leros – I can almost feel the warm water of the Greek Aegean gently lapping against my toes as I sit on a jetty gazing out to sea.

The Homeopath’s Verdict

‘So no fruit there either,’ said the woman in Willesden. She then did strange things with my left arm as I held a succession of vials in the other hand.

The verdict I am looking at now. It’s bleak. ‘No dairy’, it says. Ever. ‘Not cow, sheep or goat. Try almond milk with your cereal’. Yeah right.

And then it reads, ‘no sugar, no alcohol’. Whoops. I’ll give the no dairy a go. But the gods of balance will need to make some allowances for the other two.

Read more from Sitwell Scoffs

Read more from Food Friday


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