I used to be pathologically indecisive when it came to picking a restaurant, especially if I was in a place I didn’t know well, or at all. I’d walk the streets, annoying my companions, saying, Oh this one’s too full, this one’s too empty, this one’s two bright, the menu at this one is way too long to be any good, and so on.
I have got better, and it’s in part because of reading Jonathan Gold’s food writings. If ever there was a man prepared to venture into an unpromising mini-mall to eat in an unpromising hole-in-the-wall restaurant it was Jonathan. The economist called him "poet of the strip mall eatery" which somehow doesn't quite get it, though I'm sure they meant well.
I’m sure Jonathan sometimes ate some less than stellar food, but he was a man who always knew that another meal was just around the corner. And when an unpromising restaurant turned out to be really pretty good you experience a satisfaction that doesn’t come from a restaurant for which you had justifiably high expectations.
And so a couple of nights ago, for perfectly good if slightly complicated reasons, my companion and I were walking down Green Lanes, in Stoke Newington looking for somewhere to eat, increasingly prepared to settle prepared for anywhere that was open, wasn’t lit by bare fluorescent tubes, and had at least two customers.
We ended up in Mediterranean Breeze – a Turkish fish restaurant, which looked OK from the outside, was decently lit, and had just one occupied table, a party of three women. It was in fact way too big to be considered a hole-in-the wall.
We sat down, and the three women immediately left, but we were already in so we stayed. For the rest of the time we were there it was just us, a waitress (who I think went home after a while), presumably a chef though I never saw him, and Tony the wonderfully welcoming maitre d’.
The food was good, but on the night it seemed absolutely wonderful – the bream was fresh, the fried potatoes were perfect, the wine was cold and decent and cheap, Tony was a gem; and it seemed like we’d made the restaurant discovery of a lifetime.
And you know, it really didn’t look like the kind of place that would give you an amuse bouche, and they probably wouldn’t have called it that, but before the main courses we were presented with two gorgeous, plump, rich, briny oysters.
For a while, admittedly quite a short while, it felt like I was sitting in the best restaurant on earth.