Asmara, Cold Harbour Lane – Brixton

A cubist impression of an Eritrean feast: Not by Piet Mondrian.

You probably haven’t realised that I have been neglecting the blog a bit lately, but I have. I have also started a new job, started to have a social life, and started to drink far too much. The consequent vicious cycle of memory loss, financial instability, and weight gain has much more to do with post 6pm activities than office hours, but it is the regularity of a ‘proper job’ that has initiated this worrying slide. Damn you, very exciting new career.

Because of this dinner on Saturday night is pretty difficult to remember with much clarity.  I can remember this: the whole evening revolved around ingesting different shades of brown in different states of solidity.

We hadn’t intended to go to an Eritrean restaurant. None of us knew where Eritrea was, worrying considering Ben has a geography degree, Hons (OXON) M.A. A helpful wooden map on the wall suggested Eritrea was somewhere near Ethiopia, and amazingly one of us did know something about Ethiopian cuisine.

You see, Ceri went to a funny school in Cornwall where they tought boys to do lady things like cooking, cleaning, and menstruating (probably). His teachers called it home economics, and Ceri had to rustle up an Ethiopian banquet for an NVQ or something equally acronymious.

“A pancake and a pile of runny brown mince” was how he described it. And he wasn’t far wrong, except at Asmara you get about four pancakes, very sour, cold and fermented, like big flat, floppy, freak-show crumpets that were told to fuck off by an aggressive little toaster. You also get lots of different kinds of runny brown mince, or runny brown lentils if you’re that way inclined.

Our order, decided on by the ‘point at happy people and let the waiter do the rest’ method was for a traditional feast with ceremonial coffee for dessert. The feast was served on big metal platters covered with injeera — the miserable crumpets from earlier have a name — and consisted of five different types of brown mince, some bits lumpier than others, but mincey all the same. Oh, and there was an egg in the middle. It was a whole spectrum of moderately spiced brown.

Sheffield is a shitting long way from Asmara (I mean the capital of Eritrea here, Sheffield is not THAT far from Brixton) and consequently Eritreans didn’t know what cutlery was for a very long time, and it never really caught on. So you eat with your hands using the injeera as a claw. It is very satisfying, and very filling, it also gets very messy if you are as dim as us and start eating your mince from the inside out. Thankfully Asmara (the restaurant this time) are used to stupid people and kindly give you some spare pancakes to scoop up the left-over bready slop.

I must point out at this point that quite a lot of the brown stuff was actually quite tasty. Some tender little lamb cubes undoubtedly the highlight. Everything was very edible.

A coffee ceremony followed. This was slightly darker brown and slightly more liquid than the rest of the meal, but still brown. I thought the coffee tasted like cardamom, but the others thought cinnamon. Maybe a bit of both. We had been in Asmara nearly 90minutes, I just wanted something that wasn’t brown.

Is popcorn brown? We got some of that too.

I moved on to the Bavarian Beer House near Old Street where they also serve lots of brown food and even more brown fizzy liquid in very large glasses. I didn’t eat anything, I just drank plenty. The waitresses were very friendly but the bastard management keep their tips if you pay by card. Something really rather shitty, especially when most of your customers pay when trolleyed, and haven’t got a clue what the poor girls are trying to explain.

The nitty-gritty:
Asmara on Urbanspoon

Distance from Croydon: About 3,290miles less far than going to the actual Asmara, in Eritrea.

Asmara is kind of fun, but the service is let down by an inability to communicate anything. Something the lovely hollow-legs also experienced on her visit way back. I would go again and order differently, maybe, but probably not. For Pictures of what we ate visit Happy Valley Cook.

We paid £20 a head with 2 beers each.

Bavarian Beerhouse


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