Tuesday, 6 January 2015
I had heard rumblings of appreciation about Chifafa, about how they were trying to do for the kebab what MeatLiquor did for the burger, about how they were making their own bread, pickling their own vegetables, and generally going about things in a way guaranteed to grab the attention of any overeager foodie (that would be me, then). And so when I made the trip myself and spotted a Big Green Egg lurking in the back of the Chifafa kitchens, I knew I was onto a good thing.
Other than that Egg though (every home should have one) at first glance Chifafa doesn't look that much different from any other lunchtime sandwich shop aimed at local office workers. There's a few tables and chairs, a drinks cabinet, a bar with a few cakes on display, queue and pay one side, pick up the other. The menu is short but attractive in a don't-run-before-you-can-walk kind of a way, with chicken, lamb, veal, falafel and halloumi options each with a slightly customised set of accompaniments and with an option to have a bread-free salad box instead of the usual wrap. So far, so Clerkenwell.
But a lamb wrap was clearly a cut above what you might ordinarily expect from high street kebabbery - tender chunks of marinated meat, with diced salad, a nice sharp tahini yoghurt, mango pickle and - a clever touch - chunks of feta cheese. Yes I could have done with a bit more of a char on the meat (they say the meat is 'finished' on the char-grill but I couldn't detect much sign of that) and £7 is quite a lot to pay for a sandwich, but it did feel like a premium product, thanks also to the fantastic bread which was soft and salty and just chewy enough to be a perfect wrap bread without being tough.
On a second visit, I was hoping for a similarly impressive experience with the veal (£8.40), but sadly it wasn't to be. The meat was, weirdly, and despite being cooked pink, dry and chewy, with no discernible flavour and swamped by a hardly powerful minty tzatziki dressing. Like the lamb there was no crunch or smoke from the grill, which may have improved things slightly, but unlike the lamb the salad and marinade wasn't enough to compensate - I'd asked for 'medium' hot sauce with the lamb and didn't get any chilli kick at all, so I was hoping for a bit more from the "hot" requested with the veal. In the end, I may just as well have not bothered, as I couldn't detect even a hint of a burn.
Perhaps it's still early days. A tweak to the controls of the Big Green Egg, longer contact with a hotter charcoal grill, a more liberal use of chillies, and we could have a real destination lunch spot. Plus, Chifafa has two more tricks up its sleeve - house pickles, which looked a bit washed out but tasted great, with a lively crunch and good balance of vinegar/sugar, and the homemade hummus which is probably the best I've tried in London, and I've been to more Dalston ocakbasi than I care to remember.
So I'll stop whingeing about what I'd like to change and praise instead what we already are lucky enough to have, a friendly, forward-thinking kebab shop on Clerkenwell Road that could very well end up taking a large chunk of my lunch money. And right next to the bus stop, too.