It’s not all the Ritz and Carluccios for Charlie you know. In order to complete this quest I sometimes have to go south of the river, the East End, and North London. These are the terms of my quest by which I must abide, but hopefully I’ll never have to go to Croydon or Watford. I did have to go to North London though (Why can’t everywhere be as amazing as Hammersmith?) when I visited Alba Grill (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alba-grill-Charcoal-grill/387825218017680), though as a precaution, I followed behind my pregnant wife. Before you call me a monster, be aware that I took every precaution. Rape alarm, pepper spray, 999 on speed dial – I had them all to hand. I even had her wear a low cut top to draw attention away from me.
At least I could relax when entering the restaurant from deepest darkest Maida Vale. Oh no, hang on a sec I couldn’t. Normally I’m well used to dining in an atmosphere of silent looming menace (Looming Menace is actually my wife’s Native American name) but Alba had something extra. A desperate chef/waiter/manager whose family I was pretty sure was being held hostage somewhere and a rotating troupe of toughs talking in Albanian. The guy looked genuinely shocked when I asked for a menu as if he had to remember that he was in a restaurant, but then everyone seemed to remember where they were and went to work or sat down. Still, you’d be surprised at the genuine sense of relief you get when Albanian X-Factor is playing on the flat screen over the tense silence that opressed us when some one switched it off.
But, as mummy hesitates at telling no one, I am jolly brave so when the food arrived I chomped as though I hadn’t really picked up on any of this and as if it was all related to me later in the car. And here’s what they do well in Albania (and other countries around that neck of the woods): Mixed Grill! There was Oebapa, Pleskavica, Ushtipka, Suxhuk and Tulak. I confess, I’m not entirely sure what any of that is, but there was a lot of hot, charcoal-grilled meat and I ate it. I have little truck with vegetarians, but it’s at times like this that I genuinely pity them. But then I suppose they leave more hot meat for me to get my laughing gear around. £17 and a change of underwear for 2 people. But next time I go, I’ll take more of my chums for protection. The guys from my barbershop quartet: Sandy, Vivian and Leslie. Can’t fight worth a damn, but I can outrun virtually all of them. I must remember to kick Sandy in the ankle.
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