It won’t be news to anyone that I rather enjoy swanning into town and eating at swanky restaurants. And casual ones too, for that matter. But one of the restaurants I visit most often is a small and unassuming local place here in North Finchley.
Let me tell you about Aqua.
It’s an all-day restaurant and cafe serving Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, with the addition of some lovely Iranian dishes to the menu. You can enjoy a great cooked English breakfast too.
At Tally Ho Corner, right in the heart of North Finchley, it attracts a hugely varied clientele and is very much a local hangout. That said, it’s a good destination for bus travellers; Tally Ho is on a number of routes.
Owners Hamid (from Iran by way of a couple of decades in Germany) and his wife Diane (from Germany) offer a warm welcome and quickly get to know regulars (and their obsessions with kookoo sabzi and lahmacun).
Mostly, we visit during weekdays for lunch though we’ve been known to drop in for a carb ‘n’ protein fest all-day breakfast of a weekend now and again!
For lunch, I am always driven, by a strange and forceful compulsion, to order two dishes in particular:
We always have a lahmacun each; at just £1.50 these freshly-cooked meat-covered flatbreads are something I’ve loved for many years but have only become seriously addicted to since Aqua have had them on the menu. I like to fold mine into quarters and eat it with my hands.
And then there’s the kookoo sabzi, a herbed egg dish somewhere between an omelette and a frittate, so stuffed full of herbs that it’s a gorgeous organic green. It’s hard to explain to you quite how much I love this. It’s so very good! Suffice to say that, whilst there are many recipes on the internet, I’m hoping to persuade Hamid to share his own personal family recipe with me!
To those two beauties we often add deep-fried feta triangles (pastry filled with feta and spinach), an order of grilled hallumi, a portion of garlick salami and some cheesy garlic mushrooms. Not all of them, you understand. Well… not unless I’m feeling really hungry and have eyes bigger than my belly. Which happens sometimes, it’s true. But a selection from that shortlist.
And sometimes we try something different from the menu – maybe a sesame falafel with houmous dip or a hearty stew or even a plate of chips!
I’m yet to try the Iranian zabun (tongue) but it’s on my list!
We’ve not visited often in the evening as it’s such a favoured brunch and lunch stop for us, but can heartily recommend the lamb kofte – even better when served on a bed of smoked aubergine purée.
Of course, from the list above, you might think that Aqua offers only Iranian cuisine but in fact, the menu also lists a range of pizza and pasta dishes and a variety of vegetable and meat stews. The lunch time sandwich trade is good too with British, Mediterranean and Iranian fillings to choose from.
There’s something rather warm and fuzzy about finding the kind of local place that you return to again and again; fantastic food, friendly faces, the allure of the familiar.
Do you have a comfortable local you’d like to recommend? I’d love to hear about your favourite – what kind of food it serves, the people who work there, what you love about the place?
And if you’re ever in the neighbourhood and looking for a tasty meal, be sure to check out that lahmacun and kookoo sabzi!
I am very sad that Aqua has closed in early 2011.