Sunday, July 27, 2008

A grilling on Upper Street

Tod's Grill

170 Upper Street
N1 1RG
020 72889222

This Greek/Turkish hybrid restaurant is tucked away at the rather more down-at-heel end of Upper Street, so much so that I must have walked past it dozens of times without a second glance. The low-key frontage and slightly dim interior only adds to this cloak of invisibility. However, the Veggie assured me it is quite the secret gem amongst the many office workers in the area.

We met for lunch on a sweltering summer's day, when the cool and muted Tod's Grill was a welcome relief. The interior also shows off a plethora of theatre and music promos, as well as traditional ornaments and furniture. There is also the option of eating al fresco, blessedly shaded by their awing. We opted to eat in and immediately ordered large soft drinks, gulping at them like we were Lawrence of Arabia. Just as welcome was the 6.95p 2 course lunch menu (8.95p for 3 courses). This lunch menu offers such classics such as chicken shish, ribeye steak, mixed meze to share and hummous and salad.

I decided to have the goat's cheese salad which had an added twist; a crust of crushed hazelnuts, which sounded deliciously different. The Veggie had the cold meze platter; a tasty combination of pitta, hummous, tzatziki, little broad beans, roasted aubergines and other tempting bites. We both went for the Vegetarian Moussaka as our main.

Service at Tod's is very pleasant and efficiently relaxed. As we sat a few other diners drifted in. However, for a peak lunch period the place was practically empty, which must simply be due to the level of competition in the area, especially from chains. The positive element for Tod's customers is a much nicer and quieter environment that also provides good value food and good service - not easy to find. One can't help but think that if only Tod advertised a little more or just brightened up their fascia they would be pulling in a lot more punters.

Our starters arrived after a short wait (service indicated by a 'doorbell' sound), and were both very asthetically pleasing; earthy greens and purples balanced with pure whites each flecked with fresh herbs.

My goat's cheese was a triumph; the crisp hazelnut crust perfectly complementing the salty, full-flavoured cheese. The accompanying salad was also very good - when a simple grilled tomato explodes with flavour, you know you are onto a winner.

The Veggie was very happy with her meze, which was apparently as mouthwatering as it looked. Certainly the little samples I had were beautiful, especially the tiny, tender broad beans.

We ordered a much needed second round of drinks, a pomegranate juice for me and an earl grey for the Veggie. Our mains turned up at the same time, 2 hefty portions of Moussaka with molded white rice and a side salad. We exchanged tremulous glances, our bellies already on the way to reaching capacity. I took up my fork and tried the rice, as in most Turkish or Greek extablishments it was cooked perfectly and tasted so much nicer than any rice I have ever cooked. The Moussaka also looked good, but seemed to have less distinct layers than I am used to. Upon tasting it we both reached the same opinion, it was edible but was much too tomatoey for our palates. Although it certaintly moistened the dish (Moussaka means 'moistened' in greek), it lacked a noticable amount of the white sauce and potato that makes the dish. To my mind Tod's version tasted more like a layer ratatouille. My pick for a good Moussaka in London is 'Bistro One' which has branches near Soho and Covent Garden.

All in all the meal came to approximately 18 pounds which we thought was good value. Next time I visit I will make sure to try a non-vegetarian choice - this appears to be a pattern of late - which is a great shame for those who have the willpower to become completely vegetarian. To digress, often the Veggie only has one choice of main and the dishes on offer lack imagination. It's about time London restaurants took a bit more time out to please the non-meat eaters of the city.

In conclusion, Tod's Grill is a great little place for a leisurely lunch or dinner. The desserts and wine list were also attractive and it boasts one of the quirkest toilets I've seen in recent times. Worth a visit when you are sick of yet another cardboard chain of an Upper Street bistro.

The Writing on the Wall: 6 out of 10

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