It’s January – so you’re likely to be skint and promising yourself that you’ll be healthy, vegan, and off the booze for a month. So I’ll let you into a secret – our favourite Ethiopian cafe, not too far away, in Finsbury Park, it’s cheap, alcohol-free and easily vegetarian.
African cooking is being hailed as a food trend for 2018 – it needs a makeover and someone to make it more accessible. For years we’ve been eating Ethiopian or Eritrean food – first at Zigni House, then Addis in Kings Cross and venturing further up Caledonian Road to Merkato and Marathon, and then further afield Mosob in Maida Vale, Wolkite and Kokeb in Holloway, Adulis in Oval and Harar in Vauxhall. They’ve all been great in many ways.
But our favourite that we keep returning to is St Gabriel Ethiopian Delicatessen in Finsbury Park. It’s overlooked by Trip Advisor and Time Out, and missed by other foodies. But we love it. It remains below the radar, catering for the mainly Ethiopian clientele. St Gabriel’s is small, busy and basic. It’s not a restaurant, it doesn’t have tablecloths, waiters, or a website. The service is hit and miss. It has a one page laminated menu, but mainly it’s a see what you like in the counter. This is not the place for a romantic dinner and coffee ceremony.
Most other people in the cafe are Ethiopian I think. Some are just there to drink coffee and chat, or to collect injera bread from the industrial-scale bakery at the back. But we are there for the food.
Forget trendy ‘sharing plates’, Ethiopian is real sharing food. All the dishes for the table are served on the giant injera flat bread which acts as the plate, cutlery and carb for the meal. Everyone tears strips off the bread to scoop up the various dishes. Traditionally you feed the person sitting next to you, but that’s getting way too friendly for me!
Injera is a fermented, sourdough flatbread made from Teff flour, an East African grain. It’s made into a batter and cooked on a hot plate, resulting a slightly sour, bubbly, spongy texture like a crumpet. The menu includes the familiar Wots (spicy stews), Tibs (fried meat) and Kitfo (mince meat) dishes. But we go every time for the healthy Vegetarian Selection £8 for around 5-6 different lentil, bean and vegetable dishes with an injera and salad.
The difference here to other Ethiopian restaurants we’ve been to, is the price and the quality. Every vegetable dish has a wow factor – the flavouring of chillis and spices is complicated, delicate and experienced. Too many times we’ve had a dollop of spicy frozen mixed veg turned out onto a bland injera. This food is so far from that. And the prices are amazing, it’s £30 for a sharing platter for 4 people and we have lunch for 2 for £10 including drinks and often a free slice of cake-like bread. It’s so tasty, filling and cheap.
It’s open every day, 7am to 8pm. But remember, it’s Orthodox Ethiopian Christmas on 7th January so they might be closed this weekend.
St Gabriel Ethiopian Delicatessen, 12 Blackstock Road, Finsbury Park, London, N4 2DW