Saturday, 12 February 2011
Bush Tucker Trial: The Falafel-Off
I am not a vegetarian but you may have noticed that I love vegetarian food. I am inclined to blame it on being raised by the super-health conscious, pseudo-vegan and Abel and Cole's biggest fan that is my mother. One of my favourite vegetarian foods is falafel. I should therefore thank my lucky stars that I live where I live because Shepherd's Bush has a respectably high ratio of falafel outlets to Bush dwellers. And herein lies the foundation for a Falafel-Off. This is the first in a new series of blog posts entitled Bush Tucker Trials where I aim to find out about the best and worst grub that Shepherd's Bush has to offer.
For the Falafel-Off I shortlisted three outlets that people have referred to on Twitter and where I have been before too and would go back; Falafel Hut, King Solomans and Mr Falafel. Because I have been there and eaten falafel from these places previously and I'm still not sure where you get the BEST falafel in Shepherd's Bush, I enlisted the help of Mo and falafel virgin NewMan who are now both (enthusiastically) aware of this blog.
Staffed by West Africans and situated in the heart of the ever character-full Shepherd's Bush Market, Falafel Hut will charge you £3.00 for a falafel wrap full of salad and also aubergine with as much chilli sauce as you mouth can handle. The service was polite and friendly if a little rushed and production line-esque. I believe the winks and cheeky grins were at no extra cost to myself. I may even have winked back.
The greeting, service and overall experience in Lebanaese "food joint" King Solomans was a very different experience. A very polite young man asked me how my day was going as he prepared the falafel from a fresh batch - i.e. there wasn't a stash of already cooked falafel balls waiting for me like there was at Falafel Hut (and admittedly at every other take-away falafel outlet I've ever been too). I was invited to take a seat and watch the world of Uxbridge Road go by. As I did two other customers came in, both were clearly regulars. My King Solomans take out falafel wrap took ten minutes to be cooked, prepared and presented to me and cost just £3.45. (For a brilliant review of this restaurant and its owner and history original Shepherd's Bush blogger Chris Underwood did this write up recently).
My final stop was at the very well known Mr Falafel, an apparent hit with local BBC workers, Shepherd's Bush residents and beyond. Based at the top of Shepherd's Bush Market (Uxbridge Road end) Mr Falafel has grown from a market stand to a walk-in cafe and it claims to have the "Best Palestinian Falafel". Speaking to a variety of customers in both Arabic and English, Mr Falafel himself was polite and prompt in serving me. Their menu was extensive and intriguing (I'm going back for the Makdoos) and my falafel wrap set me back £3.50.
Back at my flat NewMan, Mo and I tucked in and here was our verdict (how I wished we could have had a black cab and A4 scoring boards for this part a la Come Dine with Me):
Falafel Hut: NewMan - 10/10, Mo - 8/10, Bird - 7/10. Average score - 8.33/10
The overall consensus was that the consistency of the falafel and its salad neighbours complimented each other and the right amount of sauce was applied. Personally I found the taste a little more bland than the other two falafels, but falafel-rookie NewMan was a big fan and ate up the left overs before Mo and I could realise there were any. The aubergine (which I think the other outlets would provide just not as standard) was a very welcome surprise.
King Solomans: NewMan - 7.5/10 "a little dry", Mo - 8.5/10, Bird - 9/10. Average score - 8.33/10
This was mine and Mo's favourite. It looked, tasted and was fresh. That plus the fact there was the perfect amount of pickle (I love pickle!) and having the relaxed customer experience I got when ordering places King Soloman's in a very regal position in my eyes.
Mr Falafel: NewMan - 5/10, Mo - 6/10, Bird - 7.5/10. Average score - 6.17/10
Despite the falafel being very, very, very edible it was felt by all (especially NewMan) that its accompaniments were too acidic (too much pickle?! impossible!?) and it needed more humous.
This makes King Solomans and Falafel Hut joint winners of this Falafel-Off. One other place that I like for falafel is Woodys Grill on Uxbridge Road so it's worth trying that one too. I didn't include it in this falafel off because I'd been in there the night before somewhat tipsy and chowing down on a kebab like my life depended on it. I like to wait at least a few days before returning to the scenes of such crimes.
To summarise and hereby declare this Falafel-Off a success, I think I can safely conclude that Shepherd's Bush is indeed a good place for good falafel, and long may that continue.