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26.2 miles in under 3 and a half hours. Sounds easy on paper and I will be posting regular updates, the highs and the lows. Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Carluccio's restaurant review

Kilburn High Road used to be the hub of a thriving music scene. Before the Blockheads, Ian Dury called his group Kilburn & The High Roads. That was over 30 years ago and the road looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since. Littered with old man pubs, old men and litter, the place has more than its fair share of drunks and homeless. The shops are a jumble of bric-a-brac, charity and pound shops; Woolworths, is now closed and boarded up and was one of only a few name brands. In some ways this was quite endearing, the refusal to have a Starbucks next to a Gap next to a Starbucks lent the road a sense of grubby nostalgia, always yearning for the days of strikes and a struggling economy. its food outlets are uniformly poor. Greasy spoons and greasier chicken shacks vie for the credit crunch quid with dimly lit Italian family-run joints which are only good for taking Lefty Bompansero to get whacked. However, off the High Road, about 5 minutes walk away from The Golden Cock (it’s there, look it up) is the Little Bay restaurant and this was only 30 seconds from where we lived. This gem of an eatery is one of just five and I was fortunate enough to live only five minutes away from their Croydon outlet when I was unfortunate enough to live there. They offer well-cooked fresh ingredients for an unbelievable price and the quality is nearly always excellent. Two of you can whip in there, have three courses each, a bottle of wine and escape with change from £30. The wife and I went as often as we could and that was when the economy was bouncy and we all had thirty credit cards each. We since moved to the more affluent suburb of Earlsfield before the fat cats in the City got found out and ruined it for all of us. Earlsfield is the polar opposite of Kilburn. Instead of bearded men shouting at the traffic the streets teem with runners and hockey players jostling past suited and booted young professionals. Instead of Dev’s Bargain Basement, you will find independent wine shops and posh charity shops where you can pick up a second hand Dolce & Gabbana blouse. Instead of the Texas Chicken Lickin’ Shed you can dine out at Mel’s, Hannah’s or Willie Gunn’s, but you better take one of those credit cards (if the bank has let you keep any). When a poorly run bar shut down in October Carluccio’s sprung up in its place, almost overnight it seemed. We peered in the window and thought, ooh another pricey, posh place for Earlsfield, then we looked at the menu and the prices and thought, ooh, we may be able to eat here. So we did. While not as cheap as the inimitable Little Bay (nowhere is) Carluccio’s offers authentic Italian plates, mostly for well under a tenner. Apparently, they have been around since 1991, but they have always slipped under my radar. Maybe it’s like that phenomenon where you hear a word for the first time, then you never stop hearing that word. Maybe its not. I have walked past their places loads of times and just never noticed them. Maybe they should change their exterior to leap out at me a bit more. Come to think of it, they shouldn’t. They are always never less than full. The restaurants are light and spacious with simple chairs and tables, which echo the simple yet effective cooking they serve. We started with calamari and rice balls. The squid was competently fried and served with a simple lemon slice and lettuce, which, to be honest, is all it needs. I abhor the acidic white paste it usually comes with. Squid is a very delicate flavour and the last thing it needs is to be lost in an overpowering tartare sauce. The rice balls were firm and held together on the fork well, a creamy mozerella filling oozed from one and the other a deep, rich ragu and served with a red pepper sauce which was well justified, adding a zingy flash to the palette. I had just time to swoosh with a mouthful of fresh mint tea when the mains landed. The wife had a large plate of fresh linguine pasta, tossed with plenty of clean, fresh frutti di mare, garlic, herbs and a hint of chilli. I demolished a cold duck breast salad with firm green beans and potatoes. Generous plump green olives brought the whole dish together beautifully. There was a little too much of the olive oil and balsamic dressing but it’s a minor quibble. It is Italian cooking you don’t find on these shores very often. Keep it simple and fresh. It really is that easy. Throw in such reasonable prices and maybe we can sign the rent agreement for another year.

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