There’s a little restaurant on the Shepherd’s Bush end of the Uxbridge Road with the brightest red and yellow sign I’ve ever burned my retinas on. That’s Red Sea Restaurant, a cosy place serving food from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Yemen. The countries seem a bit random but a quick peek at Google maps confirms that the countries are all clustered together, with the Red Sea acting as the boundary between Africa and Asia. I’d visited the restaurant a year or two ago with a colleague but hadn’t been back since to really try the menu. I reckon we’ve made a good start of it recently and it’s now a firm favourite of ours.
After meeting at Westfield one evening after work, Blai and I headed to Red Sea to dine rather than go to one of the chain restaurants at the mall (we usually head to the Byron’s there but we weren’t feeling like burgers). Keen to try as much as possible on our (sort of) first visit, we opted to share their Red Sea special dish, a mix of seven Abyssinian dishes (£22) . What arrived was something a little bigger than we anticipated.
Let’s take a little tour around the platter!
Everything’s sitting on a base of injera, that fermented, spongy, steamed flat bread, which does a fine job of soaking up all the delicious sauces. In the middle, there’s some doro wat, that most famous of Ethiopian dishes – a spicy stew of chicken and boiled eggs.
There were two different lamb stews and a mild vegetable stew.
Lentils! I adore Ethiopian and Eritrean lentil dishes – they’re so flavourful. The yellow stuff was what I affectionately called the delicious yellow mush. The spiced rice was a nod to the Yemeni cuisine also served by the restaurant.
More lentils – those red ones in the front were cooked in a rich tomato sauce. All delicious and we couldn’t stop shovelling it all in.
There was easily enough food for three people; we didn’t make a dent into the accompanying basket of injera. Oh, did I not mention the basket of injera on the side? We really tried our best but we just couldn’t finish everything on the platter. And by the way, those aren’t teaspoons (well, we used spoons but traditionally, one would eat with one’s right hand). A very good deal, I say!
If that’s just too much food for you, the dishes are mostly available separately on the Abyssinian part of the menu (all served with injera).
On another visit, we ordered off what we think was the Yemeni side of the menu (not clearly listed but going through the Wikipedia entry for Yemeni cuisine prior to the visit helped a bit. I wasn’t at all acquainted with this cuisine previously). This was my Baby Chicken Filets marinated in a Saffron Sauce, served with the same spiced rice we had the first time (£5.50). That rice is outstanding – perfectly cooked and infused with spice and caramelised onions and dotted with the occasional sultana.
Blai’s Bamia Billahmi was okra with lamb cubes cooked with tomato, coriander and garlic and was served with rice, though injera was also offered (£6.00). Everything had been stewed to tenderness and was supremely comforting.
The fresh chilli sauce brought to our table (is this zhoug – the famous Yemeni chilli sauce?) was bright and zingy with tomatoes and herbs and I added it liberally to my rice. Such a cheap meal that was!
We returned again recently and almost ordered the giant platter but as it was just lunch time, we went the sensible route and split two of the Yemeni dishes again.
Blai ordered the Lamb Mandi with rice (£7.00). This was described as steamed lamb on the menu but what came out was much more delicious than the description led us to expect. The tender meat had obviously been marinated in goodness.
I went with the Grilled Sea Bass with rice (£9.00), wanting something a little lighter than meat; I wasn’t expecting my “light” lunch to come on two separate plates!
This was a whole butterflied, perfectly cooked, charcoal grilled fish. It was gorgeous – the fish too had been marinated and the skin had taken on that flavour you only get from cooking over charcoal. Blai had to help me with it and together, we picked it clean.
We got to try their Lemon shake (£2.00) this time (their machine was broken on our last visit). It was fresh, refreshing and tasty – definitely recommended. Nothing wrong with ordering tap water here too – they’ll bring a whole jug of it out for the table.
Like Bonda Cafe, this is a simple place serving good food – definitely recommended. I haven’t yet figured out which of the dishes on the menu are from Somalia though… If Wikipedia is anything to go by, perhaps the spaghetti bolognese on the menu is a Somali version. Something tells me though that we’re going to be getting the big platter again next time…
Red Sea Restaurant
382 Uxbridge Road
London W12 7LL