Khamsa
140 Acre Lane
Brixton
Lambeth SW2 5UT
28/09/2010
I’ve been thinking of you for one week, Khamsa. It was love at first sight. The world is grey and wet tonight and I need your warm aromas: embracing, soft. You are a cashmere scarf, Khamsa!

And how can you not be? With your salty caramel and dried orange peel colours, mellow Berber music and pans clinking in the kitchen like Sunday lunch with your family.

It is so cosy and so homely it makes you feel you don’t want to start eating until mum and dad – well, the owners in this case – sit down at the table! By the way, the owners: young, attentive and rightly proud of their business. They were very nice on the phone when I booked, nice during dinner and nice when we paid… and the guy sat down and chatted with us for a good ten minutes. So, I liked the place, I liked the service, but did I like the food? Sure thing I did!

There are 8 starters on the menu and you can have a sharing plate and try them all. We went for that, which consisted of 8 small salads – cold and warm – served with bread. Definitely try: carrot with cumin; lamb sausage with onion and chickpeas; lentils with beans and the Baba Ganoush. I usually HATE Baba Ganoush but I could have had a bucket of it! And say goodbye to Hummus the way you know it. Edo, as happy as a clam, claimed it was the best in HIS LIFE!!!

There are 4 or 5 tajine and 4 or 5 cous-cous to choose from in the “mains” section. I had vegetable cous-cous. Think of polystyrene balls’ lightness…yes, exactly…they fly! Bet you’ve never had such a “fluffy” experience…food wise, at least! Vegetables soft and nice, gravy warm and tasty. The blend of spices gave it the mild hotness I was hoping for.

Edo chose a tajine: sweet potatoes, chicken, spinach, flaked almonds and sultanas. And that…that was PHENOMENAL. Every ingredient stood its ground but eventually surrounded to the “beauty of the gravy” which was sweet, mildly hot, charmingly gentle!

Portions were good and I found Algerian cuisine rather healthy and digestible, but we didn’t want to push it too far so skipped dessert. Edo had espresso and I wanted something unusual so I tried coffee with rose water. I liked the after taste, but knowing myself I would have probably liked the spicy coffee better. Shame it wasn’t available, but they change their blends often (impressive, I think!). In fact, next on their list is coffee with…no, I won’t spoil it…go try!

Forgot to say no bottled water is available, but they have plenty of home-made juices or mint tea. We had mint tea.

I know what you are thinking now: “Come on, how much for such a treat?” £40 is the answer. And we left, singing in the rain…

  • Food: 4.5
  • Ambience: 4
  • Service: 4
  • Value: 4.5
  • Overall: 4.25
Monica
We had to go twice to this one as the first time it was totally full and we could not get a table. The restaurant is located between Brixton and Clapham, two areas with very different character: the result is the neighbourhood does not look like Brixton and does not look like Clapham. Having tried both approaches, I recommend the one from Clapham: better for the morale. The restaurant is very small: it is basically a single room, the front half being the seating area, the back half the kitchen which is in full view of the customers. There are ten tables and the kitchen almost looks like a family one: it gives you the warm feeling of almost eating in a home. The decor is simple but with a clear Algerian theme. Algeria, not generically North Africa: the point is made very clearly.

There are two staff: husband and wife. The husband mostly cooks but occasionally ventures to the front of house. We had a chat after the meal and he was very kind, friendly, informative, interesting. The wife is mostly dealing with customers. Service was excellent: the right speed, welcoming, efficient, personal.

My fear going in was that everything would taste the same, drowned in too much of the same spices; this could not have been farther from the truth. We got the assorted eight salad starters. Most consisted of different cold, cooked vegetables, gently spiced. All eight were very good and with distinctive tastes: I particularly liked the carrots, the lentils with beetroot, and the hummus which was very delicate and tasty, well balanced. As main, I had a tajine with chicken, raisins, sweet potatoes, spinach, almonds. Every single ingredient was nicely cooked and with its own distinctive taste, yet the whole dish worked perfectly in beautiful harmony. On the whole, this was very well prepared, well thought-through, well sourced North African food. In fairness I could not tell the difference between it and Moroccan but I do know it was good. They do not serve wine so we had mint tea, which made the experience even more realistic.

We spent £40 in total, which was excellent value for money. Overall this was exactly the kind of place we are looking for in this mission: a simple restaurant with character, delicious food and personal, attentive service. The best country so far by some margin.

  • Food: 3
  • Ambience: 2.5
  • Service: 3.5
  • Value: 4
  • Overall: 3.25
Edo
ALGERIA