Where I used to live in Brixton, the ill-reputed underbelly of London, my flat was directly opposite an Ethiopian restaurant. My then-boyfriend used to joke that we’d be greeted by UN food parcels winging their way to our table. The reality was the characteristically sour pancakes served with various curry-like dishes, some of which were tastier than others.
I hadn’t repeated my Ethiopian experience since, despite the recommendation of a little joint named ‘Abyssinia’ near my previous place in Amsterdam. So I was curious, in a not altogether positive way, when I was invited to an ‘East African’ restaurant in de Pijp on Friday night. Azmarino is housed in a narrow room just south of the Sarphatipark. First impressions are certainly not glamorous, but the atmosphere is surprisingly ‘gezellig’. Our waiter managed to juggle all the tables in the (admittedly small) restaurant single-handedly whilst maintaining a broad grin that is so rare in many Amsterdam eateries. We were ten so we decided to order a mixture of vegetarian and omnivorous dishes, leaving it up to the chef to decide which to choose. The food was somewhat slow in coming (we almost had the impression that it was the same man preparing the food as waiting tables) but the wine kept flowing and the Americans with whom I was dining were sufficiently entertaining that I didn’t much mind the wait.
I wish I’d had my camera with me because the platters that arrived were an oil painting: an intricate pattern of darkly marinated chicken drumsticks, green spinach, pastes of pulses and yellow spices, and bright flecks of salad all set against a canvas of pale pancakes. Plates and cutlery were not forthcoming (not that we asked for them) so we all dug in with our hands. The sauces were spicy but not too hot, the pancakes offering a subtle contrast without being sour. My only criticism would be that everything was cold; for all I know, this could be entirely authentic, but my Northern European palate is not accustomed to this East African practice. As attractive as the platter was the bill – a mere €30 a head including tip.
The experience put me in mind of another young man I know who might like this kind of restaurant: my nephew. His dad took him to Masala Zone in London, and I know he loves spicy food and a relaxed atmosphere. So Ludovic, if you’re reading, what do you reckon?