Crystal Palace Nights

Beautiful homely dining area
Beautiful homely dining area

Discovering new bits of London can leave you feeling a little bit like Amerigo Vespucci or Colombus or even Captain Cook – you travel by bus through dark unknown places like Syndenham and Catford and end up deposited in a place which feels familiar and alien and yet everything is suddenly wonderful. This is exactly what happened on Saturday when my lovely friend The Foodie invited me out. The Foodie is genuinely one of the best restaurant people I know, given that she used to work in the biz and knows pretty much all there is to know about going to places which make your belly and your karma happy. See the good people of the SRA – no, not solicitors, the Sustainable Restaurant Association, silly! – for more info.

I’d been through Crystal Palace a few times on my way to Ikea, but I hadn’t actually taken the opportunity to throughly explore, get under its skin, as it were. And frankly that night it was so bitterly cold we did no more than huddle indoors for warmth while drinking – which is still a totally legit and excellent use of my time, btw. But I’m informed that there are loads of excellent vintage stores and secondhand furniture shops and really  I am going to go back and write it up but OH MY GOD the food.

So, straight up – you want to go to Domali Cafe. It’s a pescatarian-vegetarian cafe which does the MOST amazing happy hour. £4 per cocktail and I’m very happy indeedy.

Making all your hours happy!
Making all your hours happy!
Come to mama, Kir Royale.
Come to mama, Kir Royale.

The Kir Royale is a veritable test of a restaurant I find. Too heavy handed with the cassis and you’re just drinking a posh ribena. This was a lovely example of a great touch just EVER so slightly let down by overwarm and a fairly acidic prosecco. Still, at £4 I had expected something I could strip paint with, so I was a very happy bunny indeed. The rhubarb collins at the end of the meal was an absolute treat – a home-made syrup which still puckers my mouth blended with gin and fizzy and my GOD it made me want to lip-synch to Whitney Houston. Which is an excellent and totally legit test of any drink.

But it’s the food we came for. The fabulous, home cooked, amazing food at bargain prices. And HOW. We’ll start with the chips. For £3, you’d expect a little bucket of stringy fries but here, you get hulk hogan chips. Beastly shards of potato amounting to about 3 potatoes-worth, some with the skin still on, frazzled with the heat of the hot oil and with a huge pot of sauce. Either a spicy chilli sauce or an aioli which didn’t have a whisper of garlic so much as a full-throated ROAR. So naturally we finished it before we got to the bottom of the bucket of chips, whereupon the charming waitress gave us another pot. My friends, we’re not in GBK anymore. WE’LL NEVER GO SAUCELESS AGAIN *cries*.

The mains were… well. Let’s do pics, shall we (ignore that yes, I am that twat taking pictures of my dinner).

Gratuitous salad shot. And what looks like a pale hockey puck is in fact the ENORMOUS slice of goats cheese.
Gratuitous salad shot. And what looks like a pale hockey puck is in fact the ENORMOUS slice of goats cheese.
Laksa loveliness
Laksa loveliness

The specials board was a temptation on its own, but the malaysian in me screamed “LAKSA” and frankly there was no option – you can’t unsee that shit. It’s hard to get a sense of the scale of the bowl but think “cauldron” and you’re getting there. I’m no advocate of quantity over quality, but this was truly a good example. Still crispy-salmon, fat prawns curled in the depths, a spice paste bursting with lemongrass and fresh turmeric (I can always tell) and clearly home made, judging by the chunkiness of the paste. The only quibbles (if there were a couple) were 1) rice stick vermicelli are not canon – you want noodles like you want your women – WITH BODY, and 2) it could have been a little more hot for my taste. I’m waging a one-woman war on gutless curries and while this was by no means wimpy, it could have been a touch more punchy. A little more Manny Pacquiao, you get me?

At this stage our bellies should have been groaning but instead we were talked into (read: offered) dessert and before we could get sensible we asked “what is the tart?”. You see, the menu makes the mistake of getting coy about the dessert. It’s tart or cake. And you think, “MEH.” Then you ask what they mean and the next thing you know the words “home made banoffee pie” get used and what kind of sicko just lets you walk away from that for £4? Between the two of us we made short work of it, and by god it was excellent.

So far, so excellent, and at under £40 per head FOR THE TWO OF US (it gets better, people) for frankly embarrassing ourselves, we were feeling pretty clever.

The Foodie then suggested that we take a stroll up to a new place that’s opened on the triangle by a former alum of Be@1 and a couple of other places. I love me a good cocktail and my hopes were pretty low, frankly, from the look of it. Let’s start with the name: Cocktail Embassy. It’s a bit naff, bringing to mind towers of fererro rocher and old men with plastic women sat on their laps. It was a strange place, with neon lighting meeting plastic tables and black plastic chandeliers and the mixture of bemused locals and hen parties in skintight dresses was a bit disconcerting.

Under the circumstances I was thinking I’d be looking at a novella with various creamy baileys-based concoctions and “fruit-based drinks for the ladies”. Instead, there was a short, bold list of shorts and longs, nothing over sweet and most very adult-tasting (based on what we tried). The Basil Bog jumped out (a sweet pestoey-whiskey short), alongside a great white creme de cacao and lemongrass confection,  but it was the fruit-and-nut manhattan which won my heart. A smokey, sweet, dry drink in an ice-cold glass with a very long finish in the mouth. Still, it feels like a place struggling to identify itself as a boundary-pushing bar for grownups with grownup palates in a place which still wants pints and slammers. I hope it gets the backing and the clientele that the clearly-skilfull bar staff deserve.

Neon Dreamzzzz
Neon Dreamzzzz
Black plastic chandeliers. Because life is a nightclub and you're NOT ON THE LIST.
Black plastic chandeliers. Because life is a nightclub and you’re NOT ON THE LIST.
Cocktail Embassy
76 Westow Hill, SE19 1SE, Crystal Palace
0203 609 2929
info@cocktailembassy.com

DOMALI CAFE 38 WESTOW STREET, LONDON SE19 1RX

Tel: 020 8768 0096

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