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Tobia, London NW3

We sent Louise Elgin off on an Ethiopian adventure!

If you are into ‘smart’ dining, Tobia may not be for you. However, if you fancy a more casual, but authentic experience, this quirky Ethiopian restaurant may be just your scene. Situated on the first floor above an Ethiopian community centre, we were treated to or bombarded by, depending on your perspective, the jolly music from a dance class below. The atmosphere is basic but homely and seemingly proud to be so, and whilst service is very slow, it's best not to arrive too ravenous. A television droned on in the background with no one particularly watching it. Groups of indigenous men smoked and gossiped at tables, idling away the evening away over the national brew, ‘AbyssinianTej’, an amber-coloured wine fermented with gesho hops, honey and ginger. It is made on the premises and allegedly becomes stronger over time, so sadly the night we visited, Sophie, the warm and overworked yet cheerful owner, discouraged us from trying it.

With no clear idea of what to eat from the rather confusing menu, Sophie, who seemed to have several hats on during the evening, from wine waiter to waitress to front of house, helpfully suggested that we tried the ‘Tekesha’ the Ethiopian version of a Meze. This comprised several dishes designed for sharing and was served on the staple ‘injera’ pancake which acted both as a plate and the ‘bread’ for the meal. With no cutlery offered, the generous platter of dishes we ate with our fingers included steak tartare, served with cottage cheese, chillies and coriander. There was also an Ethiopian version of wonderfully scented Sushi, and some totally tender lamb stew served on the bone and flavoured with turmeric. A traditional chicken curry was served with boiled egg and chilli sauce. The injera pancake bread, was to my taste, cold and rather vinegary, but is obviously an acquired taste

My guest being vegetarian was spoilt for choice as the African Coptic Christian diet is vegan for nearly two-thirds of the year, with Wednesdays and Fridays being days when no meat or dairy products are served.  He had a assortment of dishes including Buticha, a vegetarian scrambled eggs made from broad bean flour, red onions and green chilli,  served cold, a very good mild split pea dal, some spinach and a subtle brown chick pea tarka dal. To accompany our dishes we were served a tasty ricotta-like cheese, spinach and chilli condiment

Our bill, including a full bodied Mouton Cadet, (no that didn't come from Ethiopia) was a modest £16.00 a head - next time it will have to be the AbyssinianTej. This turned out to be an evening we’ll never forget, enveloped in a warm, unique atmosphere with beautiful music and genuine hospitality. 

Louise Elgin, September 2005

Tobia
2a Lithos Road
London NW3
Tel: 020 7431 4213

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