In my neck of the woods, that being Hornchurch and home of the Mighty Urchins (no relation), I have to say that we're pretty much spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out. For starters there is the local Prezzo which offers an exquisite range of pizza, pasta and grills. Continuing much in the same vein is a vibrant little place called Zizzi which offers a not too dissimilar line of Italian fare such as pizza, pasta and grills. Then there is the spectacularly cladded Wildwood and I can tell you that a wild night of pizza, pasta and grills always ensues whenever we go there. And of course, lest we forget the fantastic Ask, a restaurant that proffers a slightly more subtle approach, still supplying pizza and pasta but with a greater emphasis on insalatas rather than grills. Not all roads lead to Rome in Hornchurch mind. Oh no, for an utterly authentic Mexican experience then one can do no better than to go to Chimichanga, where one can wear a sombrero whilst chowing down on a big, fat, bulbous burrito. But best of all we have a Nandos, that symposium of bottomless soft, sugary drinks and endless varieties of PERi-PERi chicken. You can feel your head positively spin every time you pick up the menu and glance at the plethora of buzz words on the page. Hot, breast, cool, wings, medium, wrap, chicken, breast, hot, chips, coke, burp, chicken, diabetes etc etc etc. Authenticity and variety comes at a price though and there are times when the choice just gets too much. It's not unusual to find myself in the hubub of a Saturday night simply standing there in the middle of a zebra crossing, not knowing where to go and with tears in my eyes. Willing, just willing for a car to mow me down and put me out of my misery. Yes, it's that tough a call to make.
Of course I am being incredibly sar-car-stic here and perhaps a bit of a food snob but whenever I reflect upon what is available on my local high street, my heart does sink a tad at the creeping diaspora of corporate beige that is starting to envelop Hornchurch. Whilst I don't expect the suburban town I live in to be a mecca of fine dining, I can't help but get narked at the fact that the main eateries in the area are the same ubiquitous chains that run up and down the land. Having peeked under the bonnet today, I am particularly narked to discover that there are just a handful of people who run the show but who don't make it plainly obvious on their company websites. You see, all of the aforementioned restaurants are linked* in some way or another via affiliations or partnerships or under the umbrella of private equity. To be honest I feel quite daft and naive at this realisation because in essence they are all the same type of restaurant, peddling the same generic menus and using the same ingredients, they are just operating behind a different frontage or brand. But what is the deal behind this vague approach I wonder? What are these companies trying to hide? Furthermore I wonder how many of us know that we've been monopolised or do we even care as we're herded into these places clutching coupons and voucher codes? The argument or discussion I've got running through my head is half baked but the more I think about it, the more I think that it's a crying shame, this proliferation of plastic restaurants in the neighbourhood. Especially when there are smaller, local, family run establishments that offer so much more in terms of food, atmosphere and service. Places like the Turkish Mangal in Hornchurch which is a simple, sparce yet friendly and warm restaurant that serves up wonderful and reasonably priced Turkish food from a impressive looking barbecue grill. Great stuff. I went there on Saturday night and tried their iskender for the first time. Tender pieces of lamb covered with a spicy tomato sauce and served on a bed of torn bread mixed with yoghurt, it was delicious. I was also stuffed, full up to the brim but sadly the same could not be said of the restaurant. However, all around Prezzo, Zizzi, Ask, Wildwood and especially Nandos, well they were packed.
And now I am confused.
This was supposed to be a restaurant review.....
(*I should add that Josh from Cooking The Books pointed this out to me)