A mas­sive mashup of mor­eish morsels

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

167 Junc­tion Road, London N19 5PZ 0207 281 5684;

del­parc.com No set price, but roughly £30-35 per head (with wine

or beer, about £45)

All restau­rants are unique, but some are more unique than oth­ers, as George Or­well almost put it in An­i­mal Farm; and very few in my ca­reer have been uni­quer than Del Parc. By the way, be­fore any­one thinks of com­plain­ing that (a) ev­ery Pizza Ex­press is iden­ti­cal to all the oth­ers; and/or (b) with unique­ness, as with preg­nancy, there can be no de­grees, re­mem­ber that this is the last page to which the sane turn in the search for writ­ing that makes one whit of sense.

One as­pect of this charm­ing north London joint that makes it so sui generis, to lurch into the ar­got of the court­room, is that it seems to oc­cupy dif­fer­ent points in time. On one level, it feels pe­cu­liarly old. Wispy sheets draped over poles hint at a Be­douin tent and the time­less scent of the Tuareg camp fire, while the dra­matic vis­age of chef Steve Mor­rish – a bearded colos­sus on view in the kitchen op­po­site a gi­ant wood carv­ing of Bud­dha – ap­pears to have been pur­loined from an Inca de­ity.

On another level, in both culi­nary and so­cial his­toric terms, it is ab­so­lutely of the present. Mor­rish and Alan McNally, who runs the front of house, are part­ners in life as well as com­merce (I for­got to ask if they have wed), while the meld­ing of Span­ish ta­pas with North African dishes could scarcely be more zeit­geisty.

On a third level, Del Parc feels faintly fu­tur­is­tic. While its re­fusal to bother with a menu (noth­ing is printed or on black­boards) is hardly new, it is a nov­elty that the dishes keep com­ing un­til you can ei­ther eat no more, or are too em­bar­rassed to ad­mit that you could. A hunch tells me that this “Jewish mother” ap­proach will catch on and be­come a trend, though it will not be to all tastes. To “Do you have any al­ler­gies?” – the rit­ual in­quiry de­manded by the lack of any choice – my own Jewish mother would re­ply, “Yes, I’m al­ler­gic to not hav­ing a menu,” and de­mand an amuse­bouche of adrenalin lest she go into ana­phy­lac­tic shock. But many of us like be­ing spared the agony of in­de­ci­sion, not to men­tion the en­forced in­ti­macy that comes from the shar­ing of food.

And what en­chant­ing, vi­brant food it is that Mor­rish pre­pares – and with such be­wil­der­ing seren­ity, given the sort of broil­ing heat that would turn a Zen master into a se­rial killer, in his mi­nus­cule glass-fronted pen. After quail eggs served with cumin, smoked pa­prika and sesame seeds, there ar­rived a Manchegoflavoured tor­tilla of amaz­ing fluffi­ness. Next up came a lav­ish serv­ing of gor­geous chorizo and sal­si­chon with olives and capers; a plate of mush­rooms with baby onions caramelised in rich, trea­cly Pe­dro Ximenez sherry; ar­ti­choke hearts and but­ter beans with garlic and herbs; pancettawrapped dates filled with a Span­ish blue cheese (Tre­viso); and a salad of green, yel­low and red toma­toes (all tast­ing of tomato in breach of the Restau­ra­teur’s Code, sec­tion nine, sub­sec­tion three), with a sweet basil rel­ish.

It was al­ready clear from more than the strad­dling of time zones that this is a Tardis restau­rant. The qual­ity of the cook­ing and such flour­ishes as exquisitely del­i­cate cut­lery es­tab­lished that, in terms of am­bi­tion, it is in­fin­itely big­ger on the inside than the room’s weeni­ness would sug­gest to any­one glanc­ing in from the out­side. The cook­ing then zigzagged through space, from Spain to North Africa and back again, for the main cour­ses. Savoury Moroc­can lamb sweet­breads yielded to a spinach salad with pine nuts with garlic crou­tons, be­fore we nipped back across the Strait of Gibraltar for sweet and smoky dou­ble­mar­i­nated loin of Span­ish pork with char­grilled piquillo pep­pers in romesco sauce. “Have you had enough?” asked McNally. We were by no means sated with the cook­ing of Mor­rish, who must be the most sig­nif­i­cant chefly boost to the the­ory of nom­i­na­tive de­ter­min­ism (the idea that names guide des­tinies) in Bri­tain. We wanted more, and it came in the guise of gen­tly spiced, herby and sen­sa­tional Moroc­can chicken with pomegranate seeds. Or­di­nar­ily, I would have gone on and on but, dis­sat­is­fied with its terms and con­di­tions, my tape­worm is work­ing to rule. We ended with home­made ice cream (vanilla, pomegranate and al­mond) and cho­co­lates.

My soli­tary reser­va­tion about fever­ishly rec­om­mend­ing Del Parc is the small chance of en­coun­ter­ing Alas­tair Camp­bell, who lives nearby, while the evening’s only moan con­cerned the mu­sic. “It’s bit belly dancery, and not so good tonight,” said one reg­u­lar. “Oh, God, is that Madonna?” It was, with La Isla Bonita. But there was no fault­ing the cook­ing, ser­vice or warmth of a room that tran­scends the lim­i­ta­tions of its spa­tial di­men­sions, and ra­di­ates the rosy glow found only in labour-oflove neigh­bour­hood restau­rants which treat their pun­ters not as sheep to be fleeced but as cher­ished friends. “I’ve never been any­where as idio­syn­cratic and per­sonal,” said one of those ul­tra-loy­al­ists as we lin­gered over the dregs of a de­cent house Rioja and cof­fee. “Apart from the peo­ple and the food, what I love is that it’s not fol­low­ing any kind of trend.” It isn’t, but in an ideal world it would cer­tainly start one.

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