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29 June 2005

Kalendar *****

What attributes make a good local restaurant?  I was mulling this over the other day as I was tucking in to a fantastic tuna steak and chips at Kalendar.  My conclusions were that the key ingredients are

  • the Norm factor - they don't have to know your name but a nod of recognition is always nice
  • a menu you know you'll always enjoy whatever the weather, whatever your mood
  • a decent drinks menu
  • good staff
  • clean loos

Kalendar has all of these points in spades.  Yes, it can be chokka on a Sunday lunch in the summer, but apart from the table scrum this is a fine place. 

Local restaurants tend to fall into certain stereotypes, either spruced up greasy spoons; chichi coffee shops that shut at 6pm; the little Italian around the corner; the great Indian around the corner; or a local doing its best to pretend its in the West End.  Rarely do you go in, sit down and know that you'll find something you'll like on the menu and that they'll cook it decently.

I've been going to Kalendar for a couple of years now and so far I have yet to be disappointed.  I realised what a treasure this place was the other day.  Being far too hot to bother cooking myself I decided to let someone else take the strain.  Whilst walking down there I started to crave a gazpacho, which segued into a tuna steak and chips which in turn segued into a bottle of cold rose.  Now, I went to Kalendar knowing that none of these things are on the regular menu (largely comprised of salads - the mozzarella salad is one of the finest - sandwiches, burgers and lots of breakfasts), so I was having to come to terms with eating something tasty, but not exactly what I wanted.

However, I hadn't bargained on the ESP tendencies of Alex the owner, his good business skills, i.e. knowing what the customer wants and the specials board.  Marked up, in glorious chalk were all the things I was craving.  I was delighted, but stumped because, although the tuna was screaming out my name, the prospect of freshly grilled sardines on sourdough was very, very tempting.

Gazpacho in the UK is all too often insipid, without the kick of garlic and peppers you get in Andalucia.  Although they might have held back on the garlic slightly, this was a good gazpacho.  A couple of twists of black pepper made it a great gazpacho.  The tuna was similarly fine - true I did have to argue a bit with the waitress who really didn't want me to have it rare, she said it was better well done - but otherwise it was great.  I can't remember the rose, but that's the point of it isn't it?  You drink it on a balmy summer evening when you want something cool and refreshing that will ensure things are even mellower.

I go here regularly and would recommend a whole host of things from the menu but the pastries; the chips; the vegetable tagine; the soups and salads stand out particularly.  My one request is, don't go there too often - I still want to be able to get my table and soon maybe I'll move up the pecking order from simply receiving a nod when I walk in, to a shout out of "'Brow".

Don't just take my word for it.  Giles Coren, The Times restaurant reviewer is a regular there and so far seems not to have written a review.  I can only surmise that he thinks it's so good he doesn't want even more people scrambling for a table.

Kalendar, 15a Swains Lane, Highgate, London, N6 6QX, UK
Tel: 020 8348 8300
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