As far as experiencing new tastes and ideas, Queen of Sheba, a short walk from Kentish Town station, seems to be something of a promised land.
One of London’s most renowned purveyors of Ethiopian cuisine, the marketing blurb will leave you thrilled at the idea of “unique and exotic tastes that will remain with you forever”.
And first impressions certainly seem to offer something different. Full of traditional figures, woven designs and earthy colours, Queen of Sheba shimmers in a warm red light. Beaming, open-armed staff, and a somewhat haphazard way with layout only add to feeling of being somewhere wholly honest and welcoming.
The sense of intimacy was harnessed also in the way the food seemed to bring people together, diners on other tables leaning in close to mop up their dishes from a huge, pancake-round serving of the country’s traditional injera bread.
A starter of spinach and homemade cottage cheese wrapped in the ubiquitous bread served to set the scene – both for good and bad; we loved the freedom of eating without cutlery and dropping the tiny morsels into our mouths, however found the filling a little under-whelming against the slightly lemon-sharp bread.
There was similar foodie fever at mains, as we gleefully tore at our bread in order to grab our dishes with hands and fingers – a feast for the eyes, perhaps even the soul but not, unfortunately, for the taste-buds.
A lamb dish with green pepper and onion was hugely disappointing, the meat gristly and tough, with little flavouring beyond the charred meat. It looked and tasted like something that might have been sitting under the heat lamps at a cheap Chinese buffet for far too long.
A traditional vegetable stew came highly recommended and packed a lot more punch, the flavours deep and yet with the chickpea, onion and pepper still easy to pick up on the palette. Yet, despite that success and the hugely enjoyable experience, there was a heavy-handedness in dry meat, under-seasoned filling and tangy bread that would prevent me exploring Queen of Sheba again in a hurry.