They never lose their sense of hummus at this Crouch End institution
PUBLISHED: 12:43 06 September 2007 | UPDATED: 14:37 07 September 2010
Just when you think this is just another Greek restaurant, out comes the grilled meat, writes Victoria Prever Arocaria is a Crouch End institution. The Ham&High s editor Geoff Martin is a huge fan and has been nudging me to pay them a visit for some time
Just when you think this is just another Greek restaurant, out comes the grilled meat, writes Victoria Prever
Arocaria is a Crouch End institution. The Ham&High's editor Geoff Martin is a huge fan and has been nudging me to pay them a visit for some time. And when a friend also sang its praises it was time to get down there.
Once The Comedian Café - catering to the thespian students of the then nearby Mountview Theatre School - the site first became a Greek restaurant in 1978.
The owner of that restaurant lasted just a year before current proprietor Joseph took over.
This charming and unassuming Greek Cypriot has been doling out hummus and kleftiko for almost 30 years. He must be doing something right.
Arocaria is tucked away on a side street off the main drag on Weston Park.
It would make Charlie Dimmock proud and hay-fever sufferers run a mile. Its floral display, oozing buxomly from the first floor terrace above the restaurant entrance, is worthy of a visit in itself.
Pushing through the overgrowth, we walked into the open kitchen grill area where much of the cooking takes place.
In 30-ish degrees of heat, two of the weariest men I've ever seen looked up from their scorching hot chargrill. They sent us up a flight of narrow stairs.
At 3pm on a stifling Sunday afternoon, the downstairs dining room was deserted. Upstairs was a similar story.
Joseph greeted us with a friendly smile and sent us out to the flower-filled terrace where all shaded tables were occupied.
With some shuffling about, we managed to find a slightly sheltered corner.
The slightly dilapidated terrace has layers of charm, with parasols that have seen better days, crispy brown sun-scorched plants and patterned vinyl tablecloths secured with clothes pegs. You might call it ramshackle Greek chic.
If it hadn't been for the views of Colonel Sanders' latest offers across the road and the thumping bass of the reggae pumping out of a nearby, parked car, we could have been in a deserted Greek island taverna.
Joseph brought us the extensive menu from which I insisted Grumpy share the vegetarian mezze so we could taste a range of dishes.
It arrived in stages. A beetroot salad, pleasingly gritty - if bland - houmous, a tangy but fairly pleasant tsatsiki and some fresh, summery tabbouleh arrived with a basket of warm pita. So far so unexciting.
Next up, brown, grilled haloumi, a very average greek salad, some warm dolmades and a plate of falafel - more Middle Eastern than Greek - which Grumpy favoured but I found stodgy and underseasoned. None of it was offensive but it was equally unmemorable.
I was starting to think the plaudits were misguided.
It's a well-known phenomenon. Recollection of taste does have a lot to do with your mental condition when eating or drinking. Something can taste fantastic when eaten or drunk in 30 degrees with a view of a large expanse of water. But it's a different story when eaten in N8 - where the biggest expanse of water you're likely to see is a huge puddle.
Take, for example, the rosé you sipped in Spain or the local brew you enjoyed every evening as a beach bar sundowner. Similarly, perhaps Arocaria fans had a touch of this syndrome, remembering the food with rosé-coloured glasses, clouded by the flower decked terrace setting?
The next stage of what was becoming a test for how much we could stretch our stomachs didn't challenge this theory. A square of wintery vegetable moussaka, heavily seasoned with nutmeg but with béchamel so thick you could plaster walls with it. On a cold night I'd have had less to complain about. But this was never going to score highly in the hot weather.
Just when I'd given Arocaria up as another average Greek diner with a pretty terrace, the vegetable kebabs and a chicken kebab I'd ordered - to avoid going cold turkey in our carnivorously-challenged meal - arrived and changed this story. The chicken kebab was really excellent - perfectly cooked, succulent chicken with healthily charred pepper, tomato and onion.
Grumpy's vegetable kebab, on a bed of tomato-flavoured rice, was similarly good.
Perhaps meat and other grilled goods are their thing.
This seemingly endless Greek food marathon would have beaten even Demis Roussos. Feeling a bit like the man himself, we couldn't even look at the dessert menu.
But I had been told by one regular that the cheesecake was a must. Never one to miss out on a good dessert, I went to find Joseph. He was more than happy to package up a slice for us to take with us. We ate it a few hours later and it was spectacular. Creamy, heavily laced with cinnamon, real biscuity base and a layer of berry topping. Visit for that alone.
While not all the food at Arocaria shines, I ate enough good stuff to appreciate why it has such a huge local fan base.
His guests tend to find him through word of mouth and, to have such a loyal fan base, you have to be doing something right.
If you didn't get away this year then go and eat grilled meat and cheesecake on the terrace - the perfect place to pretend you're in foreign climes. Just don't sit facing the KFC.
Arocaria, 48c The Broadway, Weston Park, Crouch End.
Telephone: 020-8340 0580.
Food: Four star rating
Service: Four star rating
Opening hours: Monday - Saturday noon-3pm, 6pm-11.30pm. Sunday 12.30pm-11.30pm.
Cost: Approximately £20 per head.