A blast of culinary warmth in Kentish Town
PHOENICIA is the best thing to have happened to Kentish Town Road since the opening of Pane Vino and the Bengal Lancer, and it has brought a blast of Mediterranean sun to what is my any standards one of the dreariest high streets in London.
The shop, which opened in 2003 is owned and run by a Lebanese family, has an enormous stock of both fresh food and preserved delicacies and staples from the region, and there is such a vibrant atmosphere inside that I almost wondered why nobody asked for my passport as I went in through the door.
If you like things like halvah, that delectable mixture of sesame seeds, nuts and honey, this is the place to come, for they have at least 20 different kinds. The same goes for Turkish delight and all the other forms of sweets that keep dentists busy in the Middle East.
There must be at least 15 large tubs of olives, some with garlic, some with chillies, some black, some green, large, small, stuffed and unstuffed and even those wonderful ones with a sliver of almond in the middle. You serve yourself into little plastic bags that are weighed at the checkout. There is a similar display of nuts of every kind.
There are shelves and shelves of esoteric goods like bottled chillies, paprika spread and more than a dozen different kinds of bottled and canned foul (beans) and chickpeas, not to mention olive oils and endless packets of grains and pulses that I have never seen before.
Phoenicia also has the range of breads you would expect to see, including pittas of all kinds and shapes, its own salad bar, ice cream display and even a café where they serve excellent coffee and snacks.
But what brings us back into the shop time and time again is the wonderful range of little traditional Middle Eastern baklawa pastries made from different kinds of nuts with flaky pastry and honey. We used to have to go all the way to the Arab supermarkets around Seymour Street in the West End to get these delectable items, and it is a joy to be able to buy them locally now.
They make a spectacular dessert, particularly if you buy a stack of them and arrange them cleverly on a platter, and we serve them with fresh mint or peppermint tea. But they need to be fresh – so avoid buying anything that looks similar but is wrapped in clingfilm and has a sell-by date weeks, or even months, hence.
Phoenicia’s baklawa are made by a producer in Acton, and delivered fresh to the shop every day. There are at least 25 to 30 different kinds of pastry, and my advice is to ask for a selection. Tell the man behind the counter how many people you need to feed, and he will do the rest. The cost is £8.50 a kilo, but there are an awful lot of pastries in a kilo!