Golbourne Road is a little strip occupying the northern corner of the Notting Hill neighborhood in London, England. After the above meal, however, it now occupies every corner of my heart. Golbourne is a rambling stew of immigrants from primarily Morocco, Portugal and Spain but with some Brazilians and others to spice up the mix.
My cousin Gigi had taken me to this area, in the shadow of some of the ugliest public housing projects I have ever seen and under the pretense of good Arabic food. Like pretty much every other person of Arab descent, we are self-appointed arbiters of what good Arabic food is. Bullshit falafel or runny hummus can be dismissed from a mile away. Dolmas out of a can? Heresy. Some might say our pronouncements are completely relative. We dismiss that notion as well.
Fortunately, the meal above was Arabic of the Moroccan variety, a variety I don’t have as much experience with. From their makeshift tent just off the street curb, a couple of older, white-clad Moroccan guys asked me to choose from a list of fish and shellfish. They then threw a couple of fresh sardines onto a grill and told me to have a seat on one of the adjoining picnic tables. My cousin, as American as I, thought of sardines as those heavily oiled prisoners in tin, reserved for people of desperate means; at least the look on her face indicated such. But fresh sardines, especially off the southern European coast, are two or three times bigger and are usually grilled or fried to the point of climax (yours, not the fish).
While we waited, Cousin Gigi struck up a conversation with a woman sitting opposite us who was enjoying some freshly grilled snapper. A long ago resident of Golbourne before moving out to the Channel Islands, she missed the area and lamented how shiny and soulless the islands had become in the last few years. She spoke fondly of the nearby spice shops and the clothing stores; the street food and the competing styles of music wafting out of the windows surrounding our wooden bench.
When our sardines arrived, even my cousin was moved. They were tender and well seasoned and the fresh-made sides complimented the stronger taste of the fish quite well. Our dining companion was spot on in her sentiments. But really, the shabby, bustling energy of Golbourne couldn’t be better embodied than in what sat right in front of us: perfectly prepared fish served on a cheap, colorful paper plate.
WHAT: Seared fresh sardines; a salad (green olives, tomatoes, red onion and cucumber) and the requisite chips
WHEN: September 17, 2010
WHERE: Golborne Road, Notting Hill, London, United Kingdom