Getting a London cab might very well be one of life last true luxuries, but you don’t half get some odd and downright creepy people driving them sometimes. I’m talking about the times it moves beyond the standard, shitty-stand-up comedian stuff about Daily Mail opinions and casual racism and moves into a whole new territory. Somewhere where you start to realise over the course of the journey that you would actually really quite like to get out right now, even though you’re still several miles short of home and not completely sure where you are or how safe it might be.
Like the time I got a cab back from work drinks latish one Friday evening and started chatting to “Nick”. It always starts innocently enough in these situations, and here our jump-off point were the CDs I’d picked up earlier that day at one of the charity shops in Camden. After some general chit-chat about how no-one bothers with CDs anymore, things rapidly moved into stranger territory when Nick proudly informed me that that he personally owned “more than 15,000 CDs” and would love to show me the brand-new high-end stereo he’d just purchased and installed in his garage, complete with “state-of-the-art soundproofing, so good the neighbours never hear nothing”. Much as the idea of going round to the garage of a podgy and balding middle aged man appealed, I made my hasty excuses and gratefully exited somewhere approaching Stamford Hill.
I mention it now because, if there’s one thing cab drivers know (aside from exactly how to fix every one of the world’s current problems), it’s where to get some decent food late at night. And Nick’s final effort to entice me back to his audio lair was to promise we’d pick up some crispy chili beef from Golden Foods on Kingsland Road on the way past. He’s clearly not alone among the Hackney Cab fraternity (that was a pun I am both proud and appalled by) – the spaces outside the takeaway resemble the line outside an airport most nights.
It is probably the association with “Nick” that’s prevented me from returning too often to Golden Foods, despite the fact it’s even closer to E-8te Towers than The Fox. But for some reason, we find ourselves hungry and disinclined to cook one evening so banish those memories and head inside. Emerging 20 minutes and a copy of The Sun later with a veritable goodybag of delights, complete with free Prawn Crackers (and yes, I know you get those everywhere, but they still make me feel special every time).
Back home inside the Towers we crack into the starters; both the prawn toasts and crispy chili beef are great – both still genuinely crispy, which is a rarity in takeaway, and the beef has just the right level of fire to make it interesting and not just the mess of deep-fried worms in grease it so often resembles. There are no dipping sauces, but our trusty industrial-sized bottle of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauces comes to the rescue, just as it does most nights if I’m honest.
Next up is another great dish, but one that I am generally a bit wary of ordering. Salt and Pepper Squid never lives up to expectations, even when you get it from a “proper” restaurant. So getting from a takeaway is risky. Soggy squid is friend to no man, and when you add in a takeaway’s usual under seasoning and over-reliance on MSG you’re asking for disaster with the dish. But here it’s truly genuinely tasty. Sure we’re only two minutes from the restaurant so it doesn’t have time to de-crisp before we devour it, but even with a longer sweating off time, I think the batter and healthy hit of salt, pepper and chili would hold up. I’ve already had dinner tonight, and I’m currently considering going to get a portion from downstairs after thinking about it; it was that good.
In fact, the only bum note in the meal was a usual takeaway banker. It’s supposed to be impossible to get Chicken with Oyster Sauce and Water Chestnuts wrong, but someone how here it was a bit inspid. Maybe it was only in comparison to the heavy flavours of the rest of the meal, but it fell rather flat. Then again, getting a crappy staple wrong because the rest was so good is hardly the worst thing in the world.
So this review is in honour of Nick the Cabbie. Sorry. Maybe I was wrong about you and should have respected your gastronomic tastes and submitted to whatever other tastes you wanted to share with me.