Tom reexamines Small & Beautiful

Wandering along Kilburn High Road on another olive-hunting mission recently, I noted that Small & Beautiful, had undergone a bit of a facelift and refurb. Peering, in I noted the bar now faces the street, and the general scheme of things looked a little tidier and, perhaps, a touch more serious? I’d had a couple of disappointments on recent visits, so this seemed a good time to try again…

Glancing at the board, the special of asparagus ravioli with cream & mushroom sauce sounded nice (and in hindsight I perhaps should have given this a go), but in the end I went for cod fish cakes with coriander and spring onions, served with salad and sweet chilli sauce. These arrived via a slightly confused process when ordering chips. “French fries?” asked the waitress a couple of times… “No – chips – like what those two are eating” I explained, pointing impatiently at a middle-aged couple who looked like they should be in church, not a Kilburn restaurant.

There were also a few nervous moments when ordering repeated glasses of Pinotage; with it being the priciest wine by the glass, I wanted a warm glow of confidence that this was what would arrive…but I tempered my anxiety by reminding myself that whilst I can barely order a baguette in France, here’s this keen, friendly young lady, about 18, who’s ventured over from Eastern Europe, and grabbed a job in a town which might seem a little intimidating until one knows better… A case of “it is what it is” to some degree, though staff training is of course key in any eatery.

So, decent fish cakes; nice texture and neat presentation. A bit of a harsh background note, possibly the coriander clashing with something, but along with the decent chips and tomato ketchup I was happy enough. Broccoli a touch over, green beans fine, though I do wish a slab of butter or dash of oil would be standard when ordering veg, anywhere on the planet.

Chocolate fudge cake for dessert (wow, I’m so adventurous!) – and full marks to the waitress here for grasping the seriousness of the situation when I said, very firmly, “NOT TO BE HEATED UP!” – now that does wind me up, that does. It’s a cake – it’s already been cooked – once is enough!

Back in business then? Well, yes, though some might feel it’s lost a little of its ramshackle charm in its refit – but it’s not vastly different. I note it’s owned by the Nona group now, and their pizza joints have received some good feedback recently, too. All in all, it’s an evolution, but let’s hope there’s no revolution. Small & Beautiful is in its own little world, and long may that continue.

Tom does the maths at Spiga and Small & Beautiful

E=MC2. No – I’ve never really understood it either. And anyway, eating and drinking is much more fun than algebra. With that in mind, it’s time for a couple of shout-outs to two NW6 eateries which seem to consistently get their calculations right. First off, Spiga. We’re lucky with Italian food here; we have La Smorfia, Hidden Treasure and Sarracino, all offering a different vibe and style, whether pizza, pasta, or something else. There’s “J” and Pizza Express too, come to think of it, and La Brocca also does a mean pizza.

At my recent outing to Spiga I dived straight in with the bresaola to start with. I had a feeling this would be a winner and indeed it was. A vibrant and appetising crimson colour, generous portion size, and the blend of wild mushrooms, Parmesan shavings and rocket it was served on really made for an enticing starter. Continuing the theme, I rather greedily had a main of gnocchi with more wild mushrooms, and a Gorgonzola sauce. Here we go, my kind of food! Big, satisfying, bold….so much going on! The warmest of service (as ever), and plenty of good wine, added to my now jovial frame of mind. It’s not difficult to see why Spiga has quickly become such a success, especially when you find it’s not as expensive as you might have expected.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and the good value experienced at Spiga left me with some loose change with which to pop into Small & Beautiful in Kilburn, for a nice, relaxing late dinner. My favourite seat by the window was free, and I browsed the menu whilst chortling at the usual comedy that is the Kilburn High Road. Or maybe that was my reflection in the window. From the “3 courses for £6” option (I’m not joking), I tried broccoli soup (decent), and added a salad which included pleasing feta and great olives. The main was the standout: Vietnamese fish (can’t remember which – I did ask – perhaps that Cobbler thing but under its more scientific name) with a pesto coating, a potato side and spinach. Really, surprisingly delicious! With enthusiasm I tackled (as if it were a challenge – ha!) the Tiramisu, which was sponge-based rather than matching the menu’s “biscuit and cream” description. Guzzling a Shiraz, I had the rare experience of looking at a bill and being genuinely amazed at how little it had all come to.

E=MC2. Whatever! Pour me another glass someone…all this maths is making my head spin! Enjoyable food, wine and ambience – all at friendly prices – that’s more the sort of equation I want to puzzle over.

Tom ventures into Kilburn

With cold, gloomy weather drawing in, a moment of inspiration led to a decision to eat at Small and Beautiful on the Kilburn High Road. I had fond memories of my previous visit; getting totally mashed in complete anguish after missing the 1st half of a Pink Martini gig, donating a packet of Silk Cut to that tramp who used to sit under the bridge (oh – he seems to have disappeared since), and ending up eating as good a salmon dish as I’d had all week. Errm, all year I mean.

I never order risotto as not dead keen on it, so – I ordered seafood risotto (this is the kind of logic my life is based on). A nice dish; not a huge depth of flavour, but hearty enough, and with a decent texture to the rice. A side of Macedonian salad arrived, with tangy feta and soft, flavoursome olives.

Opposite me, a spaghetti bolognese was being enthusiastically tackled. More “mum’s” than “mama’s” –  a very generous portion of the sauce whacked unpretentiously on top of the pasta. I was assured this was appropriate and delicious.

House wine (something Italian) was tangy and fulsome, and a banoffee pie for dessert was eaten quickly even by my own disgraceful standards. As ever, the atmosphere was warm and cheery, balanced with one or two possibly shady characters present (aside from myself I mean).

So in summary, as with all my previous visits, I came out of Small and Beautiful a happy and satisfied diner, and with enough money left over to buy  a bottle of wine. Now that alone is surely good reason to eat there more often.