I find myself on a blasted heath in South East London. Not quite – just dragging myself and the kids about in yet another playground in Norwood Park on a bleak, wintry day. The wind is whipping at my face, the clouds loom heavily and my kids are beginning to whine. We’re all hungry, and I typically have forgotten to bring any snacks. Parent fail! Again! I cast my eyes about. Hmm. The neon-sprayed concrete cafe adjoining the playground looks forbidding and pretty sketchy. About as inviting as a multi-storey carpark. (What? Oh, that would probably be fine if I was 22 and used to hanging about in shipping containers / decommissioned factories sitting on packing crates. But I am not). But then, another mum gives me a great tip-off – she says the falafel they serve is the best she’s had outside of Iraq. I eagerly approach the cafe’s serving hatch. There is nobody else about. I peer at the menu. Amid the chips, deep fried sausages and paninis, the falafel wraps are begging to be tried. A lady appears behind the counter and I order a pair of them.
And let me tell you, this falafel is absolutely SENSATIONAL. It comes encased in mega-thin grilled flatbread, and the taste isn’t too garlicky or overwhelming – it is light, crisp and really just wonderful. Such a very simple dish – the only extras are grated red and white cabbage and a bit of tomato, plus lemon juice and a little bit of tahini sauce. Everything hangs together in just the right quantities, the sauce doesn’t ooze out when you bite in, the wrap is crisp, thin and delicious. Such an unexpected treat.
I quiz the female cafe chef. Turns out she’s Iraqi and makes all the falafel herself at home by hand, so it’s fresh every day. The secret is, she says, is just to use pure chickpeas in the mixture and no broad beans or strong flavourings, as is common in other countries. She is very precise about the amount of tahini sauce added, to make the wrap easy to bite into without spillage.
There she is, peeping out from the kiosk. Let us salute this lady!
The dining area. Luxe it is not, but it’s better than sitting outside in a gale:
There you go. Norwood Park and its playground doesn’t have to drive you to despair – as such places often can do in winter. Cheer yourself up with an absolutely perfect falafel wrap, Iraqi style. Oh, and just before you even imagined that my kids ate the falafel too – ha! ha! ha! Of course they bloody didn’t – I was savvy enough to order them chips. The sight of the wrap, when offered to my daughter, made her cry.
The cafe is open every day from 11:00.
Hungry Hippo Cafe
London SE19 1DZ