By Lindsay Faller
Khamsa, 140 Acre Lane, SW2 5UT, Tel: 0207 733 3150
I love patisserie. I am obsessed with all things eggs, butter and flour. The results produced with these three ingredients are pure magic. Every culture has its own way of working with them, be it adaptation of recipes or deviation from certain techniques. Algerian pastries are no different, and as I was to come to know after this meal, they are fascinating and inspiring in their own right. My education occured in the form of a lazy Sunday afternoon visit to Khamsa, on Acre Lane. Interesting and exotic flavours, rooted in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influence, collide to create something that is really quite special.
The restaurant and café is in its fourth year of trading, and it’s truly the definition of a local business. The chefs and owners, Jamal and Sabrina, live down the street from their restaurant. They purchase their spices, fruit and vegetables from traders in Brixton Market and they personally know and serve a myriad of local customers. Most important to them, however, is the food they serve. Everything is made in-house. You won’t even find a Coke on the premises.
We came on a quest for pastries, but ended up with so much more. We started with spiced Algerian coffee and some organic rose petal and mint tea. The coffee was rich and robust with hints of cinnamon. Served black with a bit of sugar to add at your discretion, this is the stuff upon which nations are built. The tea was light and delicate, the rose and mint flavours entirely refreshing. So as not to limit ourselves to only pastries, we decided to try one of their special pancakes too. Filled with apples and bananas, the pancake was light despite resembling a thick crêpe. The bananas and apples were served warm, with lemon zest and cinnamon added to lift the flavours. Served with a dollop of fresh plain yoghurt and homemade grape and rosewater jam, it was utterly delicious.
But, now for the reason we came: Algerian patisserie. Jamal and Sabrina’s are made using traditional recipes, but they add their own personal twist and use only the freshest ingredients; even food colourings are made in-house, derived from fruit and vegetables. Nothing is processed and the quality shows. Khobz el bey was a slice of moist and almost sticky sponge-like cake, full of vanilla and spice. Hazelnut and walnut nougat, dusted in icing sugar, was soft and perfectly chewy. Delicate dzirevettes, little pouches of pastry, were filled with finely chopped almonds, orange zest and basil, and topped with a beautiful and detailed handmade fondant flower. M’khabez, small iced heart-shaped coconut cakes, were light but flavourful with hints of lime and more basil. The vegan-friendly maqroute is a swirl of semolina and dates, fried, dipped in honey and then rolled in sesame seeds. Finally, my favourite of the bunch, was the coffee and hazelnut ghribiya, also vegan. It was crumbly, rich and undeniably a perfect accompaniment to more spiced coffee.
What was clear from our visit is the passion with which all of Khamsa’s food is served. Considered use of the finest ingredients results in remarkable cakes and pastries, and in turn I can onlyimagine the same goes for their more savoury options. Their attention to detail is refreshing and the food is exciting. As I said, pure magic.
Lindsay Faller blogs at blondevsbland.com