The last time I ate in this building it was the second-worst meal I’ve eaten in Greenwich (even if only by a whisker). It was the godawful Pizza Luna in its final death-days and the food was indescribably bad (though naturally I had a good old go at talking about the full horrors…)
When it actually died, a couple of weeks after that appalling ‘meal,’ the place seemed to have been closed for good. It must have been shut for at least three years. One thing I had noticed when I’d gone to the horrid loo upstairs was that the place was enormous – and although for a good restaurant, that could have turned it into a large-party venue for groups, for Pizza Luna it was just a wasteland. My heart sank even then – this was ripe fodder for redevelopment.
And indeed that is exactly what happened. I don’t really know what went on behind the scaffolding that was up for absolute yonks, but sure enough, that large space upstairs has disappeared as a dining space; it’s presumably ‘luxury’ flats now. And still the ground floor restaurant remained boarded up. It did actually get to the point when I began to think it was a shame Pizza Luna had closed, just so we could have had something open in the prime-tourist-spot space (yes, it was closed that long…)
And then things started moving. I noticed the funky chandeliers first, through the cracks in the hoardings. Then they painted the outside red. Something was happening. I asked the guys moving stuff in, they didn’t know. Some interesting wallpaper went up, and the Phantom eye, spying through the spaces in the paper covering on the doors, started to get interested…
Helva is a Turkish restaurant. It doesn’t appear to be a chain, not least because the domain name has been registered, but there’s no website yet. It’s a big venture for a one-off and they’ve certainly not stinted on the decor. It’s bright and big, and while I’m a sucker for old-fashioned tablecloths and general plush, the modern trend for bare tables and hard lines works quite well here. There’s a bar with a TV (that I could live without; for me it cheapens the experience of dining, however flat the screen) and mirrored columns.
I went the second Saturday that it was open. I was out shopping in the market and fancied something light for lunch.
To be honest, I’m not sure Turkish restaurants are very good for ‘something light.’ We were welcomed with a bowl of flatbread slices (which kept filling up) home-made hummus and fat olives. I don’t know if this was an opening offer or if this happens all the time – I’d welcome reports back on this one.
Of course that’s always a killer because I never allow for freebies when I’m ordering food, and since the food takes a while to prepare, I’m always filled up before I start eating stuff I’m actually paying for. The menu is big, one might almost think a little too big, but with loads of really interesting-looking dishes. I liked the look of the moussaka, but ended up with the Paticlan (to feed my aubergine obsession) and my pal chose sundry meze dishes. And still the bread sticks and hummus came…
I wasn’t drinking alcohol. I’d only just started shopping and I knew that at some point I’d have to get several bags-worth of fire-gel on the bus (word to the wise – never get your sister one of those groovy firepots they sell on the market as a Christmas gift, you get saddled for life with buying refills…) so I don’t know what the wine was like. I hope it’s a darn sight better than the house wine at Tas which tastes like – well, not unlike fire-gel, actually. I had a juice; my friend had a diet coke.
You can’t knock Helva for portion-sizes. My Paticlan was a bit on the runny side, but delicious (not as smoky as I like it, but then I like my aubergine smooooooky.) It came with plenty of salad. The meze worked well, especially the Lamb kofte. We had to tell them to stop bringing the bread.
Eating anywhere at lunchtime will always be a different experience to the full evening monty, and I do intend to get back there sometime after dark, but on first taste, I like this place. I won’t insult it by even beginning to compare it with its predecessor; this is head, shoulders, waist, thighs and calves above it. Of course, it was very early days when I tried it, clearly trying hard – and it needs keeping an eye on (which will be a hardship, but someone has to do it…) but for the moment I like this place rather a lot. Even though it’s lost its upper floor, it’s still massive – the basement isn’t much smaller than the ground floor, which will make it a good venue for large Christmas groups (not least because the menu is so large it must cover virtually every food-fuss going)
And the best thing of all – Greenwich seems to be starting – just starting, mind you – to emerge from Scaffolding Hell. The tower at St Alfege’s is emerging, all sparkling and clean, and now that horrid corner where Pizza Luna was is starting to clean itself up (though what the hell is going on where the old fish bar was is anybody’s guess – and what’s going on with the roadworks?)
Maybe we’re going to have our town back at some point after all.