Londoners used to sleek décor in their restaurants will probably not take kindly to Dracula House Restaurant in Harlesden. Walking through its door is not so much entering a time-warp as crossing from one side of Europe to the other. The white linen-rectangles on its limp pink table-cloths, the cruet-sets and little triangles of serviette – as well as a slightly faded, dusty atmosphere of white-washed walls and open-beamwork – bring back a dozen moments from trips to Romania, when you arrive in a small town late at night praying that a restaurant will be open, and are delighted to find one such as this. It doesn’t have one of those communist-era menus bashed out on a Soviet typewriter and with the exact grammage of the meals written in brackets beside, but you wouldn’t be surprised if it did. It’s as if a little bit of remote Transylvania had simply been picked up and hoiked into North-West London, and left to explain itself.
The restaurant’s Dracula name is misleading – Romanians are apt to bristle when you mention Bram Stoker’s book, as though that’s all you know about their country, and this restaurant, bar a portrait of Vlad Țepeș (of Impaler fame) doesn’t push the theme at you (there’s no swirling dry ice, soundtrack of howling wolves, or cringe-inducing waiter with cloak and plastic fangs). Instead there is good, solid Romanian food, cooked by the Romanian owner and his wife. The strength of Romanian cuisine lies in its unpretentious robustness, as well as a narrowness of choice (you quickly become an expert in the quality of sausage, the consistency of the Telemea cheese). Here there are the usual ciorbas (soups) with chicken, meatballs or beans with smoked meat (coming in at about £2.50), and vast plates of meat – fried pork, smoked pork, mutton pastrami and mititei, the grilled Romanian meatballs – served with Telemea, pickled peppers and Mamaliga, the Romanian polenta, for £10-50-12.50. There are also, for those with more modest appetites, lighter dishes, like Sarmale (stuffed cabbage leaves) and chicken breast with mushrooms and sour cream (both at £8.50).
I had a bean soup – thick and tasty – followed by a Romanian plate, in which the lumps of pork were perfectly fried and sitting in their juice, served with a good of dollop of Mamaliga (the tastiest I’ve had, it seemed to glisten slightly in the mouth) and a nice cool cube of Telemea sitting in the middle of it. There was nothing slick about it – this was solid, honest food served well, and cooked with a certain home-style care, and for the money it seemed good value. There is a limited wine-list (Merlot, and Moldavian Feteascas, at £14.50 a bottle) and a narrow choice of desserts – generally of the pancakey type – for about the £4 mark. But the main dishes gave little space to enjoy the latter, and I left them to the imagination: I’m sure the quality is good.
Restaurant Dracula, if it appeals to Brits at all, will mainly please those with memories of trips to Romania, nostalgic for the atmosphere of that unique country, which they will get in spades. Surely it will attract Romanian expats too, missing the real flavour of what they know. Yet I’ve rarely had the feeling – a spooky one, appropriate to the restaurant’s name – of having so completely crossed cultures with the opening of a door. Dracula Restaurant, a little bit of Romania in London, makes no concessions to its surroundings and for that – as well the straightforward authenticity of its home-cooking – the restaurant is to be praised.
Dracula Restaurant, 129 High Street, Harlesden, NW10 4TR. Tel: 020 8961 9422/07792 395 772. www.dracularestaurant.co.uk.
Opening Hours: 5 pm-10pm (Tuesday-Thursday). 5pm-1 am (Friday). 2pm -1 am (Saturday). 2 pm-10 pm (Sunday)