Zebra. An uncommon word, and yet one which – sporting as it does such a glorious swashy initial capital – should feature more often on this blog. Coincidentally, tonight I encountered the noble beast for the first time outwith a zoo. Somewhat surprisingly, it was on my dinner plate. Wrapped in tortilla, and smothered in rather too much cheese. Perhaps a good thing, however, since zebra turns out to be blandly sweet, a tad greasy, and not unlike – I’m assured – dog.
The wild boar was significantly better, however. Kangaroo as good as ever, if you like that kind of thing. Venison mightily fine, as is its wont. But the revelation was springbok, which turns out to be wonderful stuff.
I should explain. I went for dinner tonight with Rosie to Khublai Khan, an ostensibly Mongolian restaurant that is, one suspects, about as authentic as a pony that’s had embarrassing whitewashed stripes painted on it and a sign hung around its neck reading ‘Zebra.’ Nevertheless it’s an absolute hoot of an eaterie. A flat fee (£20 – fair) gets you a starter, as many trips to the grill as you like, and a pudding.
The starters were variously bonkers. Alongside my aforementioned zebra enchilada, Rosie had some whacko marinated kangaroo thing with a cranberry relish, which surprised mostly on the grounds of the kangaroo being cold. Perhaps we should have gone for the yak ribs?
The main course is where ‘bonkers’ turns to ‘entirely surreal.’ Wander over to the grill, grab a balti dish along the way, and fill it from a procession of stalls. First up: noodles or rice. Easy enough. Next: veg, from carrots to beansprouts to water chestnuts to broccoli. Now: meat and fish. As well as the exotics, lamb and beef, mussels, prawns. Shark. That sort of thing. Then a vast and confusing table covered in pots and dishes, carrying enough components to make about eighteen billion different sauces, from fragrant thai-style coconut and lemon grass fancies to smoky cajun goop to bog-standard curry. Stare blankly, take a lucky dip… or follow the suggestions on the handy chart above the table. Finally, nurse the heaped ingredients over to the chef, who slaps the whole lot on a hotplate and paddles it around in front of you until it’s done.
Now, this could be criticised for being essentially a jumped-up pan-asian takeaway, but the whole thing is carried off with enough insouciance that we found it a huge giggle. It’s not quite clear if the owners really do have their tongues in their cheeks, but whatever suspicions one may already have are heightened by the sweets menu. This drops all pretense at the ‘Mongolian’ nonsense and settles for sticky toffee pudding, crème brulée, and (our choices) an orange chocolate mousse and raspberry and meringue crush. Both of which were fabulous.
While it would be perfectly possible to naff up your main courses entirely – I was a tad ham-fisted with the chilli on one pass, oregano on another – there’s no denying the novelty value; it’s not so much a ‘fine meal out’ as an activity evening that happens to revolve around food. Utterly mad, actually rather good food, excellent staff… and zebra. A hoot.