Its a chilly Saturday evening and we've just headed out from a cheap and cheerful matinee at the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square.
Striding past the dawdling tourists and steadfastly ignoring the variously splayed grilled ducks hanging in the Chinatown restaurant windows, I find my way to Old Compton Street.
Old Compton Street and Soho make me happy (despite the fact that I'm not looking for anything kinky). I like people-watching and here I can do it to my heart's content and there's loads to look at. The cross-dresser, the lesbian couple, the rock-chick with the strange hair colouring and stranger tattoo, the tourists gawking at the young man writhing in the window of the gay bar, the trendy office folk, the cool young twenty-somethings the people trying not to stare at the various shady establishments and the people stealthily heading out of seedier establishments, the druggies, the alcoholics - I love the mix. Its alive and pulsing and no one seems to give a damn about what others think !! Its COOOL
On Old Compton St, I also know I can find the last surviving branch of Maoz Falafel in London. Maoz is a cheery, down-to-earth place. The Middle Eastern staff are friendly and the food is reliably decent every time I visit. The crowd is a mix of locals and a scattering of tourists. I've been to Maoz in Paris, Barcelona and Madrid. I know what I can get and I know its properly veggie.
I walk in and order my usual, a Maoz meal with extra aubergine and humous (with a free drink thrown in). It includes a falafel sandwich, a hot paper cone filled with chips and access to the salad bar. The falafel is nothing to write home about, but its hot and very filling.
[I must admit I'm spoiled though - Working near the Barbican, I often walk to the "Hoxton Falafel" market stall that sells Falafel on foodie Whitecross Street. The falafel there is fresh and Rashid the falafel seller always has a cheery smile, despite the fact that he's making a thousand falafels a minute in the freezing cold..]
Soon its my turn in the Maoz queue, and as I hand in the token that says I've paid, I'm handed a tray with the falafel. I stuff the top of my falafel pouch from the full-to-the-brim containers of pickles and salads , squeeze on some green chilli dressing and squirt a bit of garlic sauce and tomato ketchup onto my tray to go with the steaming hot chips. I then grab a drink from the cold shelf.
Finally I scooch onto a table next to two animated Russian women, and begin to savour the chips. The chips are fresh and crisp and as I chomp away, I slowly get engrossed in the Russian conversation. I dont understand any Russian, but I'm sure they're talking about a man. I study them intently looking away when either of the women looks up. But they are too busy talking , to notice.
As I hurry back a little later for a little salt and pepper, I take care to guard my handbag. (I once stopped a totally drugged-up guy from lifting a woman's purse at Maoz) and I can see now why he found it so easy. Everyone is so relaxed from the food and the atmosphere, no one is really paying attention to what's happening around them. Easy targets !!!
The meal is soon over. I will admit the food is not remarkable; but I will always come back. The meal is just about a fiver, the chips are always good, the two pieces of crispy aubergine are oily but tasty and the salad was plentiful. I cannot imagine walking past and not popping in for a quick plate of chips. In an area, where you can spend a lot more money at touristy joints that serve rubbish food, Maoz is down-to-earth and very reasonably priced. The food is basic and done to a decent standard. There is no variation in the menu - so its very reliable. The staff are friendly (One broke into a Bollywood song the other day, after asking me if I was from India... yes... very strange but funny). And its a great place to look out onto the cooolest, hippiest, trendiest and weirdest , while you munch away at a decent chip.