By Kadambari Chauhan
Nestled within a row of sidewalk shops and cafes, you can almost miss Green Note if you aren’t looking out for it. Located on Parkway, it’s an ideal five minutes away from Camden Town tube station; you almost enjoy being hungry because you know you’ll be sitting down to order in four minutes.
We entered a cool, dark, square room, a small space that served as a waiting area. The sudden slip from a warm May evening into the near basement feel of the place immediately drew us into the evening ahead. Happily enough, there was no actual waiting involved, and for an impatient hunger like mine, that’s one star out of five scored already. Choosing a corner table away from the stage, the atmosphere made its presence felt without overwhelming me. Dark wooden floors and tables, brightly-coloured cushions and tea lights in tiny glasses were perfectly set against the welcome strains of In the Heart of the Moon, one of my favourite albums combining the stellar forces of Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté. Never underestimate the power of the kora in a semi-dark room – it creates patience when staring greedily at a menu.
A joyful dilemma presented itself – what, and how much could I order to present a ‘fair’ overview of the food? I love seeing how creative a place will get with their menus without spilling into the ‘severely ambitious’ arena. And this occasion presented a pleasant array – mango and pepper quesadillas with sour cream, grilled artichoke hearts, sweet peppers stuffed with feta, the list went on. I had to control my urge to order everything, and decided that the mixed platter for two would provide a decent selection for my eventual verdict. I chose a mint lemonade to compliment the rare feeling of a London ‘summer’ on my skin and extend the soft coolness in the room.
A short pause to comment on the service. The waiter was helpful without being over-eager, which is the perfect compliment for a discerning greed like mine; yes, I want everything, but don’t recommend it all. I won’t trust you. Our platter for two arrived; falafel, tabouleh, cheesy quesadillas, neat little samosas with mango chutney, pita bread, tzaziki, and spring rolls. A bit of a United Colours of Benetton/World Without Borders selection, but man, it was good.
The falafel was the perfect level of gooey on the inside without falling apart, and the hint of lemon in the tabouleh was just right on the side. The quesadillas were oozing warm cheese, and I sneaked some of the sour cream on top. Cold sour cream and hot cheese – yes, they go together. Try it. The little bits of onion, which I would normally dislike, provided the perfect, crunchy contrast to the soft melt. The spring rolls were hot, crisp and light, though I have to admit I’m not a fan of cabbage in anything. It requires an effort not worth exerting. The samosas were surprisingly good – I’m from Delhi, so if I say it, believe it. The one let down was the pita bread – it tasted a bit stale and heavy, and I say this after dousing it in hummus and tzaziki. Overall, though, a great platter and good value for money. The zing and sugar in my mint lemonade went really well with the warm platter, it was nice and cold without giving me a brain freeze.
I ordered the blueberry cheesecake for dessert. Being a cheesecake maniac, I did this with some trepidation as bad cheesecake can change a happy belly into an annoyed one. It was lovely. A grainy blueberry topping, smooth and sweet cheesecake and a buttery, sugary base complimenting the flawless texture of the cheese.
The scene changed upon the entrance of the Shulman’s Klezmer Band and the sound of the first notes. I know nothing about klezmer music, which is probably a good thing as it gives me the freedom to describe the way it felt in this setting without any technical knowledge whatsoever. The warm, fluid tones seemed to compliment the dark wood, candles and cushions. The intimate feel of the cafe translated into a living room hosting a dinner party, the guests turning to look as the music began and blended into the room. I felt as though I was on a street in an anonymous city, and this, a street band. I could imagine their music floating through the night under streetlamps.
The band members were earnest fellows looking intently at their sheet music and playing with fierce purpose. The small, seated crowd immediately warmed towards them, their intrigued expressions almost mirroring the intense concentration on the musicians’ faces. Upon finishing, the first song was introduced as ‘Halsa Gasa’, a hybrid tune, saying they’d taken a klezmer tune and ‘objectified’ it. The soft lighting was the ideal backdrop for the music, creating a tavern-like feel. To my unaccustomed ears, the tunes sounded like folktales coming to life in the form of a quaint video game soundtrack.
The second song was described as having a Hungarian origin. It began slowly and turned into a jog, hopping and skipping across the beat, with a loyal, persistent bass line keeping the skips tethered to the melody. At the end, the violinist finally cracked a smile.
The candles, visible darkness seeping through the windows and the lilt of the music made me almost dreamy. Suddenly, a song began with a near-aerobic burst. The notes sped like a bubbly stream, ending with what sounded like gently squeaking seesaw. Because the music was a bit repetitive, the initial novelty of the ‘cute and quaint’ klezmer band wore off. Since I was enjoying the experience as a whole; the food, the music, the lighting and the general feel as these elements came together, I didn’t like the music being foregrounded at the cost of conversation. However, others seem to love it. It became less of an ‘evening’ and more of a performance with an audience. While that’s great, I feel it is something an intimate venue like this, being a cafe, should shy away from – it creates an uncomfortable pressure to ‘spectate’.
The Green Note Cafe is definitely worth a second and third visit. Check them out online for an evening of music that engages your curiosity – any tune served with a delicious platter for two can be digested with satisfaction!
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