Small & Beautiful - Cheap, friendly... and not at all small

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Small & Beautiful - Cheap, friendly... and not at all small

Published:

Thu, 21/07/2016 - 16:18

By:

paul
Misleading Small & Beautiful – it spans two dining rooms
Misleading Small & Beautiful – it spans two dining rooms
Published: 
21 July, 2016
by TOM MOGGACH

FROM the wilds of Lapland to the bustle of Kilburn High Road – life is seldom dull for Croatian chef Alex Syka. 

He’s a man who adores the buzz of running restaurants. 

In Lapland, he cooked while temperatures plunged below freezing and the sun dangled huge in the sky. “It was the best place on Earth,” he recalls. 

Syka has served Frank Sinatra and bought all manner of businesses. Now, aged 48, he’s scaled back to just two: Nona in Swiss Cottage and Small & Beautiful, the subject of this week’s review. 

The name is misleading. Small & Beautiful is massive: 120 covers spread across two dining rooms right next to Brondesbury Overground station.

The restaurant has been trading for years. It’s cheap, friendly and much loved by locals of all ages – a welcome antidote for anyone tired of trendy pop-ups and fancy prices. 

The décor is eclectic and rustic: a set of organ pipes on one wall; a mishmash of framed bucolic paintings; wine bottles for candlesticks, each encrusted with a cascade of wax. 

Proper jazz music sets the mood. On the table to my left, an Irish lady in her 60s treats herself to a solitary evening meal, carefully counting out her tip in saved change. 

Across the room, students from the nearby music college natter over a drink. To my right, middle-aged blokes talk Brexit while scoffing vast plates of mussels. 

The menu here is epic and Italian, with a few Balkan specials thrown in for good measure. 

Choose from dozens of pastas, risottos, pizzas and fish and meat dishes, such as the £10 house special of “Pleskavica”, a “massive burger only one because is to big and homemade bread.” [sic]

That’s the spirit here – enormous portions of honest, straightforward food, served with a smile. 

I tried two starters: bruschetta piled high with basil-laced tomatoes (£4.55) and a bowl of crisp fried whitebait (£6.95).

For a main, a simple vegetarian dish of tender baked aubergine stuffed with rice and drizzled with yoghurt (£10.95). 

For pudding, options include amaretto cheesecake, panna cotta with poached pear and the obligatory tiramisu.  

The cooking here does not cut corners, despite the low price – ingredients are decent quality. 

I even ate up all of my salad garnishes, which were assembled from perky English butterhead lettuce, slivers of sweet onion and ripe tomato. 

“I don’t stop but I love what I do,” declares Syka, who sits down to tell me his story. 

His sister restaurant Nona is a small affair, he explains, but with similar food. It’s tucked off Belsize Road in Swiss Cottage, right by The Arches wine bar. 

Small & Beautiful is bigger and busier. Alex took over the business six years ago, seeing its untapped potential: “Always buy a failing business if you want to succeed.” 

Even if you don’t live nearby, this would be a great choice for a party or special occasion. You’ll enjoy a warm welcome and for sheer good value it’s tricky to beat. 

SMALL AND BEAUTIFUL
351 Kilburn High Rd, NW6
020 7328 2637
www.small-and-beautiful.co.uk

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