Amazing. You read nothing about Hertfordshire for ages and then two posts come along at once...
After the surprise of Hitchin and a reminder to be open-minded about such things, another random invite popped into the inbox. Had I heard of Rodells? Would I like to go and eat there? Because it's probably the best restaurant in Watford.
Insert car-screeching-to-a-halt comedy sound effect there. "The best restaurant in Watford" sounds like the ultimate in damning with faint praise, akin to saying someone is the least annoying member of the Big Brother house or that the Labrador puppies scene is the funniest bit of Bridesmaids. But hey, in the spirit of openmindedness, and aware that Hertfordshire had already surprised me once, we made the short journey from Finchley to Watford, negotiated the one way system and entered...
It's a most unassuming place and a most unassuming location, a sort of bar / deli / converted house with a slightly eccentric layout (there's a shower in the gents) and an even more eccentric menu. And, as we'd later discover, a fantastically eccentric chef/patron too.
The man in question is Mario Tavares, a musician, producer, and now eager chef. Having eaten his way around the world, Mario would come back and recreate his favourite dishes at home. Now, he cooks the best things from his repertoire at Rodells. The result is an eclectic collection of tapas-style dishes that bounces around the continents, some with comedy asides on the menu: the vegetarian platter for two, for example, quotes a genuine, typically idiotic TripAdvisor comment that "there's not much meat in it."
Some of the dishes that follow are excellent, some are decent, some probably clash with one another - where did you last see Nasi Goreng and Mac n Cheese on the same menu? - but, somehow, it kind of works. So, with an episode of Top Cat giving way to a Pink Panther cartoon on the back wall, and Tom Waits and Steely Dan and assorted others playing softly through the speakers, we ordered. And ordered from pretty much all the continents. Nonya Chicken Curry. The aforementioned Mac n Cheese served, in the non-aforementioned "sushi style". Cajun BBQ ribs. Cantonese Roasted Belly Pork. And because at this point we were in a why-the-hell-not mood and beyond questioning logic, the Nasi Goreng.
And, somehow, well, yeah, it all kind of worked. Not necessarily altogether, but taken individually, there's some very good cooking here. The stand outs were the curry - sweet, well spiced, punchy - and the ribs which, as Mario explained, are from Blackfoot pigs and, after a debate with his staff, are a mix of dry rub on one side, sticky sauce on the other because, well, that's the way they do things here. The result delivers meat flavour, smoke, heat, sweetness and slips neatly off the bone. It's lovely.
Also great - no, really - was that sushi style Mac n Cheese. Also great was the fact that The Pink Panther had finished and been replaced with Harold Lloyd in Safety First. That's a trick that could make a lot of things better.
Dessert - from a list entitled, slightly annoyingly, Nom Noms (although Harold Lloyd can just about make that better too) - was a shared homemade carrot cake which, in now typical unexpected fashion, was one of the best I've had anywhere and, if Mario's about, comes with a great story about 1970s pop acts.
Would I go back? Like a shot. I'm told there are big barbecue plans afoot, there's a good dozen dishes from the repertoire I haven't tried and it's the kind of random, oddball place I just warm to. Mario sources well, cooks well, his staff are charming, the drinks list has some unusual items AND Prosecco and a sparkling rose on tap... It's proper neighbourhood stuff and, if it was in Brooklyn or Cuba or in a suburb of LA, thousands would be seeking it out for its eccentric charm. Instead though it undoubtedly remains the best restaurant in Watford.