There are times where I think about my first childhood home. It was a great house. Largely because of the space. A massive loft, cellar and kitchen as well as a through lounge, in “proper” East London – Forest Gate to be exact. All this despite it being a terraced house. My parents decided we should move when I was nine years old because they didn’t rate the secondary schools in the area and wanted better schooling for me – many parents have similar challenges in life! To this day I always say “if only you could pick up your house and move it to your ideal area”. The same could be applied to restaurants in some cases.
Cristina’s in Barking definitely fits into the “if only we could move it” category. It boasts that it offers “the best steak in Barking” – and I believe it. Because I have been to Barking. In fact I lived around the corner of it for most of my childhood. Until I visited Cristina’s last week it had been at least ten years since I’d been to Barking. It hadn’t changed much. I recall when I used to visit Barking to go to the Odeon Cinema which was very close to the station. It was a very sad day when the cinema closed – Apartments replaced it. Since then, there is very little to offer around Barking. A market, Barking Hotel, which is lit up like it’s in Hollywood, a few pubs, and a few fast food establishments.
You wouldn’t stumble upon Cristina’s, as unfortunately it isn’t on a main road. You are either likely to hear about it through word of mouth, passing it on a 62 bus, or discovering the fantastic reviews about the restaurant online.
I was extremely fortunate to visit, as was my friend who had not been to a steak house before. We were particularly curious about it being a “Romanian steakhouse” as neither of us had heard of that concept before.
The restaurant is extremely easy to find and a short walk from Barking station. It resides amongst a couple of nondescript shops and construction works which looks like it might be (yet) more apartments. You can’t really miss the restaurant because of the large cow sitting outside of it – I kid you not! The decor is absolutely stylish and welcoming. Just like their website, they have a lovely dressed up table in the window of the restaurant and a real earthly feel to the venue, lovely wallpaper and lighting. It’s perfect for business, families, groups and couples.
Attention to detail is apparent, from the musings of Cristina herself on the wall of the restaurant to my name being displayed on the table we were due to sit at – nice touch.
On the Friday night we visited, there were a few fellow diners when we arrived – a large group of post-work colleagues having dinner, and a couple nearby. Throughout the evening the turnover of the restaurant was fair – with a mixture of customers. Cristina’s offers two types of menus. They originally started off as a pure Romanian restaurant and last June decided to start offering an alternative menu to a wider customer base. The chef is Romanian. As we enjoyed our evening, we spotted Romanian customers ordering from the Romanian menu – what is Romanian cuisine I hear you ask? Soups, cabbage, sauerkraut, tripe etc.
I’d been given a strong heads up about the runny scotch egg – and as eggs are one of my most favourite things to each any which way they happen to be presented to me – I opted for that as my starter. My friend Simone chose the chef’s comfort soup of the day, which was a spicy butternut squash with caramelised onions adorning the top served with warm bread rolls. Both starters were meant to be a light starter before our steak fest but the soup could have quite easily been a main course. It was a thick soup, very warming and the bread was extremely filling – Simone didn’t finish all of her bread rolls. She barely finished one! The soup was very hot in both temperature and flavour! Very lovely though – perfect for winter.
The scotch egg was delicious. I always wonder how it’s possible to make the egg whites set and the yolk just slightly runny and then wrap in mince meat and breadcrumbs before deep frying. I love eating scotch eggs – but the thought of making them scares me!
Choosing our main was not such a simple choice – yes steak – but which kind? Cristina’s had a helpful diagram on their mirror to educate diners on the different cuts. I suggested to Simone that as it was her first steak-house experience, she can’t go wrong with the fillet. She was slightly bemused by the diagram though and wanted to know where exactly the fillet was going to be coming from(!)
I am a purveyor of fillet steaks, and hanger, and chateaubriand – so I really fancied a change. The rib-eye took my fancy – marbled and juicy – the chef’s favourite – can’t go wrong! The selection of sauces to accompany the steaks was plentiful – for the purposes of reviewing for you lovely readers, we opted for all of them!
Presentation was simple but effective. Simone chose mash to go with her fillet steak. I on the other hand had been thinking about chips all day. I actually wanted fries – but fat chips were on offer so that would have to do! Had to get my greens on the plate and kale seems to be all the rage currently. The rib eye was a full on slab of meat. It was extremely flavoursome – I can see why it’s the chefs fave! I could really only manage a couple of the chips as the steak and kale really filled me up. The kale was fried with garlic and salt. The portion was perfect – as it had a LOT of garlic. Too much for Simone. It was a nice alternative way of serving it though – I usually stuff kale into my Nutribullet when making my smoothies.
All of the sauces were great – my favourite being the chimmichurri. I love the mixture of olive oil, garlic, red wine vinegar, parsley and oregano. It’s such a great addition to red meats. Mushroom was my second favourite. I don’t care much for peppercorn but it was Simone’s sauce of choice. The wild garlic was interesting as it had a tomato like base.
All steaked out, we decided to share dessert – Ultimate Chocolate Brownie with vanilla Ice Cream – to share. We both knew we would struggle to finish a dessert each!
I really feel quite warmed that Cristina’s is such a gem in a small under-developed town in “Greater East London” – I see Barking as Essex. It’s actually only called East London by those that don’t live there! I wish Cristina’s much success and if all the rumours are true – this area is destined for development – I believe that as dwellers and housing developers scramble to claim every last piece of London to keep up with demand. If Cristina’s can sustain, it will be the one everyone remembers as the first restaurant that made it in Barking – for that reason – it’s important to keep spreading the word about the BEST STEAK IN BARKING.
Love FoodieClaire x