Jan Moir finds this Greek eatery 'fresh, good and cheap - a highly unusual triumvirate'
A young shaver in a checked shirt is marching up and down by the cold cabinets, talking furiously into his mobile phone.
"Yes, yes," he barks, wheeling left at the taramasalata, "but tell them there's no way I can guarantee that." Either he is dealing in pork futures or, more likely, letting his parents know he is unsure he will be home by nine for his milky drink and bedtime story as promised.
It's sad that the uncivilised can't sit down in a restaurant and enjoy a companionable dinner without recourse to the private excitements of their personal telephones. But it's beyond the bounds when they leave their table and conduct their hollering conversation next to you because they don't want to disturb their friends.
It's no wonder, as I was explaining to the nice police officer down at the station, that I carry the pepper spray and collapsible electric prod in my handbag at all times. You just never know when some ill-mannered diner needs a jink in the dibs to bring them back in line. Just the other week, a man at the table next to me ordered coffee, then fired up his laptop to show his mates some stupid noisy game or something.
The sergeant said that yes, yes, he understood my dismay at this turn of events, but a kidney jab with the juiced-up swizzle-stick was only adding to the problem, not solving it. I said, well officer, walk a mile in my shoes and see how you like it.
You've got it easy with your inner-city riots and feral children and terrorists. Just try coping with Lily Loudmouth, Douglas the Sulky Server and Charlie Cheroot every night of the sodding week. Sarge said fair enough and agreed to let me off with a caution if I could give him a good restaurant tip.
Problem. When people ask for a restaurant recommendation, what they really mean is this: do you know anywhere within five minutes of my front door that sells wonderful food really cheaply served by people who will adore me and laugh at all my jokes?
A final entreaty would be: and can I bring my own wine? Yet even if you, like Sarge, don't live near Notting Hill Gate in London, a little restaurant called Greek Affair is really worth knowing about.
What this restaurant promises is simple, home-cooked food prepared every day with care and fresh ingredients. It's not haute cuisine, it's not even moderne Greek, but in a week that our country's food chain has been poisoned with Sudan 1 food dye, isn't that what we all want to hear? And to eat? Get me there.
On the small ground floor, there is a large communal table opposite the two cold cabinets that house the mezedes and a selection of honey-drenched cakes. This is where my friend on the mobile is marching up and down, deciding between Noddy Goes to Toytown or The Cat in the Hat as his bedtime read.
My hand twitches towards my bag, but then thinks the better of it. Too young to know any better, he is part of a jolly group that has booked the downstairs room for a party. There is also a small terrace with tables on the first floor, although this is not an option on this snowy night.
Inside, cheerful fairy lights curl inside the old fireplace and votive candles gutter here and there. Two wall-mounted wooden cabinets contain specimens of that ubiquitous earthenware crockery (painted with olives) that has also successfully poisoned our food chain and, while the Greek
Affair is certainly not going to come out tops in any interior-design competitions, it is a homely and welcoming place to be. Two Greek waitresses loiter behind the cold counters ready to take orders. Sometimes, yes, they are a bit moody, but, with a dozen braying Henrys in the basement to contend with, who wouldn't be? My hand twitches . . . no stop it. Let's just order some food.
Diners choose between a choice of 20 or so cold meze (about £3 each), about 10 hot meze (£4 each), another 10 main courses (from about £5 for a bowl of Greek salad to about £11 for the most expensive dish: Mediterranean prawns in fresh tomato and pepper sauce with feta, served with rice).
Extras include bowls of feta or pickled peppers for a few pounds, even a ladle of herb-scented Greek olives from the tureens on the counters. Don't miss out on the bread, which is not pitta, but a soft and pillowy Cypriot white with a crust enriched with toasted sesame seeds. Buy some to take home; it makes great toast.
From this, you could put together a banquet for a group or just turn up solo, sit at the big table and order a portion of their most agreeable vegetarian moussaka - layers of baked vegetables in tomato sauce, piled on to a base of crisp rounds of potato, with a towering lid of sunny, just set béchamel on top. On a cold day, it's a great lunch for about a fiver.
Soutsoukakia meatballs in a rich, spicy sauce and vegetarian courgette croquettes called kolokithokefteedes are good and hearty, while a little stew of fresh (as in not tinned) chickpeas, spinach, olive oil and lemon tasted delicious and authentic.
The taramasalata has the proper undertow of smoked cod's roe, although something called patates riganates (potatoes baked with oregano, then topped with cheese) would sink even the most buoyant Greek oil tanker.
The main-course kleftiko is rich and tender and the non-vegetarian moussaka is also a treat. Other choices include entrecote steak with tomato sauce and fish baked in the oven. No one would claim that Greek food is the best in the world, but as served here, it is fresh and good and cheap - a highly unusual triumvirate of achievement.
Not everything is home-made. I'm not convinced that the aginares (artichoke hearts) come from anywhere more exotic than a catering tin and most of the non-Greek cakes in the cabinets are bought in. Elsewhere, the kotopoulo psito, a whole baby chicken roasted and served with lemon and oregano sauce, looked a bit mutant, to be honest, but then coquelet always do.
You must bring your own wine, so you can get organised like S, who rang up the nearby Oddbins beforehand to ask them to stick a bottle of the excellent Thalassitis 2003 from Santorini in the fridge, which they obligingly did. Problem solved.
• Greek Affair, 1 Hillgate Street, London W8 (020 7792 5226). Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, costs £25.