By Tom Moggach
EVERY immigrant community in London has its landmarks – often places to gather and eat.
For the Italians, there are places like Torroni delicatessen in Clerkenwell, established 1878, and Bar Italia in Soho.
Over in West Hampstead, the Czech and Slovak Restaurant opened in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Marathon Restaurant in Caledonian Road has been a magnet for the Ethiopian community since 2004.
The business recently changed hands. The new boss is an entrepreneurial lady called Anyi, who has an internet café across the road.
She had another sideline making injera, the huge flatbreads that are integral to Ethiopian cuisine.
We visited the restaurant on a Sunday afternoon. There was a big birthday party at one end of the room, with three generations dressed up in all their finery.
Next to us, a table of middle-aged men sipped red wine and watched the football.
The atmosphere at Marathon is laid back and communal, which is reflected in the way you eat: dishes are dolloped on a shared injera, which acts as a plate that soaks up the juices. There is no cutlery offered. You eat with your hands, tearing off extra strips of the bread to scoop up the food.
We scanned the room while we waited. By the door is the meat fridge, displaying huge cuts of prime beef used especially for tibs, a classic dish of sautéed diced meat and vegetables.
On the high walls, there are posters and paintings. One displays photos of the endemic wildlife of Ethiopia; another the glyphs of the ancient alphabet.
Ethiopian jazz floated around the room, along with the fragrance of roasting coffee beans – more on that later.
We shared the mahberawi (£32.50 to feed two or three), which was an assortment of dishes served on injera.
This is a colourful sight when it arrived at the table, like a painter’s palette, although I couldn’t name every dish we sampled.
There was definitely some doro wat, a dark chicken stew with a whole boiled egg.
Another favourite was the kitfo, a complex and addictive dish of minced beef cooked with mitmita, a dry spice blend, and spiced butter.
The menu also has a large range of vegetarian and vegan dishes, including several lentil, split pea, spinach and cabbage dishes.
Don’t miss the Ethiopian beers, which are top class. (Beer brewing in Ethiopia took off with the arrival of settlers from Czechoslovakia in the early 20th century). They also serve an aromatic honey wine called Tej.
Marathon is a place to visit with friends and best enjoyed when you’re not in a rush.
The restaurant is most lively at the weekends and the band plays every Saturday night.
For the full immersive experience, end with the coffee ceremony, which costs £10 and can serve 5-6 people.
This elaborate ritual involves roasting the green raw beans, grinding, then pouring from a height, while snacking on freshly made popcorn.
193A Caledonian Rd, N1
020 7837 4499