Bontcho is in business

Greensnet Editor
Tue 26 Dec 2000, 10:00

Hendon hero Bontcho Guentchev has opened his long-awaited cafe, Striker. Situated 150 yards from West Kensington Underground Station at 6 Charleville Road (left out of the Station and third turning on the right off North End Road - telephone (020) 7385 6676), Striker offers an interesting mix of British cafe staples and authentic Bulgarian specialities.

The chicken soup is nothing like the creamed stuff served in most cafes; this is a broth with large chicken pieces and it has an excellent flavour, as well as being very sustaining. Another native delicacy is a Banitza, which is filo pastry, stuffed with either egg or spinach and feta cheese, deep fried. In Bulgaria, as Bontcho's wife Silvia explained, it is traditional for the Banitza to have little messages placed inside the pastry - a sort of savoury fortune cookie. Baklava makes an excellent dessert, neither too sweet nor too soggy.

Bontcho, who played for Bulgaria when they reached the 1994 World Cup semi-final (he came on as a substitute against Italy), has been in England for almost a decade. After winning the Bulgarian title with Etur, he was transferred with compatriots Iordanov and Ivanov to Sporting Lisbon. From there, he joined Ipswich Town in 1992, leaving in 1996 for a brief spell at Luton Town. He returned to Sofia, playing for the country's most famous club, CSKA, scoring in CSKA's 1998-99 UEFA Cup Second Round defeat against Atletico Madrid.

With his family still in London, based in Cricklewood less than 400 yards from Hendon's Claremont Road ground, he came back to London and joined Hendon in the summer of 1999. He quickly became a favourite of the fans, scoring with a spectacular overhead scissors kick 20 minutes into his home debut (and first start). He was outstanding in the club's run to the second round of last season's FA Cup and came within inches of earning Hendon what would have been a 3rd round tie at Arsenal - Blackpool scored two late goals to win 2-0 after Guentchev had hit the bar and seen another spectacular effort brilliantly saved.