Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Back on track

With a three month backlog of delicious meals to tell the world about, where does a boy start? An old favourite.

There are some places I'll go back to over and over again, despite a list of restaurants I want to eat at as long as my arm. It usually involves impressing visitors with "look what amazing stuff I have on my doorstep!". My four regulars, depending on the guest, are Mangal in Dalston, Tayyabs in Whitechapel, Ottolenghi in Islington and Tbilisi, the Georgian restaurant in Holloway. Lately, I've taken meat fiend friends to Mangal for smoky Turkish lamb kebabs, amazing piles of fresh and tangy salad and freshly bakes breads. One friend who visited in January insisted we went again when she came back with her boyfriend in April. That's how good it is.

Dalston is a great place to take visitors. You can build up the mystique as you walk over, telling them about its Jekyll and Hyde character: by day a bustling, multicultural hub, all nail bars, dead chickens, fruit and veg, phone cards, religious chanting and popcorn. As night falls it's the hipster mile, sunglasses, big hair, the early 90s junkie look. But the barbecue smoke oozing out of Kingsland High Street/Stoke Newington Road's many ocakbasi restaurants gives it a summer holiday feel and the warehousey, slightly run down buildings gives it a feel of New York's Lower East Side. You take a right down Arcola Street and enter a bustling smoky grillhouse and you're transported into another world.

You pretty much always have to queue in Mangal, watching the chefs man the grills, the heat making everyone sweat but especially them as they knock the flaming coals around and turn the spitting skewers of prime lamb, quail and chicken. But arrive at a sensible time (ie. not 8pm on a Friday or Saturday night) and you'll be ushered to a table before long. The menu is short and sweet, and we nearly always get a mixed mezze (so cheap) to start - it's just humus, a yoghurt dip, baba ganoush and a tomato and bulgur salad but goes down wonderfully.

For mains I almost always go for the adana kebab, which consists of two minced skewers of lamb. Normally people think of mince as a cheap cousin to fully formed meat, a bit limp and flavourless. But not at Mangal, where it is succulent and more juicy, and has bits of chilli, garlic and herb in the mix. I've been known to deviate to the boyfriend's kebab of choice: cop sis, which are smaller, marinaded cubes of lamb. And my other favourite diversion is the iskender, which you can get either in adana or cop sis form, and is on a bed of bread, topped with tomato sauce and yoghurt. It's more of a dish.

I have just booked a relatively last minute holiday to a lovely little hamlet in southern Turkey. It's my first 'adult' villa holiday, and we've got a pool, barbecue, gardens, bikes and everything. I'm looking forward to eating out big time but also recreating some of my favourite Turkish/levantine dishes in situ.

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