by Nick Harman - Friday December 7, 2018 3:12 pm
Irving street 16 WC2H 7AU London aliocakbasi.com
Now out of towners and tourists alike don’t have to be taken to the cleaners when having a night out in the West End.
Ah Leicester Square! I remember coming to see the first Star Wars movie here, all of us packed into a car ‘borrowed’ from someone’s father and all of us in varying items of school uniform, having come direct into town after double woodwork.
In those days food wasn’t really an option - just the Angus Steak House, as I recall - so we ate hot dogs from a street vendor. Note to millennials - street food was not in any way cool back then. It often ended up back on the street a few hours later.
Now there’s plenty of choice, some good, some bad and some I’d definitely steer clear of.
Turkish food is all over London, it fills a need. If you’re too posh for the chicken shop, the Turkish will be where you and your mates can go to talk knowledgeably about ocakbaşı, Chicken sis, Adana kebabs, pide and mezze.
Be aware, a Turkish restaurant should not be confused with a kebab shop.
I like this kind of food myself, although I am not such a fanatic about the big meat grills as I am trying to eat less meat.What I like best are the mezzes and the breads and the pizza-type things - the Pide (pronounced peeday).
These flatbreads come topped usually with lamb and Turkish cheese and are a must have in any Turkish restaurant. Here at Ali Ocakbaşı they have about seven types to choose from.
We get a simple classic, the lamb and beef fragrant, oily and punched with a bit of black pepper. The bread is the correct thickness, which is to say thin, and nicely balanced between soft and crispy. A good start.
They bring all the mezze out on a giant tray here so you can choose, which is visually a buzz. The waiter suggests we don’t go too mad as we will need space for meat. Wise words, which as usual I ignore to my later regret.
Waiter knows his stuff, able to explain every mezze. Some are familiar, their Turkish names not so far off from the Arabic counterparts and similar in ingredients.
A yoghurt with cucumber dish I recognise, ditto roasted aubergine with olive oil and garlic.
We have those as well as something new to me, cigkofte - raw beef with bulgar, onion and chili. You eat it wrapped in the supplied lettuce leaves and it’s fiery and rather good.
The restaurants homemade hot hummus is rich and you can taste the tahini, it goes well with their lovely puffy breads fresh from the oven that sigh happily as you squish the air out of them.
Grilled red pepper in oil is pleasant, but then a dish of a paste that seems to be mostly tomato puree, not so much.
Big bowls of salad packed out with fresh herbs such as parsley, rocket and mint, and contrastingly flavoured with pomegranate molasses, sumac and chili powder are lively and healthy.
Which we then undo by eating too much meat. Who can resist meat kissed by the grill though? It’s that smoky waft that makes all the difference.
We have a bit of a mixed grill and I’m afraid my MS Word will not do the Turkish accents, but the Kusneme is a very tender lamb fillet, not something you see a lot of as it’s a bit special. It’s almost livery in flavour, barely cooked, very good.
Saslik, beef with onion rings, is also a winner. The meat having the right amount of outside sear against the soft centre. We are wrapping the meats in paper thin flatbreads that easily curve around the chunks to give a satisfying bite each time.
Minced lamb kebabs are as good as any I’ve had, lacking only a bit more searing and smokiness to make them perfect. I’m not clambering aboard the burnt meat bandwagon still trundling through London, but I do like that lick of the flame on my meat.
The whole lot comes with a tomato and lettuces salad which helps lighten the load, as well as dish of large grains, possibly a variant of pearl barley, which is a bit bland but at the same time inoffensive.
I am sorry, but I didn’t make dessert, I was stuffed. Plus, I had to get moving. This was a shame as I like desserts from this part of the world rather more than I like European ones. They seem more interesting and less sickly, with more fresh fruit, dried fruits, honey and rice.
So, overall, okay Ali Ocakbaşı is not going to feature on any “10 Hip Places To Eat Turkish You Need To Try Right Now” list, not given its location.
It is however part of a group that actually originates out of Turkey, not Hoxton, and good place to know if you’re in the area and want some good pretty authentic Turkish food at a fair price.
And served quickly if you ask for it; they realise people have shows to catch, even if they are a bit late now to see Star Wars.