The burger got rebooted, lifted out of its natural milieu of teenagers and obese Americans but can kebabs pull off the same trick?
I don’t need to tell you about the kebab walk of shame; we’ve all done it. Grasping the badly wrapped parcel of warmish meat with loads of lettuce, all of it doused in virulently red chilli sauce, we’ve wandered out of the kebab shop in an alcohol-induced haze and cheerfully bitten in.
The first thing you notice is that you now have chilli sauce lodged in each ear and the second thing that the kebab’s bottom has dropped out and its contents are partly down your clothes, but mostly on the pavement. At this point it is traditional to say’**** it!’ and stagger home.
Such a shame and what a way to treat a Turkish delight. Although you could argue that since the’elephant’s leg’ that your kebab was carved from probably contained very little lamb, but quite a lot of bacteria, the pavement is perhaps the safest place for it.
Few people have ever tried to raise the status of the classic kebab. A couple of chancers tried a while back but they got bored when no one could be convinced to big them up and gave up.
For the past year though Chifafa in Clerkenwell have been quietly doing good business. I’ve walked past many a time but this lunchtime, with the rain coming down hard, I needed a bit of Mediterranean sunshine.
The first thing you notice, or don’t notice because it’s not there, is the classic’leg’, the revolving spit of dubious meat. This is because Chifafa marinades and slow cooks its lamb overnight before tossing it onto the raging heat of a Big Green Egg to give texture and a subtle smokiness.
The lamb (neck fillet, the manager tells me) is then wrapped in souvlaki bread, and not poked into the usual leathery brittle pitta. This bread is a delight in itself, soft and fluffy inside and with a pleasing crisp exterior. Wrapping things is also very on trend.
Inside the wrap, in my choice, are tasty slivers of lamb, with no gristle or grease, and soft, salty, quiescent nuggets of feta. There’s no watery iceberg lettuce, instead solid red cabbage’slaw provides the crunch and the whole is muddled with amba (a tangy mango pickle) and fresh herbs. I had to make a choice of mild, medium or hot homemade chili sauce and, in homage to those Friday nights in my teens, chose hot. But actually it wasn’t hot at all, or perhaps I didn’t have enough.
It’s all very good and tasty and available in two sizes for appropriate appetites. Like a burrito the kebab comes wrapped in tinfoil though, which makes it very easy to hold and eat, but also offers the unwanted opportunity to get a sliver of tinfoil on the teeth. Eeeek!
There are chicken, za’atar dusted halloumi and veal kebabs too, along with healthy-ish rice and salad boxes, and while you can eat your grub in, I’d not count on actually being able to. Chifafa seems to get justifiably very busy indeed at lunchtimes.
Chifafa hopefully will open a few more branches to showcase their take on a much-derided classic. The kebab deserves to be taken more seriously than a Saturday night soak up sponge or fast food for fickies.