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Turkish Food in London’s West End – Ali Ocakbasi:
It’s always been an ambition of mine to travel to Turkey, the country that more than any other bridges the East to the West. I love the immediacy and vibrancy of Turkish food, marrying the cuisine of the southern Mediterranean with ingredients such as walnuts and pomegranates to create something quite unique. So I was pleased to be asked to review Ali Ocakbasi, the first London outpost of two popular restaurants in Istanbul founded in 2013 by brothers Volkan and Okan Akkas. With their third site opening in Amsterdam in 2015, and now with a new Leicester Square restaurant to give us Brits an opportunity to try authentic Anatolian cuisine it’s clearly an exciting time for this small restaurant group. The interior is all about brick and wood with stylish pendant lighting setting the tone in this charming café style basement. But the focus at Ali Ocakbaşi is on the food with a wide menu built around a charcoal grill and an emphasis on grilled meats, Anatolian pizza (pide) and dishes cooked in a traditional wood-fired oven. Our charming waiter insisted that we started with their amazing Mezze tray. I love this kind of eating so it was difficult to choose from the cornucopia of delights presented to us, but eventually we chose a particularly creamy Humus which was unexpectedly made with milk, a deliciously smokey Abagannus (roasted aubergine with yoghurt and garlic) and Efe which is a speciality herby white cheese, flavoured with parsley, onion and the ubiquitous crunch, colour and taste of walnuts. In the middle of the tray were the amazing Cigköfte – hot, spicy and moreish raw meatballs with bulgar onion and red chilli wrapped in lettuce leaf to soften the heat. From the hot starters list came Sigara Boregi came deep-fried pastry rolls with a cheese and parsley stuffing. Straight out of the fryer they were hot but not greasy and felt like a decadent treat. We were drinking an East Anatolian white wine – Emir Narince, Kayra Buzbag, Anatolia, 2016 with grapefruit, apricot and lychee notes. Buzbag means ‘ice vineyard’ and takes its name from the intriguing sounding ice caves of Harput in East Anatolia.I loved the Gavurdagi Salata, a salad of cubed tomatoes, finely chopped onions, Anatolian herbs and walnuts with a lemon juice and pomegranate dressing. It had a satisfying textural contrast between the crunch of walnuts and the sweetness of the tomatoes with the dressing adding a sweet-sour note. Grilled meat is a central part of the Ali Ocakbasi menu so we had to try it. The lamb and beef Ali kebab with Anatolian spices was medium hot and full of flavour. It came with flatbreads and a delicious salad. The Sebzeli Imam Bayaldi was a dish of meltingly soft eggplant with pepper, tomato, spices and cheese. It tasted really authentic and came with a fluffy plate of tomato rice and a tasty rocket salad. Dessert is essential and it had to be the Anatolian Baklava – the pastry was flaky and stuffed with pistachio – delicious. Ali Ocakbasi brings an authentic slice of Anatolian food culture to London’s West End and is a welcome alternative in that part of town. It’s informal and has lots of choices but could maybe have a couple of fish main dishes on the menu to cater forth growing number of pescatarians. But the food is fresh and honest and full of flavour and it would be a great place to go with friends or family for a night out.
16 Irving St,
London WC2H 7AU
020 7839 4020