After a recent gastronomy trip to Turkey, I developed a love for Turkish food which has left me hunting down Turkish restaurants in the capital, traipsing through various tube zones to feed my new found addiction. I had always liked Turkish food but what was before, an occasional indulgent but enjoyable fling, has now become a fully-formed love affair and one which needs feeding regularly. This is lucky as there’s a Turkish restaurant I’d been meaning to visit for weeks but hadn’t yet managed to secure a table there. After a rave review from Grace Dent (and several others), Oklava is now booked up weeks in advance and unless you have the organizational skills of the US President’s EA than you’ve got no chance. I’m organized when it comes to food; I haven’t missed a meal since 1994 (as my nearest and dearest will attest to) but this eludes even me. So I found myself dining with family at Oklava at 6pm on a Tuesday night. Although it initially felt like an early bird dinner, that soon became irrelevant when the food hit the table, as we were completely immersed in the range of small plates presented to us.
Firstly a massive round of applause to an almost all female kitchen. This shouldn’t need mentioning in London 2016 but sadly it does – so rare it is to see even a 50/50 ratio of men to women in high-end kitchens that we should truly celebrate this all-woman power team, showing the city that when you let women loose in professional kitchens, amazing things happen.
Everything that hit our table was outstanding. The complexity of the flavours in each dish demonstrated a kitchen that didn’t just understand Turkish cuisine, but had the lifeblood of the food running through its veins. All the delicious Turkish flavours and textures you’d expect were there, some disguised in creative new compositions, but all identifiable and extremely enjoyable; the sweet sticky date marinades, the crunch of fresh pistachios, the creamy, salty feta cheese and deep smoky purees. This even starts with the cocktail menu, and a drink which I’ve been craving ever since: spiced rum, vodka and pomegranate formed this basis of this martini which was finished with sumac.
Usually I would pass on bread before a meal but the mejool date butter it was served with was too delicious to pass up and I devoured a thick slice of their homemade seeded bread, spread generously with it.
One of the highlights was the chilli roasted cauliflower, charred round the edges and topped with thinly-sliced red onions and a generous scattering of pistachios. On the theme of vegetable dishes, the Carrot Borani is also worth a mention; it was so beautifully plated that my heart ached a little when I destroyed the presentation to dig in. Not only was it pretty but also delicious with so many components to this colourful vegetarian dish; we had aubergine purees, filo chards, candied walnuts, deep purple leaves and roasted carrots but to name a few. They amalgamated beautifully; a dish as rich in flavor as it was in texture.
Being only a very occasional meat-eater, I used my free pass to enjoy the Okalva lamb chops, which was absolutely worth it. Served in a date molasses with an urfa chilli mayo, this dish is for those with a sweet tooth, but don’t let that put you off – it was absolutely gorgeous. The lamb was pink and tender bathed in its sticky date coating; classic Turkish flavours, bought up to date with a twist.
Dessert was the Kunefe- shredded filo pastry is packed together to form this sweet, which is stuffed with white Turkish cheese, bathed in syrup and served with pistachio ice-cream on the side. It was big enough for three of us to share, although I could have easily carried on eating, if I didn’t have to fight my sister’s fork away for each mouthful. It’s certainly not a light option but this extremely indulgent dish was the perfect sweet ending to the meal.
I was impressed from end to end. It was so good, my mum hugged the lovely restaurant manager who humoured her and, bless him, didn’t even flinch when she lurched in. I’ll be returning to Oklava, maybe even on a Friday evening if I can get my act together.
74 Luke St. London EC2A 4PY