Turkish food is sometimes limited in a Londoner's gastronomic experience to a post-pub greasy kebab that resurfaces the next day as a bad multicoloured burp. This is wrong. This is very, very bad and wrong. The Turkish (sometimes also known as Anatolian or Ottoman) cuisine available in London is jaw-dropping and lip-smacking and deserves more attention than that of a "do you want chips with that?" after closing time dilemma. The Mediterranean, North African and Middle Eastern influences on the flavours and ingredients of Turkish cooking means there's something for everyone - but what to order? Where to start? And where to go?
Londonist grabs a menu, a fine tooth comb and a bib to catch the drool. All for you, of course...
First of all, spellings differ between places but not so widely that one restaurant's menu is incomprehensible compared to another; the spellings below are the spellings that Londonist happens to like. Secondly, in any Turkish restaurant you can expect the staples - flatbreads / pitta breads, lots of aubergine (patlican) and lamb (kuzu)dishes and thick, strong Turkish coffee. There won't be any pork, as Turkey is a mainly Muslim country and menus will reflect that. Do NOT expect Turkish Delight: do not be tempted to ask for it either. Just.. don't.
For big groups and the types who like a little bit of everything, order the meze. These are hot and cold starters and it is perfectly acceptable to order lots of these in place of a main meal. Mezes are also a good way of guaranteeing vegetarian and non-vegetarian options for big groups as items can be selected according to demand. Mezes are sometimes offered in a set meal which can cut out the agonising over what is on offer. Common meze include:
houmous - chickpea dip flavoured with garlic and lemon juice
tarama / taramasalata - creamy cod roe dip: fishy and less pink than the stuff from supermarkets
Cacik - yoghurt and cucumber dip
dolma - vine leaves stuffed with rice and herbs
patlican soslu - chopped aubergines with peppers and onions in tomato sauce
babaganush - aubergine dip
tabbouleh - parsley, tomato, bulgar wheat and onion salad
borek - filo pastry usually filled with spinach and feta cheese
hellim / haloumi - a white cheese, a bit like toughened mozzarella, grilled
sucuk izgara - grilled garlic sausage
falafel - chickpea fritters
For non-vegetarians, Turkish food is good for slow cooked lamb dishes and cuts of meat or meatballs cooked on charcoal grills. Look out for the following if you're of the carnivorous type:
kuzu - lamb
tavuk - chicken
sigir - beef
kofte - minced meat
adana - minced lamb grilled on skewers served with rice
guvech - stewed meat
karisik izgara - mixed grill of lamb, chicken and kofte
iskender - with tomato and yoghurt sauce
Turkish vegetarian dishes are as varied as the meat dishes, using ingredients like aubergines, chickpeas, tomatoes and cheese and just as flavoursome as meat dishes. However, restaurants vary in how much choice they offer for vegetarians so if one place seems to be a bit meat-heavy, do keep looking.
patlican dolmasi - stuffed aubergine
turlu - mixed vegetables served wuth tomato sauce
ispanakli patates - spinach with potatoes
bamya - okra cooked with tomatoes
mucver - pan fried courgettes with herbs and garlic sauce
For the widest choice of Turkish food, both in restaurants, cafes and shops, head for the stretch of North London between Upper Street and Wood Green. The area around Green Lanes is so rich with Turkish / Cypriot / Turkish-Cypriot culture, a play was written about it.
North London Turkish restaurant recommendations are neccessarily highly selective - where to start? These are the places that Londonist can just about squeeze in: Iznik near Arsenal is well-loved and always busy. Gallipoli and little sister Gallipoli Again is also fondly recommended by those who frequent it for the excellent food and prices. Bakko is a family-run affair that is said to be as authentic as can be.
In the centre of town (Covent Garden, Mayfair, Marylebone) there is the Sofra chain - don't be put off by the fact it is a chain, this is a dependable and confident series of restaurants - they even publish a cookbook if you like the food that much. Kazan in between Pimlico and Victoria is chic and good-looking, with excellent food but at busy times (i.e always) service can be poor.
And not forgetting the south central part of town, the Tas chain with restaurants on The Cut, near Shakespeare's Globe and another on Borough High Street supplies the demand for Turkish fayre. Good prices and a wide menu makes it a good option for post-work gatherings.
If you're offered any lion's milk, it's not milk and it's not from a lion. It's raki, a fiery Turkish aniseed flavoured alcoholic drink that goes cloudy when mixed with water, hence the milk moniker.