Your Leicester Square Pre-Theatre Options Just Got A Bit Spicier
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With branches already in Istanbul, Vienna, and Amsterdam, Ali Ocakbasi made its move on London back in 2018. And not just London: Leicester Square. Extreme London.
It's a power move. In a habitat where only Angus Steakhouses and Hippodromes really thrive for long, how's a Turkish grill with a focus on 'authentic Anatolian cuisine' been faring?
Quite pricily, it turns out. Not just compared to the proliferation of amazing Turkish restaurants in Green Lanes, Dalston, and other parts of London where you don't need to charge punters through the nose to cover your ground rent. Even compared to the chains flanking it, it's going to feel like something of a punch in the wallet — despite surprisingly cheap beer — for a spot that reads as an informal pitstop.
The mezze shine more for their price-points than the grill dishes — an order of muhammara (a paste of crushed walnut, tahini, lemon and garlic) is miniature, but intensely nutty, and rich enough that it doesn't feel like a sting at £6.50 per small bowl. Same goes for the antep ezme, the crushed tomato/chilli/sumac/onion salad-meets-dip, and the beautifully light lavas flatbread like warm, puffed-up pillowcases.
From the grill, imam bayildi's less dazzling: aubergine stuffed with peppers, tomatoes and onion, and cooked in big glugs of olive oil, the name, 'imam bayildi', translates as 'the imam fainted' — legend has it, from sheer pleasure at the dish's beautiful opulence. We've had a few versions of this dish before that you could imagine somebody getting weak-kneed and light-headed over. This one's more serviceable than imam-swooner, topped with a thick layer of cheese that turns slightly rubbery the second it starts to cool. The ali fistikli kebab is steeper (£19) but better, a tender lamb-mince, pistachio-studded job, with a nice smokiness.
Ali Ocakbasi's surely at its best this time of year, with a big terrace onto (pedestrianised, slightly calmer Leicester Square tributary) Irving Street. We can't imagine heading here for dinner if we didn't have to be in Leicester Square — but if we had to be in Leicester Square we'd be pleased it was there. It has decent mezze, good lavas flatbread and a nice stretch of pavement seating. It has large bottles of Tuborg for £5. We reckon it's going to do alright for itself.
Ali Ocakbasi, 16 Irving Street, WC2H 7AU.
Last Updated 08 July 2019