13 Jun 2008

Thrill from the Grill

PICTURED: MANGAL 1, a seemingly unprepossessing Turkish in Dalston. I discovered it whilst editing a documentary around the corner in Shacklewell Lane. Peter, my Executive Producer led me there via a strange series of well-trodden twists; a short cut wove past a synagogue reborn as a mosque, and a very dubious looking mechanics.
Bags of charcoal were backed up against the wall, fodder for the joyously dangerous ‘Ocakbasi’ (sweltering open grill) complete with ringside seats. Design details included less then lavish light blue tiles, thrombotically tight tables and a tapestry depicting a beautiful Turkish coffee sipping princess. There was no menu, masses of marinated meat on show, much of it skewered, and woefully tiny napkins. That was back in ’04. Four years on and such simplicity sustains...
Despite the resolutely ungastronomic nature of the documentary – ‘I Love Milton Keynes’ (urban utopia turned distopia?) – food had formed a mighty part of the crew’s motivation. A hired steadycam operator talked eloquently about his experiences at top restaurants. The Director of Photography had vicious views on BP’s Wild Bean Café. Dining, often frugally, on the public purse, we took in drastically themed pubs, almost hidden Vietnamese, Home Counties husband and wife run revitalised English eateries, Mowbray pies and pizzeria after pizzeria… (Did you know every Pizza Express is only too happy to supply you one of those cutting wheels?)
Returning to Mangal with another media wannabe (who may well make it), it felt like the intervening path of time had run smooth since the days of wrangling with commissioning editors.
Taking advantage of the BYO policy, we uncorked a bottle of Château de Pibarnon, the ‘Petrus of Provence’ from heatwave ’03. Intensely coloured with an immediately greetingly warm waft of Provence herbs (dried lavender, thyme, baked rosemary), this moreish Mourvèdre tantalised with its ripe cassis, apricot highlighted, nutmeg spiked and truffle soothed character. After a breath, this was followed by a scorched, iron minerality. Substantial but also pamperingly refreshing.

We started with succulent, diced Aubergine Salad with sour cream and fresh pide bread, closely followed by a quartet of Grilled Quails. The industrial extractor above the adjacent bath of red hot coals switched to turbo as our staved game birds were given a light char. I must say, having an interest in the eggs (delicious fried on buttered wholemeal toast) it must be pretty darn painful for these barely flying birds to produce them. They arrived externally crisp, internally moist and accompanied by a thicket of fresh salad: rocket, raw onion, long, fiery chillies, gherkins and tomato. Tender Cubed Lamb, removed from the skewers rested underneath, with a mopping slice of thin bread to catch the juices.
Nimble, minted Lamb Cutlets, gnawed from the bone were chased by soft Grilled Chicken Wings. They must have made what was offer at the nearby Nandos look especially pallid by comparison.
Wonderful, fragrantly spiced, intensely dense coffee served in little cups followed.
Overall, this was a fond return to a sometimes grudgingly famous Turkish institution. One day, when I feel more media motivations, I may visit their unimaginatively titled sequel down the road. Mangal 2, which Peter described as ‘posh’ is a favoured hang-out of business suit wearing artistic duo (or is it one being expressed as two?), Gilbert and George.
Incidentally, two criticisms are regularly cited about the Mangal. Firstly: staff can seem surly. In reality, I think they are simply proud of their restaurant. In my experience, if you coo in the right places, any brusque tendencies melt away fast. Secondly: the table by the loos would not be my obvious choice. Having said that, a couple made a bee-line (or should that be wee-line?) for that spot when we visited, despite the room being almost empty(!)
Mangal 1 - 10 Arcola Street, London. E8 2DJ. T. 020 7275 8981
Nearest Overland: Dalston Kingsland


The cliché-packed tralier for 'Bottleshock', a Hollywood take on the '76 'Judgement of Paris' is now ONLINE.

Mangal Ocakbasi on Urbanspoon