Having recently moved to South East London and still exploring the neighbourhood, I’m always on the market for ideas of good local places for a bite to eat, like Meze Mangal. It made an appearance on Timeout’s top list of London cheap eats and has been a popular choice even before its refurbishment in 2013 – it’s rumoured that it was impossible to get a table, even on a weeknight, and I understand why.
Walking in, the décor suggests something more upmarket than your typical kebab house. Think more two course sit down meal rather than your usual Friday night post-pub doner and chips.
Given the choice of tables, we selected a cosy two-seater by the window with a clear view not only of the garden, which would have been an excellent choice for a summer evening dinner, but also of the wood grill, which quite rightly takes centre stage in the decently sized venue.
Now, I must tell you – our expectations were sky high. A long way to fall, you say? Well, let’s see about that. Looking for the best option to sample what this eatery has to offer, we opted for the Karisik Meze for two and instantly regretted our choice of small table. The concept of the Meze was a selection of cold starters by the restaurant and one warm starter of our own choice – in our case, the calamari.
Granted, the calamari could be accused of looking slightly anaemic but the squid was cooked perfectly – the coating offering a nice contrasting crunch to the melt-in-the-mouth meat in its midst.
The main platter, consisting of humus, tzatziki, stuffed vine leaves, Zeytinyaglu Bakla (broad beans in olive oil and herbs), and Acili Ezme (tomato, peppers, onions, parsley in lemon juice, tomato puree, olive oil and mixed herbs) was a seemingly bottomless pit of yumminess. But, there was a bottom – and I can honestly say that I was genuinely glad there was – underneath the mountains of dips was the wonderfulness that is Patlican Soslu (aubergine and green peppers cooked in olive oil and garlic). A previously uncharted territory in my exploration of the world of food, I am truly in love.
The whole thing was beautifully finished off with a basket of home made pitta bread slices. Now I am partial to a good pitta, but when the owner and manager came over to check on our table and discretely mentioned we should ‘take it easy with the bread so you have space for the mains’, I knew we were in for something special.
Luckily – but quite unusually for me – I was able to make a quick choice on mains, opting for the Beyti, a spicy minced lamb kebab seasoned with garlic and parsley and served with salad and yoghurt. My date selected the Karisik Beyti – a similar dish with the addition of chicken and a portion of chips to share on the side.
Everything was accompanied by a glass of house red (£3) and two glasses of lemonade, unexpectedly filling the table space for the complimentary water that also arrived.
In the time that we were having our starter meze, the place had filled with local families, all now tucking into their food in between short familiar chats with the owner, and the lights were dimmed (presumably for a more intimate atmosphere), thus ruining the lighting on my photos. Sorry about that!
Regardless of my photography skills, I think you’ll be able to see that the portions were truly generous. Being able to watch the chef select the required meat from a tower of kebabs and throw it on the sizzling hot grill brings the whole package together.
The meat was tender, seasoned perfectly and once again, there was a luscious surprise at the bottom of my plate. The chef had cleverly placed a few small pieces of pitta bread underneath the kebabs, which before discovered, managed to soak up the juices running from the meat. A simple little burst of flavour to finish off your meal.
My only bone to pick is with the wine. Or rather, the wine glasses. The wine itself was a perfectly acceptable house red, but the glasses had been chilled, which meant a slightly odd sensation of a freezing cold glass on your lips, as you sip a full bodied, room temperature red from its midst.
But, in the grand scheme of things, who am I to complain? Leaving full, happy and with a doggie bag for my lunch tomorrow, I can safely say I’m happy to call this my local kebab.