Monday, 13 October 2008
19 Numara Bos Cirrik 2, Stoke Newington
In the ten or so days since my last review, Iceland has declared itself bankrupt. I was understandably quite pleased when I heard this news - how nice to be spared those gratingly irritating Kerry Katona ads designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator lazy parents who couldn't be bothered doing anything more worthwhile for their offspring than heat up a batch of chicken nuggets and oven chips. Sadly, it wasn't to be - the Iceland going bankrupt was in fact the country, not exactly known for its culinary output and therefore of little interest to me, and the curse of what Andrew at Eyedropper calls "brown food" - sealed plastic packages of greasy processed food - is here to stay. In fact given recent global events the chances are we might be seeing a lot more of Miss Katona and her ilk. For as many Gordon Ramsays and Jamie Olivers there are telling us that it really is easy - and most importantly cheap - to cook fresh, tasty food in your own homes there are as many others who will try to make a living out of convincing the population that all you really need for a balanced diet is a packet of spiced potato wedges and a microwave. And when times are tough and money is tight, I have a feeling that it's easier to make a 99p pack of spring rolls look like the budget option next to the effort of chopping an onion and crushing a garlic. I hope I'm proved wrong, but Mssrs Oliver and Ramsay really do have their work cut out.
It is, I've mentioned before, the restaurants which make you feel like you're getting value for money that will thrive in the current climate, even if it is just a "feeling" rather than a genuine generosity of spirit. The Giaconda wasn't anything more than a competent gastropub serving food at standard prices, but little tricks with the bill and the table charge made you feel much better about parting with your cash. The "trick" employed by the oddly-named 19 Numara Bos Cirrik 2 is far more straightforward - gut-busting portions for not very much money. The menu was also of a generous size - about 8 pages - although closer inspection revealed quite a bit of duplication and nothing really that unique in terms of ingredients or dishes. But Ocakbasi is what it is - tasty, filling comfort food served without pretension, and to this end 19NBC2 fills its remit very well.
19 Numara Bos Cirrik 2 was filling up rapidly when we arrived at about 8:00pm on Saturday night. The crowd was I think a mixture of families, young couples and old Turkish men reading the paper, although it was a bit difficult to tell as the room seemed to be lit only by small tea lights on each table and the focal point of the room - a huge grill near the door - kept the air thick with charcoal smoke and steam.
We started with a huge selection of mixed mezze, most of which was slightly on the dull side but included a nice bean salad, homemade hummus and some cheesy samosa thingies. Hardly mind-blowing but at about £3.50 each we weren't complaining, and there was a lot of it.
My mixed grill was a decent enough example of its type - the highlight being small sections of lamb ribs, an unusual cut for a Western restaurant but juicy and attractively bite-sized. The best you could say about the other bits and pieces was that they were cooked properly and weren't too dry, although I think in most cases I could have done with extra seasoning and/or spicing. The problem with Turkish food, similar to Spanish food, is that it relies upon zingingly fresh ingredients cooked quickly and simply, and if your ingredients aren't quite up to the task, as so often happens in this country, the end product suffers. But it was just what the doctor ordered for a relaxing Saturday evening and I should also mention that the house bread was some of the best of its type I've had in this country, fluffy and rich and - of course - barely minutes out of the oven.
Another nod to authenticity (and our wallets) was the £12 bottle of Turkish wine we had with the meal. There were a few funny faces pulled around the table on first tasting, but I didn't think it was too bad. Given a choice between cutting back on the food or the wine, I would always choose the wine - most restaurants worth their salt wouldn't ever serve anything completely undrinkable, although having said that I know I'm just setting myself up to be proved wrong.
What my visit to 19 Numara Bos Cirrik 2 proved, again, is that the tiniest bit of research can prove the difference between throwing away your precious pennies on somewhere cheap and rubbish and getting real value from a small local restaurant. And what the food we were served that evening proved is that it is possible to create a substantial, tasty meal from budget ingredients in little to no time at all, and without a plastic packet of brown food in sight. Kerry Katona take note.