Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Mangal 2, Dalston

Fans of London restaurants have, despite everything, had a great deal to get excited about over the last few weeks. As the post-covid landscape continues to shift and shuffle, and amidst the smattering of genuinely sad closures and the continuing stress of the "pingdemic", a few genuine surprises and delights have cropped up. Some I've featured on this blog, and that ventures as diverse as Temaki, Bingham Riverhouse and INO Gastrobar have landed so successfully in such difficult times is testament to London's relentless capacity to reinvent and reenergise.

But sometimes a restaurant story crops up from such an unlikely corner of the city that you have to keep checking you're not going mad or aren't unwittingly part of some kind of elaborate reality TV scam. Mangal 2 was, until quite recently, a perfectly decent and fairly traditional ocakbasi, one of many that line Stoke Newington High Street serving tarama, sucuk, lamb chops and flatbread, fairly efficiently and for not very much money. I liked it, but then I've never really found an ocakbasi I didn't like, and the only thing that set Mangal 2 apart from, say, Bos Cirrik or Umut 2000 (both steps away) was the fact that on any given night you stood a fairly good chance of eating at the next table from eccentric art duo Gilbert and George, who had made it their local.

But during lockdown(s), something very strange happened at Mangal 2. Owners/brothers Ferhat (front of house and irrascible Twitter personality) and SertaƧ (new-wave Anatolian chef with a year in foodie mecca Copenhagen under his belt) Dirik, having decided that running a restaurant during a global pandemic wasn't already enough of a challenge, and running the risk of completely flummoxing their traditional customer base (not least Gilbert and George), quietly relaunched their modest little Dalston spot as a exciting modern Turkish bistro serving a short, bold menu of carefully crafted and exquisitely presented dishes that completely redefine what Turkish food means in London.

Don't believe me? I don't blame you - I could hardly believe it myself - but stop me when you see something you don't immediately want to eat:

Sourdough Pide with Cultured Keymak Butter
Cold Grilled Onion Salad
Friggitelli Peppers
Cull Yaw Kofte
House Hummus
Brown Crab Sarma with a Langoustine Emulsion Grilled Quail

(Nothing yet? OK I'll continue)

Grilled Aubergine with a Buttermilk and Aleppo Glaze
Mushroom Manti Dumplings, Confit Tomato and Yoghurt
Chicken Thigh Shish
Yaprak Doner
Lamb Sweetbreads with Pomegranete Molasses
Cull Yaw Chop

(Still happily eat everything? Same here.)

Grilled Octopus with Butter Beans
Line-Caught Mackerel
Plaice with Garlic Kaymak Butter

...OK, OK, I'll stop. But you can see my issue when presented with the above - if you have even the most passing interest in live-fire Turkish cuisine, or let's face it, food generally, choosing a sensible amount of dishes from this mini masterpiece of a menu is an absolutely Herculanean task, and one, in the end, we failed miserably at. But let me at least explain to you why.

House pickles arrived before anything else, a couple of bits of nice crunchy turnip (I think) and soft, sweet gherkin. A nod to the Turkish past but with their feet firmly in the Nordic-flavoured present, they were a modest indicator of what was to come.

"Pide" they coyly called this beautiful thing, though it was unlike anything bearing that name I'd come across in London or elsewhere, ever. Charred from a searing hot oven, risen like a Yorkshire pudding and soaked in excellent olive oil, it was a masterclass in bread work, and a dollop of funky, salty "kaymak" butter added another touch of that Nordic/Turkish crossover charm.

Onion salad had also been treated to a healthy time over the coals, and as well as being dressed with various interesting herbs and spices boasted a significant kick from chilli flakes, something which only revealed itself after I'd already had a couple of large mouthfuls. Was a nice surprise, though.

So far, so great. But things were about to get a lot more exciting with the arrival of the "sarma", a parcel of brown crab and rice wrapped in vine leaf which would have been soaked in buttery seafood flavours and troublingly addictive even without the addition of "langoustine emulsion", a kind of seafood mayonnaise, swirled on top. The fact that this dish involves two of my favourite things in the world, and not only did not disappoint but somehow was even greater than I imagined it would be, should tell you everything you need to know. Astonishing stuff.

From here on, everything that arrived on our table with nothing short of magical. Firstly this cull yaw kofte, which announced its presence with an aroma so enchantingly gamey and complex that it was worth ordering just to have the opportunity to be near it. Of course, to eat it was to be even further bewitched - these extraordinary animals which I've spoken about before on this blog are raised by Matt Chatfield on his farm in Cornwall and though I don't know a great deal about the mystical methods he uses to turn older sheep that would otherwise have been culled (hence the name) into one of Western Europe's greatest meat products of any kind (this is not hyperbole, seriously try some), all I do know is that anywhere serving it knows a thing or two about great ingredients.

Manti dumplings had a delicate thin casing and rich, powerfully-flavoured mushroom filling and came served with a lovely tomato chutney of some kind ("confit" on the menu) and some yoghurt, hot with garlic. This is one of those dishes, vibrant and bright, with each element working in total harmony, that's so easy to eat and so attractively constructed that it sort of washes over you, a soothing balm of tasteful summer flavour.

And then the sweetbreads. Oh, lordy the sweetbreads. Gleaming gems of meaty offal coated in glossy pomegranate molasses that you wrapped up in shiso leaves and ate a few precious morsels at a time, these were just about the finest and most expertly dressed lamb glands I can remember having anywhere - in fact, I'm fairly confident they're the best you can find in London and if anyone finds any better I'll need to make a special journey there too.

Even an ezme salad, the one vaguely recognisable item from the Mangal 2 Before Times, seemed a cut above, seasoned nicely and with a good texture.

At this point, all the food we'd ordered had arrived and had been comprehensively demolished. But barely a 2nd glance was needed to my dining companion that we weren't prepared to end the evening here, not by a long way, and so we ordered firstly the quail, a carefully-cooked thing coated in a fascinating dry rub of who knows how many different kinds of herbs and spices...

...and secondly, of course, more cull yaw, because if there's one thing any evening needs it's more cull yaw. Here was a whole chop, a steal at £16, which ran from pure fat at one end which melted in the mouth like gamey butter, to pink slices of chargrilled meat at the other, the flavour of which I struggle to describe without using (and re-using) words like "intense", "complex" and "completely bloody otherworldly". I feel the same way about cull yaw as I do about late season grouse - there's that strong sense of the environment the animal has come from translating directly into the flavours in the meat, and of a healthy life lived well.

There was, finally, also a dessert. Tahini tart was the first time I'd had the sesame paste outside of a savoury dish but it made absolute sense here, topped with a lovely rich hazelnut cream. Anywhere else this would have been a highlight, here it was merely a booknote to one of the most extraordinary meals I've had in the capital in recent years.

So yes, as you may have gathered by now, it's fair to say I'm very much in favour of the revamped Mangal 2. Ignoring the extraordinary back story and simply taken at face value as a new modern Turkish bistro, the fierce intelligence of the sourcing and cooking and innovation on the menu would have still had me giddy with delight, a genuinely new and exciting addition to the capital. But that the Dirik brothers have risked everything - their traditional customer base, their livelihoods in a pandemic - in a brazen attempt to reinvent and relaunch their family business into something that looks boldly forward while keeping an eye on tradition, in an experiment that let's face it could have just as easily backfired as found a new and appreciative audience well, that's just even more to admire. For this monumental achievement, in this year of all years, they should be exceedingly proud. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to book another table.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the economy cost version of Oklava ( Turkish Cypriot restaurant in shorditch)… only joking. Sending my love to the new menu! Congratulations!