For a taste of Middle Eastern fine dining in London, you won’t have to travel far – there are plenty of restaurants offering all the grilled meats, meze and vegan choices you could want, from high-end Mayfair establishments to hipster outposts built into railway arches.
What Head to the heart of Soho for a taste of modern Istanbul – the home town of head chef and founder Civan Er. Much like its sister restaurant in the Turkish city, Yeni offers comforting, flavour-packed dishes laced with exotic ingredients like isot pepper and sumac molasses. Inside, the front wall is one big window onto Beak Street, which means passers-by can get a glimpse into the restaurant’s glowing pendant lamps and rustic brickwork, while diners can people-watch as they sip a dark Turkish coffee (no namby-pamby flat whites here).
The menu While Yeni does meat excellently – its roasted, tamarind-anointed lamb shank is cooked to perfection, all crackled skin and fall-off-the-bone flesh – the restaurant has recently introduced an all-vegan tasting menu for 2020. This 10-course, seasonally changing feast might include vine-leaf tempura with spicy chickpeas, grilled peppers and walnuts, bulgur fritter with Portobello mushroom, and, for afters, katmer pastries with coconut ice cream.
The manti are another must-try (Civan’s one of the few people making these traditional hand-rolled dumplings in the UK). To make it vegan, the dish’s traditional double-fermented yoghurt sauce is swapped for a coriander chermoula. A mention must also go to the restaurant’s drinks menu, which features some of London’s freshest non-alcoholic cocktails, such as a mix of Seedlip Garden 108 and snow peas, or its blend of clementine, lime and kumquat.
55 Beak Street, Soho, W1F 9SH; +44 20 3475 1903
What With a CV that includes Yosma and Hovarda – two of the most exciting Middle Eastern restaurants to hit London in the past five years – head chef Hus Vedat clearly knows what it takes to create a buzz in the UK capital. And his newest venture has followed suit, with a smart Shoreditch location, an inspired menu and an airy dining space; think Scandi-luxe meets five-star hotel.
The menu Barboun’s menu is packed with smoky meats and veg, their aromas permeating the dining room from the open grill, and is a thorough celebration of Levantine cuisine. That means fried slabs of halloumi spiked with apricot, walnut and honey; crisp beetroot fritters with bright purple hues offset by pale whipped feta; and baby chicken delicately flavoured with za’atar. What sets Barboun apart from its peers is the attention to detail, both from an aesthetic and a culinary perspective. This is Middle Eastern fine dining delivered through an Insta-friendly lens – in other words, perfect for Shoreditch.
61-67 Great Eastern St, Hackney, EC2A 3HU; +44 20 3995 3622
What Part-grill house, part-trendy dive bar, this intimate hangout in an East London railway arch proves that five years is an extremely long time in a city’s culinary life. Back in 2015, when Berber & Q opened its doors, the UK capital had yet to really be introduced to such ingredients as sumac, dukkah and pomegranate molasses, while the delights of a mangal grill were reserved for Turkish kebab shops. In many ways, this was the place that changed all that, introducing many of London’s foodies to the flavours of North Africa and the Middle East, which these days have become positively de rigueur.
Menu The initial review buzz focused on the charcoal-grilled cauliflower, and deservedly so. Despite the fact that this dish is now ubiquitous, Berber & Q’s version remains one of the best around. Order it alongside some meze: crispy polenta-fried aubergine perhaps, or their killer baba ganoush topped with spicy red pepper muhammara. Be sure to leave plenty of room for the mixed grill though, because the barbecue really is at the centre of the action here. Beef kofta, saffron and lemon chicken kebab, and merguez sausages, plus a host of pickles, sauces and breads, make for a serious feast where traditional Middle Eastern grill staples have been punched up to a hipster-pleasing 11.
Arch 338 Acton Mews, Haggerston, E8 4EA; +44 20 7923 0829
What Just off Hyde Park is Rüya, one of the capital’s swankiest (and priciest) spots for a Middle Eastern meal. Its impressive, cavernous dining room is decked out in patterned tiles, glossy teal tables and gold light fixtures, while the menu’s decadent touches of truffle, Wagyu and smoked salmon elevate the region’s more traditional ingredients.
Menu The Anatolian-inspired brunch menu, courtesy of ex-Zuma chef Colin Clague, is an epic affair that cherry-picks recipes from across seven regions, from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. Expect classic dishes like shakshuka, spinach and kale gözleme flatbreads, and ‘Umut’s Bayildi’ grilled confit of aubergine, plus several with a modern take, including grilled asparagus with poached egg, nut-brown butter and dukkah, or Turkish coffee waffles. As for drinks, there’s a trio of different Bloody Marys, as well as a fine line in refreshing mocktails, like the Red Power – fresh watermelon, raspberries, rosemary and pomegranate juice.
30 Upper Grosvenor Street, Mayfair, W1K 7PH; +44 20 3848 6710
What The youngest and largest sibling in the Brother Marcus restaurant family brings flavour-packed sharing plates to East London’s atmospheric covered market, Spitalfields. In a greenhouse-like, foliage-filled space hung with basket lampshades, the action centres around a traditional Turkish oven from which come sizzling, loaded pide flatbreads topped with, say, Persian lamb kofta, roast carrot and tahini.
Menu Brother Marcus is big on brunch. Think courgette and feta fritters with turmeric yoghurt and poached egg, or cinnamon and chai overnight oats, washed down with a blood orange spritz, or pear and sage Bellini. Divided into ‘Earth’, ‘Sea’ and ‘Land’, there’s a similarly broad-brush approach to Middle Eastern flavours on its all-day menu, sweeping from Greek (hello, tzatziki and taramasalata) to North African influences. Cuttlefish with butter beans and saffron is a stand-out, while veggies have plenty of options, from salt-roasted beets with orange labneh and sesame tuile, to a herb, squash and freekeh salad.
2 Crispin Place, Spitalfields, E1 6DW; +44 20 3301 2595