Restaurant Review: Oklava

Hashtag Life reviews Shoreditch’s Turkish new Gem: Oklava.

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oklava menuThe problem with visiting Oklava, when you’re Egyptian, your company is Armenian, and the Chef is Turkish; is that it sounds like the beginning of a bar-joke. We spent the first fifteen minutes, after having been seated on a high stool, at a high table no greater than 20cm wide, by the heavy set of entrance doors which would ever so hospitably welcome in gale-force winds as visitors came and went, debating which of the Turkish dishes, were in fact, of Armenian or Arabic heritage (I’m told, and am inclined to believe, that it is not Turkish Lamacun as much as it is Armenian Lahmajoon, which if you want to complicate further can be translated from Arabic and Pharsi into “dear meat’ even though it actually means ‘pizza’). Touchy subject. Yet, it resulted in no plates being smashed. Those are the problems with visiting Oklava; depending on how late you book, your arteries may freeze, and depending on your debating skills, you may win or lose the “whose ancesctors made it first” game. What is left, is to rave about the entire menu, but I’m told I need to be concise.

I had cheated a little with this restaurant and read a review before visiting for mine; in fact, it was how I first heard of Oklava. The greatest appeal lay in the fact that Oklava boasted a combination of many of London’s finest features nowadays; it is a melting pot of cultural influence, although very much a restaurant by appearance it is technically a ‘pop up’ and thus represents the street-food culture which has defined the city’s most popular eateries, and, my favourite quality: no one was talking about it, yet. By that, I refer to those ‘healthily’ competitive relationships you have with people, where you irk a little if a during a conversation someone begins to recommend to you, one of your favourite places.

With Turkish Cypriot heritage influencing her dishes, Selin Kiazim focuses on communal eating and encouraging conversations about food by sharing dishes between diners. She is inspired by flavours from travels; which is certainly translated into the varied palate she cultivates through each dish, and pushes traditional boundaries to produce tantalising, creative dishes, and to pull Turkish Cuisine out of the Kebab shop and into the London Restaurant scene. And truth be told, we had to squint to find the word “kebap” on the menu.

imageThe restaurant manager had recommended as she presented us the menus that we order two-to-three dishes. I pretended I hadn’t heard her, when my company asked me for confirmation of the number, because I feared she meant two to three dishes in total, not each. Glancing at the menu I knew this would be impossible. He then proceeded to call her over for clarification anyway, and much to my relief, it was in fact ‘each’. We began with the warm bread with medjool butter. The lady taking our order explained that they offer bread regardless, yet I needed to clarify twice, if that would still mean I got to try the butter, only for her to answer ‘yes, it’s only on the menu if you really want more.’ One sheepish grin later, I proceeded with the rest of our order.

The medjool date, salted butter is best described as akin to licking the icing off a salted caramel and date flavoured cupcake. Swiping healthy dollops across the warm bread was just as satisfying as scooping it off the cupcake with your finger, but not nearly as much as letting the caramelised buttery taste melt on your tongue. If it wasn’t for the rest of the menu I would have happily reordered the medjool butter until I made myself positively ill. We complimented this with the grilled halloumi, london honey, and oregano which added a more savoury, zingy, edge.

imageOur next ‘small plate’ (they are not small), was the Chilli Roast Cauliflower, Red Onion, Parsley and Pistachio. My inner child still occasionally scrunches up its face at the thought of cauliflower, but in this age of healthy-food-creativity where the stuff has been successfully ground down and reproduced as a substitute for rice, I was curious to discover how Selin would turn this into an innovative and tasty dish. As I munched away on my Cauliflower, I was told by my company that I was ‘eating it wrong’ and ‘hadn’t tried it until I’d tried it with everything.’ So swooping up all the ingredients up into one mouthful, the pistachios added a crunch, the parsely it’s crisp flavour, and the chilli paste added a little moisture to an otherwise dry, but very intricate dish.

The baked lamb fat potatoes, halloumi, fried-duck egg, and sherry vinegar caramel (which really, just tastes like balsamic glaze), followed. I’ve heard that this dish is basically the world’s best hash-potato, and whereas potato as an entity is my ultimate comfort food, I wasn’t blown away, perhaps because the balsamic glaze dashed all across the dish interferes too much and is slightly misplaced amidst the tastes of yolk, and the lamb-infused potato.

The Octopus pide (the turkish form of a cross between a pizza and a calzone) is a tour de force. Chunks of soft and succulent braised and grilled octopus line the pide; a crispy, floured base, made perfect by the addition of feta cheese for the savoury and a honey glaze for the sweet touches to this dish, very much a homey comfort-food minus the usual guilt.

Struggling to allow for any more food, I had begun to wish that the original recommendation was indeed 2-3 plates in total. We closed our meal with two stellar dishes which you should certainly save (or make) room for; The Chilli-Garlic Chicken with Za’atar Crub and Lime Mayo and The Crispy Pomegranate Glazed Lamb Breast and Yoghurt. The chicken, I struggled, relentlessly, through, as it was the best I have had of a meat I am otherwise tired of. It is barbecued and glazed in a sweet, sticky probably unhealthy but thick and supreme sauce, and then coated in a mixture of herbs, very popular in middle eastern cuisine, called “Zaatar” – think of it as a zesty version of oregano. There is an obsession, currently, amongst foodies to refer to each restaurants chicken dish as their ‘KFC” “Krispy Fried Chicken” and I recently read the same of this dish at Oklava; except, it isn’t fried, and it is far more glorious than it’s greasy Kentuckian counterpart. It is a moreish, slightly dry but never mind, delicious dish, which puts chicken back on the map for me – a feat I had begun to think impossible.

Attempting to eat the lamb thereafter was near torture as I was so full, but if, feeling like I was being force-fed, I can still report that it was absolutely delicious, then I knew I would be craving it again in hindsight. The layers of crisped lamb, resemble a crispy pork-belly dish, in it’s cooking style, and the dish is extremely succulent and moreish; the yoghurt adds moisture in the nevertheless slightly dry, pasted, manner which Selin employs throughout her dishes, so as not to dissolve the preceding tastes of each piece, whilst the crunch of the crisped meat along with the juices of the slight fat seal this plate as very much a high note to end with.

imageGlancing around the small, intimate space, feeling as though I was ready to topple off my high chair, I recounted the first review words which had drawn me so much to Oklava: ‘We were eating until we had to surrender.’ I now understood that this is what Selin does to all her guests; I felt like a captive. It was warming to see many Turkish guests at the surrounding tables; a testament to this innovative, neo-cultural Chef’s ability to stay true to her Turkish heritage, whilst also true to the testament that the infusion of neighbouring cultural influences, is in fact the new spice of life; and certainly that of London’s food scene.

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15 Comments

  1. Reston Truman
    February 13, 2016 / 3:16 am

    Calzone? Love it! Pizza? The food of the gods in my opinion! A dish that combines both? Tell me where it’s at and I’m there!

  2. ryka
    March 23, 2016 / 1:12 am

    Looks like you really enjoyed your day in Oklava. I hope I get to eat there too. How expensive is it?

  3. Alex P
    April 1, 2016 / 2:18 pm

    I like the idea of food truck turned restaurant. Food trucks have a friendly feel and somehow I just always know they will taste better. The medjool date salted butter sounds great. If I’m ever in London ill have this place in mind.

  4. calypso
    April 13, 2016 / 1:11 am

    I haven’t tried lamb like that yet. I don’t know any restaurant that offers it made well, here in the Philippines. I hope I get to try it soon.

  5. Barbara
    April 23, 2016 / 12:31 am

    My friend visited Oklava before. He cannot stop talking about how great the food was, especially the lamb.

  6. Shanon Lincoln
    April 29, 2016 / 10:33 am

    I liked the little historical references and the whole story from the first sentence to the last. That’s what makes me put a restaurant on my list to visit. Because I see the reviewer was inspired by the place, not just doing his boring job of writing on the next food menu.

  7. Switch
    April 29, 2016 / 12:14 pm

    I love good food prepared in a goo enviroment.the lamb and octopus appeals to me and I would like to give it a try.

  8. Alberta
    May 13, 2016 / 3:57 am

    I would like to try that “world’s best hash-potatoes” just because it sounds great. I love lamb meat. However, I have yet to find a place that will satisfy my taste with flavour. I wonder if they can do it better here.

  9. Michael
    May 28, 2016 / 12:33 am

    Thank you for your review. The food and the restaurant settings look worthy of trying.

  10. Jacqueline Juarez
    June 14, 2016 / 9:41 am

    Your post makes me so hungry. I want to try the baked lamb fat potatoes. I really love potatoes, but I think this one is different and really delicious!

  11. ZHANG
    July 13, 2016 / 5:24 am

    Food and restaurant are very comfortable to move in and feel the environment good atmosphere. The restaurant manager is very helpful to pick up dishes that suits for our taste. It is worth of going again and try other dishes as well. Almost got my taste and flavor combined together in one place.

  12. Connor Danvers
    July 13, 2016 / 6:26 am

    What a lovely restaurant! Eating at such close quarters with strangers is actually quite uncomfortable for me, but I think I can manage a day of that just to know first hand how good the food really is.

  13. Glad
    July 13, 2016 / 12:01 pm

    So much food, I’m getting hungry already, I love kebab and I have alsop tried lamb, quite tasty but as for octopus, I have never tasted it and don’t think I would want to. every other thing is on point. Thanks for the review.

  14. Jolee
    July 13, 2016 / 1:35 pm

    Great review. Very detailed. Love your description of the octopus pie, I am very intrigued to try this.

  15. July 25, 2016 / 7:00 am

      Melissa BuikemaMay 6, 2011hey, Im moving to Newcastle in September with my husband who is an Eu citizen. how risky is it to rent an apartment right on internet without being able to visit. we thought that we could stay in a B&B first for a couple of days then sought out acmacodotion, is that wise?

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