A visit to Istanbul lives long in the memory. Few places in the world present such richness of culture and history. It’s an exotic and enchanting place, where walking around the streets transports you to a different era.
The same is rarely said of Dalston. The east London neighbourhood isn’t known for its romance, but it’s home to London’s Turkish community, and well worth taking the 25 minute bus ride from Qbic.
There’s a ridiculous concentration of Ocakbasi (grillroom) restaurants around a few streets in Dalston, to the point where you wonder how much demand there can possibly be for skewered meat in one area. Mangal 2 isn’t the obvious superstar in the area, but it’s a real local favourite (not least for its tweets).
All the kebabs are superb, but the minced beyti is sensational. Other hits include the beef sausage suçuk starter, wafer thin lamachun (Turkish pizza) and the Ali Nazik – minced lamb kebab in a warm spicy, tomatoey aubergine and yoghurt sauce (basically a Turkish hug).
4 Stoke Newington Road
Every culture has its sweet dishes, and this is a celebration of Turkey’s pastries. At Tugra Baklava, there’s a frankly terrifying-looking tray of deep fried pastry in oodles of of honeyed syrup. A cardiac arrest seems an inevitability from a bite.
There are a few cakes and stuffed savoury flatbreads also on offer. The baklavas are the real draw – pulling in sweet tooths from far and wide. The pastry is implausibly thin and crispy, and the nutty filling comes from the Antep region of Turkey, an area revered by Turks for the quality of its pistachios.
30-32 Stoke Newington Road
TURKISH BATHS AND HAMAM
Bathing is one of the most celebrated parts of traditional Turkish culture, and one that a section of the community has attempted to preserve in London, even if the result is rather incongruous at first glance.
Once inside however, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the owner’s determination to interpret the hamam experience with maximum authenticity: steam rooms, metal bowls and buckets of water, a big marble room with a great big hot marble slab in the middle for scrubbing and soaping.
If it wasn’t for the double glazing doors, you’d think you were in Istanbul’s old city. There’s also the option of a traditional massage. Days alternate between days for ladies and gents, so check beforehand.
ATLIN MAKAS, TURKISH BARBERS
Getting a haircut was often as much a social experience as a functional necessity. That practise is still going strong in some barbers. It allows men to sit around and debate current affairs while getting their moustache trimmed.
Altin Makas translates as ‘Altin’s Scissors’ (Altin, one assumes, is the proprietor and head shearer).
As well as getting a tea, coffee and a haircut, it’s worth trying out a traditional Turkish shave or beard trim. You are also treated to a hot towel face steam and the rather unnerving sight of a massive cotton bud with burning flame tapping against your ears (done to burn off any errant ear hair rather than just amusement).
6 Stoke Newington Road
EVIN CAFE AND RESTAURANT
Another Dalston institution attracting a varied crowd; Turks, builders, mums, local cool kids. It spills into the street, starting with a breakfast menu that spans English fry up to Menemen and Mediterranean set plates.
It’s dark inside, and lends itself well to the shift into a dinner mood. Of course there are the staple kebabs and meze-type dishes, but it’s the Anatolian menu where you should focus your attention. There’s some damn tasty and homely dishes to check out here.
115 Kingsland High Street