Don't Miss the Hidden Hub of Turkish Cuisine in London
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
This low-key north London street is a go-to for lamb shish … and so much bread.
By Amy Booth
No sooner has your order been taken than waiters bring baskets of hot, fresh flatbread, salad and little plates of cacık (tzatziki). First-timers fill up on these delicious complementary sides, which is a big mistake: The main courses are huge. On Harringay Green Lanes, the trick is not to order starters, but it’s easy to give in to temptation.
At first glance, this seems like an unassuming stretch of north London street. Located a few miles out of the city center, you’ll rarely find references to the area in tourist guides. But a plethora of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Turkish restaurants have grown from tiny family concerns into large, elegant establishments with cuisine to rival London’s best. Gökyüzü was at one point the second highest-rated restaurant in London on TripAdvisor, while Selale has won prizes at the British Kebab Awards.
At Selale, the salad is a colorful blend of tomato, cucumber, rocket and red cabbage, dressed with pomegranate sauce and olive oil and served with a thick slice of lemon. Then come the main courses: a hearty portion of moussaka, a boat-shaped pide, a lamb beyti cut into slices and served like a flower around sour yogurt sauce and grilled peppers. Accompany it with sour shalgam (Turkish fermented purple carrot juice) and ayran.
We wonder if you could eat so much bread that they stopped bringing it.
At regular intervals, servers whisk the bread baskets away to refill them. We wonder if you could eat so much bread that they stopped bringing it. “Do you … do you think anyone’s ever pushed it?” one astounded friend asks. Sabri Barac Kilic, Selale’s director, laughs when I put the question to him. “Our tradition is to eat bread with our food. If not, we still feel hungry … We feel like we must, we feel like we have to look after [our guests],” he says.
Down the street is Diyarbakir, which was opened in 1986 by the father of current director Erkan Aksu. Aksu hails from a Kurdish farming family in central Turkey, but they moved to London when he was 3 years old. His father started a restaurant with two tables serving only soup and lamb shish. The place became a favorite with people from the local Kurdish community center and has grown into a restaurant of 136 seats. Aksu is especially proud of his lamb kebabs.
“The spices we’re using, the rice we’re using, the grills, stews, everything, all comes from the Middle East,” Aksu says. “When our mums and dads were in the village, we’re not doing anything different, just in a restaurant. We try to find the best ingredients for the kebab, stew, grill, mezze.”
The runaway success of these restaurants means they’re often packed. Call to book a table unless you’re willing to wait, and bear in mind it’s not likely to be a quiet evening.
Many restaurants along Green Lanes describe themselves as Turkish, but Barac Kilic and Aksu both prefer to describe their restaurants’ cuisine as Mediterranean or Middle Eastern, in reflection of the fact that the culinary traditions they share are common to many people in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern region.
This borough is the fifth most ethnically diverse in the U.K., with more than 100 languages spoken, and its restaurateurs are understandably concerned about Brexit. “We really don’t know what’s going to happen. It will definitely affect us, but how, we’re not sure,” Barac Kilic says. Not only are many of his staff foreign, but the fruit and vegetables he buys are imported. For Aksu, the main worry is staff.
Nonetheless, you need only to look at the jam-packed tables to be left with little doubt that Green Lanes will weather the storm.
Go there: Turkish Food in Harringay Green Lanes
- Directions: Take the Piccadilly Line to Manor House or Turnpike Lane, the London Overground to Harringay Green Lanes, or buses 29, 67 or 141.
- Cost: Prices are available on the restaurants’ websites. Splitting the bill for a large dinner at Selale came to £19 ($25) each.
- Pro tip: Don’t eat all the bread. Seriously. You might eat so much you die.
- Amy Booth, OZY Author Contact Amy Booth