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As smoke fills a side road off busy Stoke Newington High Street, large buckets of charcoal are carried in to feed the roaring monster inside this Turkish ocakbasi restaurant. You're face to face
with the ocak grill as soon as you enter, and tables are packed tightly into the small room, but sit here rather than in the calmer extension next door, because the thrill of the grill is what it's
all about. A chilled cabinet is stocked with kebabs, chops, chicken wings and quails – just order a plate of juicy mixed meats and a pile of spanking-fresh salad, plus some creamy cacik (yoghurt
with cucumber and garlic) and tuck in. You can buy Turkish beer and red wine, but almost everyone brings their own – making dinner here even more of a bargain.
I really was expecting quite good things from this Turkish place in Dalston as it is generally regarded as one of the best Ocakbasi grill places in the area . . . And it pretty much lived up to expectations (ha - you thought I was going to go the other way with that didn't you?)We got there at about 8 and there was a moderate queue, but the place is pretty big and it's not the kind of place to really linger so we were probably only waiting about ten minutes before we were seated. It didn't take us long to decide what we wanted, having watched the meat being skewered and put on the grill while we queued - everything! We ordered a mixed grill each (which didn't tell you what that included, though you knew it didn't include quail as that was in the 'special mixed grill) and realised that we had made a bit of a rookie mistake in not bringing any alcohol with us. Dagnabbit! As we waited for our food, a basket of bread was brought to our table which we started on. The bread was warm and soft and tasty on its own but both Stephen and I thought it was a bit of a travesty that we didn't have anything to scoop up with it. Two people seated quite close to us had a plate of different and tasty looking dips and it didn't take too much debate between us to decide to order that, which was just a 'meze'. It comprised of four different dip-type things, separated by cucumber slices - a hummus (houmous? hoummus? hommous? why are there so many variations?), a tzatziki-style dip, a tomato and parsley salad and a smokey roasted aubergine, tomato and garlic creation which was delicious. Well, actually, they were all delicious and in to time we had polished them and all the bread off. At this point we wondered if we hadn't been foolish in ordering a mixed grill. Memories of the mountain of food at Cirrik came back to me and I worried I would end up wasting a lot of my food again.But I didn't do too badly, and Stephen finished his all (only minorly regretting this later). The portions weren't quite as gigantic as they were at Cirrik. And yes, please forgive me but I couldn't help but compare it to the place around the corner. At Mangal, our mixed grill consisted of a lamb chop, some lamb morsels, a chicken wing, adana kebab (I think) and some rolled belly meat (again, we think). This came with a large pepper (fairly spicy!), a square of bread (for me anyway, Stephen had several squares) and a ridiculously big salad to share. The meat was all very tasty. We were given a crazy hot sauce - a bit like a ketchup relish - to adorn our food, but I didn't partake. The meat didn't need it - it was all perfectly seasoned and tasty on its own. My chicken wing was less a wing and more like a wishbone with a few scraps of meat on it which was a bit disappointing, and I thought my lamb chop was a bit too big (I know, pernickety much? But because of its size it was a little dry.) but the edges with the crispy fat were delicious. The chunks of lamb were my favourite bits but it was all pretty enjoyable to eat. Again, I failed myself and didn't finish it all but I gave it a bloody good go before I admitted defeat. We'd already tucked into this once before I took this picture.The salad was unnecessarily big. I took a few scoops of carrot, cabbage, some onion and it was only after we had tucked in once that I discovered all the lovely, juicy, seasoned shredded onion underneath. Why wasn't this amazing stuff on the top where we could get at it before we got full with everything else? I'm not saying the salad wasn't good - quite the opposite but it doesn't need to be so big. I'm worried there were other gems in that heap that I just couldn't get to! Overall I think Cirrik gets my first vote - I preferred their bread, and the lamb ribs that came with the mixed grill were amazing. The tiny chicken wing and slightly dry chop, and only one piece of bread (yes, I know I didn't even finish it all, but there's always room for more bread) let the side down a little for Mangal, which is why I'm giving Cirrik the edge here. But please don't take this as damning criticism. Mangal 1 is still pretty amazing and I would take no persuasion whatsoever to go back here again. The staff here deserve a mention as well. I found them really friendly in an unassuming kind of way.I really hate writing up these things - I am totally craving meat now. I'll have to give Mangal 2 round the corner a try as well and complete the trifecta. Also, their hilarious tweets alone make me want to give them my custom.
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