Kebabs have an undeservedly bad reputation in Britain for being greasy gut liners suitable only for soaking up alcohol during the course of a weekend bender. This view would almost certainly change if only more people visited the Turkish restaurants of Green Lanes in northern London.
Green Lanes is a road occupied mostly by businesses run by, or aimed at, the local Turkish community. Drab and grey, it’s not much to look at, so it remains firmly off the tourist track despite being just a few minutes away by train from King’s Cross.
Their loss is my gain given the dizzying array of restaurants serving freshly prepared, astonishingly good value food. The cuisine is predominately from the southeastern areas of Turkey, such as Gaziantep, including the ever-present kebabs. One of my favourites is the modest-looking Yayla.
Yayla’s interior looks like a cross between a canteen and a suburban kitchen thanks to its kitsch decorations, including paintings of old Constantinople/Istanbul, and an illuminated, revolving dessert cabinet. The waiters and waitresses are efficient, but a little brusque and not very chatty. None of that matters to the families, tea-sipping middle-aged men and ravenous twentysomethings from the local area that make up most of the clientele.
I’ve been to Yayla many times over the years. On a recent visit with Wicket we shared a lahmacun, a sort of Turkish pizza if you will, for starters. The crispy thin dough base is topped with minced lamb, diced tomatoes, peppers and parsley with a hint of lemon juice. It’s deliciously moreish and it’s no surprise that there are whole restaurants in Istanbul devoted to this dish alone. If Wicket and I were less ravenous, a couple of lahmacun would be a meal in itself.
I don’t like culinary reductionism, but lahmacun is basically a Turkish pizza.
Wicket was eager to try out the sucuk, a fried Turkish sausage. It bore a striking resemblance to chorizo, but had a garlic taste to it and wasn’t as fatty as some varieties of chorizo I’ve had. Although pleasing enough, the sucuk is nothing special and given that the dish consisted of two smallish sausages split in half yet sold at a price of £4.50, it was the poorest value dish we had.
The main course consisted, naturally enough, of kebabs. I opted for the adana kofte. The grilled elongated sausage-like serving of minced lamb was deliciously juicy with a slight picante, herby hint to it. Unlike inferior koftes served up and down high streets throughout the country, this kofte was thankfully free of grease and excess salt. I went for the small portion at £6, but just £2 more gets you double the amount of meat!
A small adana kofte kebab. Unless you’re really not that hungry, the large portion with twice as much meat is much better value.
Like almost all the kebab dishes at Yayla, the adana kofte came with a liberal serving of rice, a grilled tomato and pepper and a basket of warm, pleasingly soft and not too chewy Turkish flatbread.
Bread doesn’t have to be boring.
A serving of cucumber, carrot, lettuce, tomato and beetroot salad is also included.
The plentiful salad makes you feel less guilty about eating vast quantities of grilled meat.
Wicket ordered his usual ezmeli kebab which consists of small sliced pieces of kofte and peppers served with pieces of yogurt-dunked flat bread. Wicket found the dish less satisfying than usual, and in a brief taste I did find the pieces of pepper to be too watery. Nonetheless, Wicket couldn’t finish the large serving and I was only too happy to polish off his left overs.
Any normal person would have been satiated at this point, but in the interests of gastronomic investigation, I ordered dessert too. The sutlac, or rice pudding, doesn’t look especially appetising when served in its foil take-away container. It is comfortingly creamy though and, despite its lumpy appearance and filmy upper crust, very smooth. There’s a slight taste of cinnamon too. I love rice puddings, which seem remarkably ubiquitous through the world, including sutlac. The dubious Wicket remains unconvinced though and the Euro Hedgie, a notorious dessert snob, would have turned up his nose at it too if he had been there.
Sutlac. A Turkish rice pudding.
Although you could order the usual array of soft drinks, I went for salgam, a rather unique drink made from pickled carrots and fermented turnips. It has an odd but strangely addictive spicy, tart flavour that I love, but the fussy Wicket can’t stand the stuff.
Salgam, a pickled and fermented vegetable drink. I love it!
I encouraged Wicket to try the ayran instead, a salty yogurt-based beverage that I also enjoy, but the furry fellow slurped up his usual Efes instead. Despite being a non-drinker, I was intrigued by the bottled Turkish beer, but the meat-addled Wicket was unable to offer much insight into its taste beyond a satiated squeak.
On another evening I went back without Wicket to satisfy my craving for a shish kebab, which also comes with the same hearty sides of flatbread, rice and salad. Again, the meat was well-grilled yet succulent with hardly any grease. The chunks of meat had a surprising, yet pleasing offal-like flavour.
Sheesh! That’s a large plate of food.
Yayla isn’t a place to linger on a special occasion. What it lacks in decor, it makes up for in deliciously grilled meat at rock-bottom prices – perfect for a cheap night out or a very satisfying meal after a hard day at work. Five stars!
Address: 429 Green Lanes, Harringay, London, N4 1HA
Phone: 020 8348 3515
Opening Hours: seven days a week, 06.00-late
Reservations: not necessary
Total cost for one person including drink: £10-15 approx.
Updated 20/2/2011 – new star rating graphic added