In keeping with my school friends’ tapas catch-ups, I opted for a Turkish take on mezze. A contemporary restaurant jointly run by Selin Kiazim and Laura Christie, Oklava pulls fantastic Turkish cuisine outside of the typical kebab shops of East London into a fun, trendy dining spot that oozes contemporary chic.
One of my favourite things about Oklava was its simple, elegant, single room with a partially open kitchen along one side where one can watch Kiazim and her gang in action. Decorated in muted shades of greys and creams, the space has a sweet, warm buzz to it on this corner site in Shoreditch. The open kitchen acts as a theatre stage where guests can sit – including solo diners – around the bar and spectate as the chefs use a stone oven and real charcoal grill – the mangal – to prepare their meals. It’s the sound of young people working their hearts out to bring their distinct offering to a London ever hungry for new tastes.
Oklava is named after a traditional rolling pin which is used to make breads, pastries and pides. It’s menu stays true to Kiazim’s Turkish Cypriot roots, with bold spicing and recurring themes of pomegranate, pistachio and a selection of pides (essentially Turkish pizza) to die for. However, the menu is also full of modern takes on Turkish-Cypriot fare. The intention at Oklava is to draw perceptions of Turkish food away from the typical kebab shop and onto the restaurant scene, and in this respect Kiazim has succeeded spectacularly. Indeed, she’s trained at The Providores and Kopapa.
Every dish was expertly balanced, aiming to be bold but not overpowering. The vegetable and salad options were all tempting. Although I’m not normally one for nibbles, I was stunned when our friendly waitress presented us with Baharat (warm bread) served with a sticky golden pile of Medjool Date Butter. Given my affection for dates, I couldn’t resist breaking off the crusts and dipping it in the ozzy butter which was AMAZING. I’m going to have to purchase a jar from Selfridges.
For my dishes proper, I opted for Courgette, Feta & Mint Fritters (£5.50); Whipped Feta, Candied Pumpkin & Chilli Crostini (£2.50); and the Verjus Glazed & Spiced Borani of Hispi Cabbage, Porcini Purée, Feta and Sesame-Filo Shards (£15). Although I was tempted by the Chilli Roast Cauliflower, Red Onion, Parsley & Pistachios (£9), since I’d already feasted on spicy cauliflower at Casita Andina the night before, I gave it a miss. The humble cabbage – like the cauliflower – seems to be having a renaissance. The dish was gorgeous to look at: charred cabbage sitting alongside a mild paste of mysterious looking mushroom paste and slathered with feta, filo shards and red leaves. Yum(tini).
The fritters, meanwhile, were vividly green. Indeed, this is what drew me to try one of my companion’s Cyprus Potato Chips served. The chilli salt, garlic and herb mayo was stunningly green and so well seasoned. It definitely beats the Spanish patatas bravas! Turkish food does, after all, pay serious attention to green leafy things, to the crunch and vibrancy of vegetables that have lived a longer, sweeter life beneath the sun.
I also couldn’t resist trying a slice of my companion’s Roasted Pumpkin, Mozzarella, Cemen Crumbs and Tulum Pide (£15.50), which was served with a glisteningly pickled red cabbage salad, full of herbs and olives. It was very well spiced and oozing with authenticity.
All in all, the food pushed traditional boundaries. It’s definitely a restaurant that pushes you out of your comfort zone and into Shoreditch…
Oklava, 27 Luke Street, London, EC2A 4PY