A foodie friend recommended Oklava. Soon after, I booked a table for lunch with said friend and another equally lovely and equally foodie friend. As the day to eat there approached, the hype got bigger. The expectations and the amount of saliva in my mouth grew in equal measure.
As you arrive, you are greeted with a most unassuming welcome. The restaurant is a small room dominated by grey concrete and grey fixtures, glass and metal, with modern and simplistic décor throughout. Very Shoreditch. And in true Shoreditch style this is a thoroughly relaxed place. The partially exposed kitchen giving out that relaxed vibe like none of the other features does.
So far so good. But what about the food? The menu is perfect in size – on the small side but with enough promise to keep you changing your mind about what to order, scared you are missing out on the other delicious dishes your stomach won’t be able to hold. The good news is that between the 3 of us we should be able to cover most of the really interesting ones (however, we will have to come back to eat the others, damn it).
Well, I can only say they had me at the date butter. From then on, the meal was an endless parade of clever dishes and delicious flavours. Food with soul and lots of love.
Let’s go back to the date butter – not even a dish but just a standard couvert option offered to everyone. For the date butter alone (and the amazing Baharat bread, served warm) I would come back here. After a lot of involuntary satisfied murmurs and positive interjections from the 3 of us, we moved on to the dishes we actually chose.
We started with ‘snacks’, the first one was grilled Haloumi with lemon and London honey. The smoky charred flavour and glistening honey elevate the humble haloumi to a level I hadn’t experienced before.
Some almost-healthy-sounding courgette, feta and mint fritters followed and they were creamy and crispy at the same time, both light and moorish. Definitely one to repeat.
A fabulous whipped feta with candied pumpkin on top of chilli crostini came next. What a handsome dish – white creamy feta topped with translucent jewels of sweet pumpkin, with flavours to match. Probably our top choice for ‘snacks’ and also one to repeat.
For ‘mains’ (although this is a tapas/small plates kind of place) we ordered the sour cherry pearl barley with crispy kale, yoghurt, chilli butter and sheep’s cheese. This dish is oh-so-good… Even though most of the ingredients are associated with bland super-foods we eat out of guilt, there is nothing bland about this dish. It was sweet and sour, salty and spicy, creamy and crispy and moist. I forgot I was eating pearl barley with kale and felt like I was eating a feast of forbidden foods. This was also one of the top 3 of dishes for the day.
Another huge surprise was the chilli roast cauliflower. A humble not-so-hot vegetable that managed to make it to the top of the leaderboard. The smoky and buttery flavours contrasted beautifully with the freshness of the vinaigrette and red onions and the nuttiness of the pistachios. A little crunch ensured the perfect texture. Who knew cauliflower could provoque such pleasurable sensations?
I then spotted the word ‘octopus’ in the menu. If you read my blog posts you probably know by now that octopus would be my death row meal, should I ever indulge in capital punishment crime. So I couldn’t resist the braised octopus flatbread with ricotta, honey, olives, pickled caper shoots and thyme. This was delicious and quite substantial, so if you are looking to fill your boots with one dish, then this could be it. I really liked the dish but have to admit I have eaten better octopus in Portugal, but that is not necessarily a derogatory comment for Oklava’s octopus, just that my standards for octopus are very high (some of the best octopus I’ve had was here).
Another favourite for the day was the crab and green chilli Gözleme and cheese fondue that was a kind of stuffed chapati, wonderfully crispy and buttery. I know cheese and crab sounds like a strange combination and although the restaurant calls it a fondue, I would say it’s more like a cheese sauce. The combination really works.
We also tried the short rib flatbread, which was also lovely and the crispy pomegranate-glazed lamb breast, which was also very nice.
Yes I know, we sound like gluttonous beasts… no shame there I guarantee you. And yes, we could barely walk and had no space for dessert (definitely need another visit!). And we rolled into work with the mental capacity of a goat. I feel not a hint of regret. If anything, I left feeling slightly annoyed that I work so close to this place and hadn’t tried it before. I will be back and it will be soon.
This is what I call a 5 stars place. It is 5 stars not because it produces Michelin-starred food or it houses Damien Hirt’s art suspended from the ceiling, nor it is housed in a 5-star hotel. It is 5 stars because it delivers 5-star quality food in tandem with what it promises to deliver. It is meant to deliver delicious carefully-crafted Turkish food and does exactly that. Not more, not less. Furthermore, it is honest both with respect to what it offers and how much it charges. It is what I call a ‘well worth it’ £50 meal (for one, with wine), and one of the best I have had recently.
Where: Shoreditch, London
Cuisine: Turkish, small plates
Occasion: Lunch or dinner
Price: On the pricey side but good value
Rating: 5 stars
Would I go again? Yes, already booked