The Mangal, 10 Arcola Street, off Stoke Newington Rd, E8 (0171-275 8981) is a Turkish ocakbasi restaurant, meaning grill. The place is small and smoky, its walls painted and tiled in blue. Ranks of freshly cubed and skewered liver, chicken and lamb sit in a glass case by the entrance. There's also lamb mince, spiced with what looks like onions, chillies and paprika. Look more closely, and the first sign that this is no kebab parlour is the tray of lamb sweetbreads and another filled with plucked and gutted quail.
Down one wall is a row of small laminated tables; opposite is the grill, attended by the owner, Ali Dirik. At one end food sizzles, at the other is what looks like a charcoal-making operation. Out back is a baker turning out fresh, spongy flat loaves that will accompany each dish, firstly soup. Sheep's brain soup, to be exact, topped with chilli oil: a profoundly warming dish. The grills are remarkable for their freshness. To counter these spicy seared meats and roast peppers, freshly grated carrot, sprigs of refreshing flat-leafed parsley and that sadly rare item, properly ripe tomatoes. Approx £4-£6. Unlicensed. Open 9am-12midnight daily
Al Basha, 222 Kensington High Street, W8 (0171-937 1030) always seems to be empty. Why this should be so is a mystery, for the setting alongside Holland Park is idyllic and the food is fine. Portions are discreet, spicing just the opposite, but with the finesse that sets Lebanese cookery apart. Don't worry about a glossary: the menu, or the kindly staff will tell you that kibbeh shamieh are spicy meatballs. Tabouleh no longer requires introduction, other to say than it is good here. A terrace with al fresco seating faces onto the park and the Commonwealth Institute. Convenient for the Kensington High Street Odeon and Reza, the wonderful Iranian delicatessen.
Open Sun-Thur 12noon-12midnight; Fri-Sat 12noon-1am. Approx £20. Major credit cards
Late at night, near the car clamp compound beneath Speaker's Corner, the choice of caterers boils down pretty much to McDonald's and the Ranoush Juice Bar, 43 Edgware Road, W1 (0171-723 5929). I recommend Ranoush.
A long queue forms by the deli counter for shawarmas - Lebanese kebabs. Experienced customers will have paid for the orders in advance (neophytes will queue, order, be told to pay, sheepishly queue to pay, then queue again to order). The meat on the shawarma spit is rougher, chunkier than the compressed doners of Greek takeaways. Instead of filling toasted pitta, here the bread is laid flat, with onion, lettuce and unripe tomatoes diced over it. Then the meat is added and the whole business rolled up, then wrapped in paper with the ends twisted. Handed over, it seems like a weighty, lukewarm Christmas cracker.
Opposite, at the juice counter, a second, separate pre-paid receipt is required to order tamarind, orange, banana, carrot or melon mixtures. The Maroush Cocktail is a mystery concoction that comes in a lidded cup with straw protruding. Sip and it tastes mainly of banana. The eating area is at the back of the room, where, for some reason, the shrill piped music seems loudest. Here one eats, and studies the imitation ducks floating in the three tiered fountain topped by a cherub. Approx £5. Open 9am-3am daily
Claudia Roden originally recommended Ali Baba, 32 Ivor Place W1 (0171- 723 7474), a low-key Egyptian restaurant, utterly without gastronomic pretensions. A take-away front serves shish kebabs and shawarmas. The restaurant in the back serves good stuffed stuff - vine leaves and tomatoes - along with lamb stews and grills, but no wine. It is unlicensed. Staff are happy for customers to bring their own, and will serve it in tumblers. Open 12noon-12midnight daily. Cash and cheques only. Approx £10 in restaurant; takeaway kebabs from £2
Eat in the Lebanese restaurant Al Hamra, 31-33 Shepherd Market, W1 (0171- 493 1954) and you will never be able to swallow tabouleh as served by worthy but inept vegetarian restaurants ever again. It serves the real article: moist and fragrant, made with cubed ripe tomatoes and bags of chopped mint and parsley. Other dishes, such as spiced nuts, turn up the heat. Meat dishes to follow are good. Sit at the outside tables in the (relatively smog-free) pedestrianised market and watch the world go by, including the proudest prostitutes ever to stalk a Tory MP. This restaurant has only two drawbacks: it's expensive (about £30 per person) and if a sheik steps out of a green roller and wants your table, your bill might arrive without your having asked for it. Open 12noon-12midnight daily. Major credit cards (not Switch)Reuse content