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Restaurant review

Mangal II: Culinary prowess in the heart of east London

Molly Codyre has always loved Mangal II, but its final metamorphosis proves why Turkish food should no longer be relegated to cheap and cheerful menus

<p>The brioche roll was so good, the lobster roll could have been enjoyed without the seafood </p>

The brioche roll was so good, the lobster roll could have been enjoyed without the seafood

Mangal II has existed in many forms since I first visited and fell in love with it. I was a little late to the party, dining there for the first time in 2019 – on one of my first dates with my now-boyfriend – when it was a cult favourite BYO spot that punched well above its weight in terms of the food one would expect from a pre-night out destination.

The next iteration was after the first coronavirus lockdown. Over that four-month period, Ferhat Dirik took stock of what he wanted the restaurant to be and began to make changes. He called his brother, Sertaç, back from Copenhagen. BYO was scrapped in favour of a considered natural wine list and brewery collabs. The menu was refined, and notable dishes began to creep their way in: mushroom manti dumplings (luscious, silky, tangy, the kind of thing you want to scoop and slurp for all of eternity), grilled onion salad (lathered in sumac, the onions releasing a kind of hard-earned sweetness that comes from slow, generous cooking) and fried okra covered in sucuk jam (the crunchy, lightly fried green vegetable coated in sucuk that has been cooked until it releases its lightly spiced, jammy juices).

This edition stuck for a while. Special dishes hinted at what was to come, almost like the restaurant was testing the waters, seeing if there was an appetite for what could be. And then lockdown hit again. Before our January move further east, my partner and I made lunchtime pilgrimages to Mangal II for their pide sandwiches. It was the kind of midday meal that made sluggish, aimless days all the better – even when scoffed roadside, the footpath eerily empty of bodies. While we were eating, however, Ferhat and Sertaç were obviously scheming, taking the time to overhaul the restaurant for a second time.

The Cull Yaw mutton chop, which appeared as a chop in the mains and a crisp kofte in the starters

In my most recent visit, it was like attending Mangal II in its final stage of metamorphosis. A few of those original menu changes had remained – the mushroom manti dumplings, notably – but many newbies were in existence. Cull Yaw, the revolutionary Mutton product courtesy of Matt Chatfield at The Cornwall Project and ingredient de la mode of the London food scene, featured throughout. It was in the starters as a crisp kofte paired with a chicken fat mayo that was so good it almost shouldn’t be allowed. It popped up on the main dishes as a chop, salted ’til it gave Utah a run for its money, and so damn tender I had to explain to my fellow diners the abridged version I had gathered of the Cull Yaw ageing process from a Vittles article.

A dish simply listed as “smoked mutton sausage” arrived curled upon itself, spicy, smokey and reminiscent of a Spanish merguez, a delicately sweet glaze below perfectly balancing the deep savoury flavours of the meat. Grilled lobster roll almost didn’t need the seafood at all – that’s how good the buttery brioche roll (crisp on the bottom, fluffy as all hell in the body) and green mayo was. It was messy, drippy, finger-licking food that proves Mangal II’s culinary prowess.

One of the most controversial changes of Mangal II’s puberty period was that they stopped giving away bread for free. Their social media posts loosely alluded to local rivals who threatened them and regulars who iced them out for the decision – who knew carbs were such high drama? What the detractors didn’t understand is that Mangal II had bigger, breadier dreams in mind. These manifested themselves in the sourdough pide, a slab of flour you would happily pay good money for in any trendy Eurocentric restaurant these days – and probably for something a little too crisp, a little less aerated, a little more dry, wholly less wonderful – so why complain here? They still bring you one with the dishes that need it, removing any accusations of cheapness or money grabbing.

The bread at Mangal II is a definite highlight

Chargrilled octopus was deceptively barren on the outside, the blackened exterior hiding a wonderfully creamy flesh. The doner kebab meat, meanwhile, is a menu staple, but exists now like a 1990s romcom character after a particularly emotional makeover scene. All the Cady Herons, Andy Sachs and Laney Boggs of the world could only dream of a tearjerker glow-up like this. It is exactly how lamb should be; tender yet crisp, the fat still holding its integrity for flavour purposes, without feeling like unwelcome gristle. The doner meat has always been good at Mangal, but now it is some of the best, firmly existing in a league of its own. Chicken thigh shish arrived on inexplicably enormous metal skewers (so long, in fact, that my dining companion pretended to knight me with it. I, meanwhile, was considering its use in repelling anyone who got too heated during dinnertime debates) and had soaked up all the carcinogenic wonder of the coals while still being juicy and moreish.

Anyone familiar with the Dalston area will know Kingsland Road has a series of infamous characters. Living for a year and a half on the corner of Dalston Junction, I became intimately familiar with how these people contribute to the fabric of the neighbourhood. It is not uncommon for someone to pop into a restaurant, pub or cafe to ask for money, and it is indicative of a wider problem around homelessness and a fundamental lack of social care in the country. This is of course a quandary for businesses: you want to support every member of the community, but there are inevitably going to be some diners who frown upon the interruption. Unsurprisingly, someone came into Mangal II during our meal to ask for some money. Our waiter leant across the table and mentioned conspiratorially that one of the country’s most notable critics had visited the week before (“He was here to review us, I think”). He told me that they had parked someone at the door so as to ensure no one came in during their meal. I’m not sure what his reaction would have been but I would like to think he wouldn’t have minded. Dalston is not Kensington; real life exists in every inch of this wonderful neighbourhood. If you don’t want to be reminded of that while you’re eating your dinner, then perhaps the W postcode would be a better spot for you.

Chicken thigh shish arrived on inexplicably enormous metal skewers

Mangal II is attempting to redefine what Turkish cuisine is. Fehrat has a lot to say on the topic, largely querying why the food has so often been relegated to the gastronomical area where freebies and cheap and cheerful menus are expected. Anyone who has the audacity to complain about paying for a wonderful piece of bread at the new version of Mangal II is wholly missing the point: this is Turkish food how Fehrat and Sertaç want it to be. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else. It’ll leave more tables for the rest of us.


Counter culture

This week’s food and drink news

Dishpatch x El Pastor

As post-pandemic life gets into full swing, and restaurant reservations are still increasingly hard to come by, home kits haven’t quite slunk back into the shadows. Dishpatch cemented themselves as one of the industry leaders in the field, and shows no signs of slowing down. Their most recent collaboration is with famed taqueria El Pastor, to celebrate Mexican Independence Day. Feast on a range of their tacos, alongside extras like guacamole, tuna tostadas and margaritas.

Celebrate Pride at the Blue Posts

Just because the official event has been cancelled, doesn’t mean you can’t still go out, have a great time and support the LGBT+ community. Multi-level Soho pub the Blue Posts is putting on a cracker of a party. Starting from 12pm til late, they have DJ Wayne David on the decks, the Mulwray wine bar upstairs for when you need a break from the dance floor and a portion of the proceeds being donated to the Albert Kennedy Trust.

Kudu Grill opens in Peckham

Inspired by their South African roots, owners Amy and Patrick have been quietly taking over London with the Kudu Collective. They launched their fourth outpost, Kudu Grill, last week, which focuses on the use of the Braai – a South African way of grilling – bringing a playful twist to the country’s food.

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