IF YOU WANT BANG FOR YOUR BUCK…
When it opened in 2016, Battersea’s BabaBoom wanted to lift the kebab out of the ashes of boozy Friday nights and put it on an artisan’s charcoal grill. Others have followed suit since then, but BabaBoom still stands out for the care it takes in ensuring its chicken shish, marinated mutton shawarma and other kebabs are the best they can be. A second site in Islington is as fun and friendly as the original.
30 Battersea Rise, Battersea, SW11 1EE; 189 Upper Street, Islington, N1 1RQ
Late last year, Babber took over the kitchen at Peckham’s White Horse pub and started pumping out new-wave kebabs including a vegan aubergine doner with yoghurt, chilli, garlic and pickles. It’s updated some fleshy stalwarts of the chargrill too, including a standout pork neck kebab with ’nduja, pickled turnips and garlic yoghurt, served on homemade flatbread. All of the meat comes from independent British suppliers – look out for a lamb kofte starter on its more traditional Sunday lunch menu.
20-22 Peckham Rye, Peckham, SE15 4JR
Black Axe Mangal
Run by a husband and wife, this tiny 20-cover restaurant made quite an entrance when it opened on Highbury Corner in 2015. Lee Tiernan, who learnt nose-to-tail cooking from Fergus Henderson at St John, served smoky lamb offal, oxtail and bone marrow with crisp veg on charred flatbreads – to a heavy-metal soundtrack. He’s still at it, the place is still like nothing else and there’s now a Black Axe Mangal cookbook to capture the originality of his cooking.
156 Canonbury Road, Highbury, N1 2UP
Berber & Q
In a Haggerston railway arch, well-travelled chef Josh Katz serves up outstanding, unpretentious North African and Ottoman-inspired food in informal surrounds. A saffron and lemon kebab comes with slaw and ‘Yemenite dynamite’. Beef kofta is elevated with confit tomato aioli, crispy shallots and pickled peppers. Over on Exmouth Market, the Berber & Q Shawarma Bar zooms in on rotisserie meats, cooking them slowly over wood and charcoal.
Arch 338, Acton Mews, Haggerston, E8 4EA / 46 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, EC1R 4QE
Grand Parade in Green Lanes is the Savile Row of kebab restaurants. From its array of authentic Turkish institutions, we’ve chosen Diyarbakir for its combination of atmosphere and generous portions, but we could easily have plumped for Antepliler [Antepliler.com], which does the best lamachun (Turkish pizza), or newly refurbed Hala [HalaRestaurant.co.uk]. Look out too for Gokyuzu below. Common to them all is an unwavering commitment to kebab excellence.
52-53 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, N4 1AG
On the other side of town from some of its biggest rivals, this Turkish institution has the Ladbroke Grove market all to itself. A long kebab list runs from chicken doner to lamb beyti (spicy mince), while yoghurt-coated yogurtlus get a separate menu section all to themselves. It’s BYO, but there’s no corkage. As you hit the offie, remember these are kebabs that deserve a premier cru.
104 Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill, W11 1PY
At spacious and traditional Gokyuzu, they have been perfecting the art of the kebab for the last 20 years. Precisely grilled meats – including quail – are expertly spiced and served with all of the accompaniments you can think of, including piles of warm bread. As well as the Green Lanes flagship, the family owners now have outposts in Chingford, Finchley and Walthamstow.
26-28 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, N4 1LG
Le Bab & Maison Bab
Run by guys who met at Le Gavroche, Kingly Court’s Le Bab and Covent Garden’s Maison Bab are new-style places à la BabaBoom. In bright, light surrounds, the main events are familiar, but the accompaniments are not: 15-hour pork shawarma, for example, is served on house-made flatbread with spiced celeriac, date purée, pickled endive, crackling and garlic. Drinks menus are similarly inventive – look out for the Gin & Chronic, with added CBD oil.
Kingly Court, Carnaby Street, West End, W1B 5PW; 4 Mercer Walk, Covent Garden, WC2H 9FA
Mangal means barbecue. Even if you didn’t know that, you’d know what Mangal 1 was all about from the large mangal that greets arrivals at this cult Dalston restaurant. At different times, Jamie Oliver and Yotam Ottolenghi have nominated it as a favourite cheap eat. It’s a place to crack a cold beer (bring your own) and order a large plate of tender, juicy mixed meats.
10 Arcola Street, Dalston, E8 2DJ
Mangal 2 stands apart from Mangal 1 after the founder of both, Ali Dirik, cut ties with his original a while back. Here, the standards remain high and the kebab choices plentiful, each one served in time-honoured style with pide bread, rice, salad, punchy chilli and garlic yoghurt sauce. There’s a reliable supporting cast of hot and cold meze starters, as well as decent veggie options.
4 Stoke Newington Road, Stoke Newington, N16 8BH
IF YOU’RE READY TO SPEND BIGGER…
Having conquered London’s Indian and Sri Lankan restaurant scenes with Gymkhana and Hoppers, do-no-wrong JKS Restaurants has turned its hand to Persian kebabs. A mangal grill, rotisserie and clay oven are all present and correct at Berenjak, allowing you to keep it simple with koobideh kebab (minced lamb shoulder, onions and black pepper) or splurge on a mahi (whole seabass marinated in garlic, tomato and chilli with preserved lemon dressing). Whether or not Berenjak really does “evoke the style of a rustic hole-in-the-wall eatery from Tehran” is up to you to decide. We’ll just vouch for the food.
27 Romilly Street, Soho, W1D 5AL
The Mantl just won Best Fine Dining Restaurant at the 2020 British Kebab Awards, which are a bigger deal than you think – the judges included five MPs and London’s deputy mayor. Its large kitchen team can put anything across hot coals, from chargrilled octopus to fillet of seabream, as well as more familiar adana and shish kebabs. A range of elevated specials includes pistachio lamb chops, served with shallot pomme purée, asparagus and pomegranate molasses. Finally, Knightsbridge has the kebab house it deserves.
142 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, SW3 1HY
Directly beneath Maison Bab, hidden behind the neon-lit frontage of a classic British kebab shop, lies Kebab Queen. This fine diner sits everyone at a chef’s table, where it matches a high-concept tasting menu (£70 plus drinks) to a late-night eat-with-your-hands atmosphere. You won’t even get cutlery or plates: courses such as foie gras kebabito and doner risotto are served direct onto the countertop. But they’re more than worth the mess.
4 Mercer Walk, Covent Garden, WC2H 9FA
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