Saturday, 31 August 2013

Mangal 1, Dalston, Turkish Ocakbasi review

Dalston can surely lay claim to the title of the UK’s Turkish kebab shop epicentre. 

There’s an absolute shed-load of kebab houses; so many in fact there’s even a place which specialises in testicle kebabs. It’s called Testi*. I kid you not.

Mangal 1 is another of Dalston’s most famous kebab shops. It’s not to be confused with Mangal 2 which is around the corner and where it’s highly likely you’ll see regulars Gilbert & George eating their dinner.

You’ll probably have to queue a little while to get a table at Mangal 1 but I can guarantee you it’s worth the wait.

There are a couple of spectacles to keep you entertained whilst you line up.

The sheer quantity of raw meat in Mangal’s fridge is testament to how many kebabs they sell each night.

Also, it’s fascinating to watch the chef tending to his Ocakbasi, turning and removing the red-hot metal skewers with his bare hands.

Patlican salata (£3.50), a starter of smoky aubergine mixed with chilli, tomato, coriander and a dollop of crème fraiche looks a mess but is my favourite aubergine dish in the world.

It’s served with a bowl of amazing warm bread.

Mangal’s lamb Kebabs are the model for how all others should be – tender and flavoursome, they’re served a juicy pink with just the right lick of smoke from the chargrill.

A mixed grill (£15) comprised of a groaning plateful of lamb shish pieces, herby lamb kofta, lamb fillet with a generous dose of crisp fat, lamb chops and juicy chicken wings.

Mangal’s salad is so good it’s worth shouting about too. A fresh combination of rocket, spiced & salty red cabbage, peppery daikon, tomato, marinated onions and a smoky dressing is the perfect counterpoint to the accompanying meatfest.

Don’t forget the bowl of punchy chilli sauce either.

Mangal 1 is incredible. It’s not fancy. But it’s everything you’d ever want from a kebab house – meat, bread, sauce and salad perfection.

*Testi actually means jug in Turkish so the name isn’t quite so ball-shrinkingly frightening as it initially seems. 

The details:

Address - 10 Arcola Street, off Stoke Newington Road, London, E8 2DJ
Telephone - 020 7275 8981

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

A trio of London Burgers - MEATmarket, Byron & Bleecker St

I only visit London a couple of times a year so it means I’m somewhat behind the curve when it comes to the latest hip and happening restaurant openings.

In fact I’m so far behind the curve, it’s just a speck on the horizon.

Whilst most of London’s bloggers have been clamouring to visit this Summer’s twin American burger imports of Shake Shack and Five Guys, I’m only getting round to writing about some of the veterans of the London burger scene (and one newbie).

The upshot of this was that I  was able to waltz straight into each of the establishments below in less time than it takes to say “I hate queuing”.


MEATmarket is the Covent Garden outpost of Yianni Papoutsis’s uber-trendy micro-chain which can be credited with kicking off London’s current burger obsession.

Everything about the place is achingly cool - the gritty menu language, the conversation-stiflingly loud music, the dimmed lighting and archetypal “dirty” food being served.

It’s really not the kind of place I’d want to take my parents for a quiet bite to eat and a good catch up.

I inhaled my Dead Hippie burger (£8) with such ferocity that I didn’t pause to analyse it in the level of detail it deserved.

A super soft white roll, two juicy-juicy medium patties, pickles, melted American style cheese, finely diced onion and the signature Dead Hippie sauce (a riff on a Thousand Island sauce I think) combined to form a killer burger.

A side of Poppaz (£4) was on the nail too – crisp breadcrumbs cocooned an oozy filling of melted cheese flecked with finely diced jalapenos. A side of creamy yet slightly sharp ranch dressing was the perfect foil.

Chilli cheese fries (£4.50) were decidedly low rent but snaffled in a heartbeat. A foil tray was loaded with fries, finely minced chilli, minced onion, diced jalapenos and two types of melted cheese.

Everything was washed down with numerous cups of bottomless soda.

The food, in particular the burger, at MEATmarket was frigging ace. However where Papoutsis led, others appear to be catching up and surpassing (see Bleecker St Burger below).

The details:
Address - MEATmarket, The Deck, Jubilee Market Hall, Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 8BE
Web -


Byron is now so mainstream it seems as common in London as the Golden Arches.

However, it’s been consistently good every time I’ve visited and it's well priced to boot. As such, I welcome Byron’s ongoing march across the UK – I’m eagerly awaiting the announcement of a Cardiff branch...

Myself and a couple of friends visited the Soho outpost on a Friday evening.

A selection of beers was ordered – an easy drinking Camden Town Brewery Hells Lager and a complex flavoured Kernel Table Beer with a ridiculously low ABV of 2.9%.

I ordered the Big D (£9.75). Served a pink medium, a duo of patties were joined by a soft potato bun, melted cheese, pickles, sliced onion, iceberg and another thousand island style burger sauce.

Don’t get me wrong, the Big D was a very tasty burger, but I’ve got fonder memories of Byron’s regular cheeseburger. In this instance, the patty felt too firm against the pappyness of the bun.

Across the table, a medium-rare chilli burger, packed with jalapenos was rated highly.

Crisp onion rings were just as good as they always are – however, either the portion size has got smaller, my appetite has got larger or both changes have occurred since my last visit. My money’s on the latter.

The details:
Address - Byron at the Intrepid Fox, 97-99 Wardour Street, London, W1F 0UD
Web -
Telephone - 020 7297 9390

Bleecker Street Burger

The accolade of best burger of the weekend was reserved for Bleecker St. Burger.

Founded by a former corporate lawyer who fell in love with burgers whilst living in NYC, Bleecker St.’s succinct menu of breathtaking burgers is currently doing the rounds at London street food festivals.

Bleecker’s cheesburger (£5.50) was a masterclass in the art of perfectly executed simplicity.

A brutally medium-rare super flavoursome patty was accompanied by an uber-soft toasted bun, shredded lettuce and secret sauce (some kind of homemade paprika-laced mayonnaise I think).

The soft, extreme juiciness of the flavour-packed burger was superb.

3 top-notch burgers in 2 days and I didn’t even get close to some of London’s most highly feted burger gaffs.  Meanwhile, my search for Cardiff’s best grinds on…

The details:
Web -

Friday, 23 August 2013

Mezza Luna, City Road, Moroccan and Lebanese restaurant - Cardiff Kebab Quest

A midweek meal to celebrate a friend's birthday started with cocktails at Milgi and ended with a kebab...

Mezza Luna, located on City Road, bills itself as a Lebanese and Moroccan restaurant. This equates to a menu filled with appetising sounding tagines and couscous, alongside the expected kebab shop classics.

I quaffed a bottle of excellent Casablanca lager (£3.80) whilst picking from the set menu (2 courses for £9.95, Sunday-Thursday).

To start, we shared a portion of smooth and well seasoned hummus and disappointing falafel which were neither moist nor particularly flavoursome. Starters were accompanied by a bowl of lukewarm and slightly dry flatbreads.

For main, Mrs G ordered Chicken Couscous. Whilst the huge, rustic-looking plate of food looked the part, it was let down by flabby chicken, soggy couscous and a one dimensionally sweet sauce. 

I ordered the Shish Taok -

Meat – A generous quantity of well marinated chicken. Sadly, a couple of minutes spent too long on the grill meant the meat was a touch too dry and charred.

Bread – Not included with the dish and as the bread accompanying the starter wasn’t up to much, I didn’t order any more.

Salad – A fresh, well-dressed combination of mixed leaves, cucumber, tomato and olives.

Sauce – Excellent creamy yoghurt with just the right hit of garlic.

Other – A portion of rice was fragranced nicely with saffron but was a touch on the dry-side.

The verdict – Despite Mezza Luna’s interesting menu and charming Middle-Eastern inspired decor, our meal was let down by average food and patchy service. 

The Details:

Address - 159 City Rd  Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF24 3BQ
Telephone - 029 2047 2772

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Whitchurch Beef - Deli a GoGo & Martin Player High Class Butcher

The famous products of Whitchurch Village extend far beyond Gareth Bale, Sam Warburton, Rhodri Morgan, Mrs G and Geraint Thomas.

Well, a little bit beyond.

Last weekend I visited Whitchurch to eat some high-profile beef.

Firstly I lunched at Deli a Go Go, where I ordered their signature salt beef sandwich (£6.50).

Packed with yielding, flavour-packed meat and a good smear of mustard, the salt beef was unquestionably the star of the show. In comparison, the white sliced, Mrs Elswood-alike gherkin and overly-mayonnaised coleslaw were just fine; rye bread & some superior pickles would have elevated it from very good to outstanding.

Having eaten half a cow’s worth of beef for lunch, I then visited Martin Player Butchers to purchase the second half for my dinner.

Martin Player’s beef burgers (95p) recently claimed the accolade of “best burger in the UK” at the Q Guild National BBQ awards 2013 - Q Guild is a collective of 120 Independent British Butchers.

They’re made using 21-day aged Welsh beef and this contributes to a seriously tasty burger.

Cooked a juicy medium, I served them in authentic Golden Arches style with an oozing layer of processed cheese, ketchup, American mustard, pickles, caramelised diced onions and a toasted pappy roll.

The details:

Deli a GoGo
Address - 3 Penlline Road, Whitchurch Village, Cardiff, CF14 2AA
Telephone - 029 2061 0956

Martin Player High Class Butcher
Address - 10 Park Road, Whitchurch, Cardiff, CF14 7BQ
Telephone - 029 2061 6094

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Inner City Pickle, Roath & Riverside Market Review

Whilst jams, pickles and cordials typically conjure thoughts of country cottages and village fetes, Inner City Pickle is as urban a producer as you can get. 

Inner City Pickle HQ is based in Adamsdown, products are sold at Roath & Riverside Markets (alternating weeks) and ingredients are frequently sourced from the Cardiff area (Ashgrove School Rhubarb features in one of the jams).

Even though I primarily visited Inner City Pickle to pick up a pre-order of some pecan pies (also served on the dessert menu at Hang Fire Smokehouse), I ended up purchasing a bevy of other goods.

Inner City Pickle’s pecan pie (£3 each) is without doubt my favourite dessert in Cardiff. Crisp pastry, abundant pecans, and a velvety sweet & salty filling unite to form a Megazord of a dessert. Whilst it’s only available from Roath Market, it’s worth a trip across town just to sample it.

An aubergine, pepper & tomato chutney (£4) worked like a dream with cheese and biscuits - smoky aubergines, sweet tomatoes & peppers and a vinegary twang all hit the mark.

Pickled cucumbers (£4) flecked with dill, mustard seed & onion achieved levels of complexity that Mrs Ellswood could only dream of.

Lastly, fruit-packed Cardiff Strwbarb and Mixed Summer Berry jams (free samples but normally £2 per jar) were delicious served on a plateful of toasted teacakes.

There’s a ton of other products available from Inner City Pickle including the True Taste Gold winning Mostarda di Frutta (dried fruits in mustard) and an Egyptian snack called Dukkah, made from pounded nuts, seeds and spices.

However, commendably, what’s for sale week by week depends on what’s finished maturing properly and what's in season.

The Details
Address – Alternate weeks at Roath Market, Mackintosh Centre, Keppoch Street and Riverside Market, Fitzhamon Embankment – see Inner City Pickle website for calendar

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Fortune House Chinese restaurant, Cathays review

Fortune House is situated in Cathays - the heart of Cardiff’s studentsville.

The miscellany of bars, letting agents, takeaways and launderettes on Salisbury Road all contribute to a microcosm of student-life. 

A couple of friends have been telling us we should visit Fortune House for yonks.

The reason being – they’re massive fans of the Emperor’s Choice menu, an all you can eat affair with a difference. 

Instead of dishes which have congealed in hot plates over the course of the evening or having to go through the rigmarole of hunting for scraps of meat in a vat of sauce, Fortune House's all you can eat menu is cooked to order and served to your table.

It's like eating at a regular restaurant except you can order as much of ANYTHING as you want. And at £16.50 a head, it’s rather good value too.

Whilst we waited for our friends, Mrs G and I nibbled on some crisp prawn crackers and supped on bottles of Tsingtao. It required some serious willpower to not sully my appetite by demolishing the whole dish of crackers. 

To start, we ordered a gargantuan selection of starters...

Mini barbecue ribs were tender and coated in sticky goodness. Juicy chicken wings were sprinkled liberally with garlic and green chillies.

Prawn toast was crisp, ungreasy and topped generously – everything a socially acceptable form of fried bread should be. Mini spring rolls and deep fried wontons however, were stingy and homogenous in filling... not that I didn’t still trough a load.

A quarter crispy duck was crisp skinned and moist of flesh. The accompaniments of hoisin, soft pancakes and diced cucumber and spring onion were all present and correct.

I’ve never quite got the appeal of lettuce wraps - it’s probably the salad thing. However, our friends guzzled a load of the iceberg cocoons with their spiced shredded chicken and crisp vermicelli filling...and then ordered some more.

Chicken and beef satay weren’t authentic but did the job.

Nearly full, we moved onto main courses. 

Again, we got a little trigger happy and ordered 2 dishes each. Fortunately, as the portion sizes were smaller than the average Chinese restaurant, we managed to polish everything off.

Highlights included excellent roast duck & pork in plum sauce with tender, fat-rendered meat and a sticky fruity sauce. King prawns in sweet & sour sauce were good too – plump crustaceans, crisp vegetables and a dayglo tangy sauce.  

Roast duck & pork with ginger and spring onions was enjoyably punchy.

Crunchy and sticky crispy beef was tasty but would have benefited from a kick of chilli.

Singapore vermicelli was well spiced and flecked with char sui pork, prawns, egg and spring onion. Egg fried rice was fluffy and grease-free.

There were many more dishes but I won’t keep you all day.

A little too stuffed, we passed up the option of banana fritters and ice cream. 

However, my fortune cookie's prediction that I'd be moving onto bigger things seems rather prescient - today I'm struggling to do up my shorts.

Don’t get me wrong, Fortune House won’t serve you obscure Chinese delicacies in opulent surroundings. 

However, if you’re in the mood for old skool Chinese food, you want the experience of saying “I’ll have everything on the menu” and you fancy giving your elasticated pants a run-out, I’d heartily recommend Fortune House.

The Details:
Address - 43-45 Salisbury Road, Cathays, Cardiff,
Telephone - 029 2064 1311
Web -