Tucked away down an unassuming street on the outskirts of Shoreditch, it would be easy to miss Oklava with its minimalist exterior and understated location. But to pass by this gem would be a mistake.
Oklava (which means rolling pin in Turkish) opened in the autumn of 2015 and is the first permanent venture of young Turkish-Cypriot chef Selin Kiazim, whose culinary rap includes a stint working with acclaimed chef Peter Gordon at The Providores in Marylebone. She later became head chef at his restaurant Kopapa in Covent Garden, while her solo 2014 pop-up Carousel in Marylebone earned rave reviews, no doubt helping to pave the way for her own venture – Oklava.
As we arrive on an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon, the restaurant’s picture windows have been swung wide open revealing its chattering masses inside. A waft of roasted meat and exotic spices fill our nostrils on approach. It wasn’t unlike being drawn into a bakery on a Sunday morning. The sleek, teal-accented interior of its 50-cover bar and dining room with open kitchen is intimate and inviting with a warm buzz, almost homely, with a domed stone bread oven glowing in the corner.
Oklava serves up a small but well-formed menu of Turkish-Cypriot cuisine with a modern twist accompanied by an all-Turkish wine list, which also extends to its sparkling wines. (Yes, Turkey produces a traditional method and Charmat method sparkler)
“I knew if we put other wines on there that people wouldn’t try them so we made the whole menu Turkish,” says Laura Christie, former operations director at the Salt Yard Group and director of Oklava. “Turkish wines have got something that is familiar bit with a different dimension. There’s no government support for the industry but there are amazing wineries pushing forward and I thinks that’s quite admirable.”
Helping diners to navigate the somewhat daunting list scattered with no end of accented os, us and unpronounceable grapes, wines are divided into light, medium and full bodied, with nearly all wines on offer available by the glass, carafe or bottle.
I start with a glass of crisp Pasaeli’s 2014 Yapincak (£6), a white variety completely new to me which hails from Turkey’s northern Marmara region, while my husband somewhat blindly picked a glass of Vinkara’s Kalecik Karasi 2011 (£7) – a red grape typical of Turkey’s Ankara province. Both were served in a squat, stemless glass and were pleasantly simple. The winning drop, however, was a glass of 2011 Cabernet Franc from Arcadia (£7.50), which offered a little more structure and complexity and black fruits mingled with hints of coffee.
As we make fast work of two hunks of Baharat bread smothered with Medjool date butter (£2.50), I make a mental note to attempt to recreate this beauteous pairing at home, savouring its sweet saltiness.
Our starters comprised of a plate lighter-than-light Courgette, feta and mint fritters (£4.50), a duo of crisp crostinis topped with whipped feta, candied pumpkin and chilli (£2 each) and simple plate of mouthwatering chunks of spicy Grilled cypriot pastirma sausage (£5) – I was in Turkish food heaven.
Everything on the menu at Oklava is designed to share, with three starters proving more than enough for two, with our impending feast sensibly limited to one plate from each segment of its menu; vegetables and salads, pides and flatbreads and meat.
We demolish a plate of baked lamb fat potatoes with hellim, fried duck egg and Sherry vinegar caramel (£8.50), followed by a plate-sized flatbread stuffed with chicken and garlic and smothered with smoked salsa, roasted chilli yoghurt, feta and walnuts (£12.50).
A daintily-presented plate of lamb chops strewn with date molasses and urfa chilli mayo (£14.50) soon followed, chased by the chef’s Seftali kebab with red onion salad and lemon (£9) – one of the more commonplace items on the menu, but by no means dull.
By this point we were stuffed. We should have graciously bowed out, headed home and fallen into a glorious food coma. But we just couldn’t resist dessert. Like a kid at the Pizza Hut ice cream factory on my birthday I ordered the Künefe – a crispy Kadayiif (similar to baklava) and cheese pastry with orange blossom syrup and pistachio parfait (£7.50). If you think sweet syrup and cheese deep fried in a wonderful pastry casing is not a match made in heaven then you need to get down to Oklava pronto to be proven wrong.
My other half went for the deliciously rich, but slightly more conservative chocolate, prune and cardamom delice with orange cream and praline (£7.50).
Topping off a feast fit for a Sultan we slurped down two Turkish coffees (£6), characterised by the unfiltered dregs that remain at the base of the cup.
Taking in my now swollen belly I take another sweep of the restaurant, run through the service received in my mind and assess the food served, searching for a piece of constructive criticism. Staff were attentive, pleasant and polite, service was swift. Even our even our fellow dining companions were affable, cheerily snapping pictures of their food (which would no doubt later appear on Instagram), with the table either side of us hungrily eying up our arriving plates and asking our advice on which to order, sadly recognising that they could not consume the entire menu.
While its all-Turkish wine list won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and can be somewhat limiting, the boldness of its decision to exclusively support the winemakers of a country who receive little recognition elsewhere should be applauded. Oklava isn’t trying to be everything to everyone; it dances to the beat of its own drum, which is all part of its charm.
As for its food, anyone that doesn’t enjoy its offer of well-executed, deliciously-diverse, flavoursome plates should, quite frankly, seek to adjust their palate. Oklava is top notch.
- 1 glass Pasaeli Yapincak 2014 (£6)
- 1 glass Vinkara Kalecik Karasi 2011 (£7)
- 1 glass Arcadia Cabernet Franc 2011 (£7.50)
- 1 glass Kocabag Kapadokia Okuzgozu/Bogazkere (£5.5)
- Extra Baharat bread and Medjool date butter (£2.50)
- Courgette feta and mint fritters (£4.50)
- Whipped feta, candied pumpkin and chilli crostini (£2 each)
- Grillian cypriot pastirma sausage (£5)
- Baked lamb fat potatoes with hellim, fried duck egg and Sherry vinegar caramel (£8.50)
- Chicken and garlic kofte flatbread with smoke salsa roasted chilli yoghurt, feta and walnut (£12.50)
- Lamb chops with date molasses and urfa chilli mayo (£14.50)
- Seftali kebab with red onion salad and lemon (£9)
Künefe – crispy Kadayiif and cheese pastry with orange blossom syrup and pistachio parfait (£7.50)
- Chocolate, prune and cardamom delice with orange cream and praline (£7.50)
- Two Ozerlate Turkish coffees (£6)
74 Luke Street, EC2A 4PY (020 7729 3032; oklava.co.uk)