Following a fantastic meal at Oklava a few weeks ago, it was with jubilation that we heard the news that the dynamic duo behind Oklava and Linden Stores were opening a new restaurant in Fitzrovia.
Kyseri (named after the city in Turkey) is another modern Turkish restaurant attempting to change the Brits’ perception of its cuisine. This time, however, the focus is on two kinds of pasta typical to Turkey: manti and eriste. Being massive fans of pasta and Oklava, the race was on to get in for the soft launch period.
Three seats reserved at what turned out to be the tiny bar, the three of us arrived and scoured the drinks list eagerly. A sparkling wine from Turkey caught my eye while the same wine but served with preserved lemons was the tipple of choice for one of my dining companions. A glass of white wine, also of Turkish origin, made up our three aperitifs.
Alcohol back in the bloodstream, we turned our attention to the menu. Both of the signature pasta dishes had already been earmarked as must-haves and the intrigue over the snack of hellim loaf with Black Sea fondue saw that make the list too.
We decided not to ask what exactly the Black Sea fondue was going to be so that all would be left to the big reveal. The fondue (unsurprisingly) turned out to be a cheese dish typical of the Eastern Black Sea region of Turkey. The cast iron pot held a corn meal-based mixture into which melted cheese and butter had been poured on top, finished with a generous sprinkling of basil. The loaf, still warm out of the oven, had chunks of hellim (halloumi) baked into it, which made for a decadent cheese-on-cheese with a side of carbs situation. Heavenly.
Veal sweetbreads, or calf pancreas to be a bit more direct, arrived next. Plated in a half moon, the beautifully cooked sweetbreads were interspersed with immature garlic bulbs – known as wet garlic – and dressed with spears of salty samphire. The jus was a nutty brown butter emulsion and an interesting hazelnut yoghurt sat on the side.
Beef and sour cherry manti made up one of the two signature pasta dishes. Although Manti use a pasta dough as their base, they are sometimes referred to as dumplings, but call it what you want, the premise is the same. The thin sheets of dough were filled with a delicately spiced mixture of minced beef and sour cherries, with a rich tomato-chilli sauce and lashings of cooling yoghurt spooned over the top. A sprinkling of pine nuts added a bite of texture to the dish; all-in-all a divine combination.
Although we were there for the Turkish pasta, it was the octopus dish that stole the show for me. Wonderfully tender slices of octopus tentacles lay hidden amongst a mixture of spiced aubergine and pickled caper leaves. These pickled caper leaves were an absolute delight; the stems from caper berries had been pickled in red wine vinegar which then added a salty but slightly tart element to the dish. Somehow this was a dish that managed to be spicy, fresh, rich and light all in one go, really clever.
We ended our main courses with the other Turkish pasta dish of eriste. These are essentially egg noodles which were served with a mix of greens braised in lemon juice, walnut pieces and strips of sage leaf. Shavings of Tulum cheese – a Turkish cheese made from goats milk – and a confit egg yolk crowned the eriste. I failed miserably in my attempt to capture the breaking of the egg yolk in a slow-mo video, as one of my companions burst it with a knife and proceeded to coat all of the ingredients in its rich yellow goodness. Ingredient not necessarily new to pasta, they somehow came together to add a new dimension of flavours to the dish.
While we pondered over which sweet options to order, the lovely girl behind the bar recommended the two dessert wines off the menu. Two of us happen to be massive dessert wine fans so ordering one of each to try them was a no-brainer. The white Sauvignon Blanc from Turkey had lovely floral notes punctuated with a sweet syrupy profile, and was entirely quaffable (easy to drink). It was the red Armenian fortified wine, however, that really blew us away. I could have happily settled for a liquid dessert there and then, but fortunately our non-dessert wine drinking friend insisted on finishing the meal with two of the dessert options.
I’ll start with the feta even though we actually ended the meal with this dish, so as to save the best till last. An oblong slice of feta cheese, not too salty unlike the horrible supermarket ones, crumbled nicely onto a couple of crackers. Dots of sticky, sweet aubergine jam adorned the plate while slices of candied walnuts offered those last contrasting acidic flavours to the dish.
From our position in front of the bar, we had prime view of the dessert plating section. Having seen a couple of large wooden chopping boards head out from this section with some intriguing ingredients upon them, we requested the same dessert. It turned out to be a pistachio katmer (that typical Turkish pastry similar to filo). A sheet of this was laid out on the wooden board, with two rectangles of mastic parfait – an aromatic resin tapped from trees typical to the Mediterranean climate – laid out next to it. The board was then brought over to us by Laura who then proceeded to cut, place and sandwich the katmer and the parfait together, to create what was essentially an ice cream sandwich. Although this dessert was meant for two people to share, she happily divided it into three for us and handed over a dish of grapefruit in verbena syrup to spoon over the top. The very definition of a show stopper (check out our social media for the video).
Visiting Kyseri so soon after Oklava could have been disastrous for one (or both) of these restaurants, with the possibility of drawing comparisons between the two an all too real issue. But in the end, there was no comparison. Kyseri holds its own in the same way that Oklava does. While so many of the same ingredients appear on both menus, thanks to the Turkish roots, they are treated in entirely different ways but to the same high standard. If I was put in a position where I had to choose only one that I could go back to, however, I think it might have to be Kyseri. I didn’t get to try the duck or the wild turbot on our visit and, if I had to, I would choose these over what I didn’t have at Oklava.