Black Axe Mangal

London

“Brilliant re-interpretations of Turkish staples”

156 Canonbury Road, N1 2UP, London, UK

no phone

http://www.blackaxemangal.com/

$

A hipster-heavy rock n’ rolling kebab shop

Claim to fame: Brilliant re-interpretations of Turkish staples

Reason to go: The squid ink bread with smoked cod’s roe is a modern classic

To look out for: It’s busy, and it’s loud; the regulars seem to like it that way

Nearby Green Lanes offers a whole mile of affordable and good Turkish kebab shops to choose from, but none of them are like this one. The line of up-for-it twentysomethings don’t mind waiting for a cramped table, or enduring the cranked-up rock soundtrack; to underline the staff’s music tastes, the huge pizza oven is emblazoned with a mural of glam rock stars Kiss. Early arrivals may be seated immediately, those who prefer to dine later leave their mobile phone numbers before being dispatched to the adjacent pub until a table frees up. If you can, squeeze into the tiny bar and sip a whiskey sour or tequila cocktail while watching the tattooed chefs assemble their unusual dishes.

The ‘flatbreads’ are really small pizzas, inspired by the Turkish rendition called lahmacun. Hitting closest to the Anatolian original is a lamb offal version and straying further from the classics is BAM’s squid ink bread, shaped more like a hockey puck, with a light-absorbing look, like that of a black hole. Its appearance bellies a remarkably light and yeasty dough, topped with a milky way of cod’s-roe tarama, and a golden sun of runny egg yolk. It’s a signature dish that’s not to be missed.

Chef Lee Tiernan isn’t Turkish, and hence not perturbed by borrowing dishes and ideas from neighboring regions. Fatteh comes from the southern Levant and gets its name from the Arabic word ‘fatta’, meaning ‘to crumble bread’. Stale pita is crushed and mixed with other ingredients to make warm salads; in this case, with unconventional grilled chunks of lean lamb’s hearts, pine nuts and a slick of chickpea purée, given zip with a sharp dressing. The textures are pleasing, the servings dainty; this is a small plates restaurant, without the traditionally huge kebab shop portions.

The ingredients show imaginative buying. Watermelon radish – green-skinned, but vibrantly pink within – is cut mandolin-thin then tumbled with shreds of Maghreb-style preserved lemons and slivers of green wave mustard leaf to give it a spicy heat and sharp acidity, a good foil to the meatier offerings.

Some dishes head into Silk Road territories. Charred hispi cabbage is topped with a sauce of fermented shrimp butter, which adds a piquancy that is more usually found much further east in Asia than Anatolia. The numbing tang of Sichuan pepper is used to add a kick to some dishes, such as the buttermilk-fried chicken with ‘Mission spice’ (Credited to the Mission Chinese restaurants in San Francisco and New York City, that donated the spice mix recipe).

You may find a single ice cream as dessert; on some of our visits, there were no desserts at all. Retro confectionery might arrive with the bill. The drinks list is brief: canned lager, bottled ale, a house white wine, a house red. Most customers stick to the short cocktail list, even though these drinks arrive garnished with un-rock n’ roll:ish tinsel cocktail sticks. This isn’t a place to linger in, but that doesn’t concern the lively groups of diners who crowd the place from early evening until late; the night’s only just beginning for them.

12forward by White Guidelists 12 eateries in each chosen city that represent the very forefront of gastronomy.