Oklava, Shoreditch

“Oklava” is a traditional rolling pin which is used to make breads, pastries and pides. Luckily all of these delicacies feature on the modern Turkish menu at Oklava, Shoreditch, and are done very well – which sort of justifies naming your restaurant after a kitchen utensil, I guess.

Oklava is just the success story the restaurant industry needs at the moment. Pioneered by two females – chef du jour Selin Kiazim, who has previously worked under Peter Gordon at The Providores, Marylebone and Kopapa, Covent Garden and Laura Christie from Salt Yard Group; this restaurant, on a quiet unassuming East London street, is the beginning of a new era where female chefs and restauranteurs take the spotlight. Restaurants like these should be nurtured, championed and celebrated.

So, with all that pressure on its head, did Oklava live up to the hype? I really wanted to like it, and I’m glad to say…I did. We arrive early on a Tuesday evening, and the place is packed…although with only around 50 covers, that’s not too difficult. Nevertheless, we entered to a buzz of atmosphere, laughter and good times.

Homemade bread is brought to the table, served with a date butter – a deliciously sweet alternative for my sweet tooth to traditional oils or butter. We settle into our seats and choose a Turkish wine called Pasaeli (when in Rome).  Our “snacks” arrive swiftly, the first – a light and creamy whipped Feta, with sweet candied pumpkin and chilli crostini, complimented with a smattering of mint, and the second – a smoky, spicy and seriously juicy grilled Cypriot pastirma sausage.

2015 was undoubtedly the year of the cauliflower, and Selin’s ode to this humble vegetable was seriously flavourful. A spicy tomato and chilli paste covers the roasted cauli, and it’s smothered with onions, parsley and pistachios; great flavour pairings.

Our pides arrive, a pair of flatbread showboats on a wooden board. They are big enough to feed a small fleet – certainly not for the feeble. Our first was a garlic chicken kofte, on a creamy feta base and garnished with crunchy walnuts. The second pide is covered in a cheese sauce base with crispy onions; lemon braised greens and spiced crumbs. We struggled to finish, but both are too moreish to leave behind.

For the final course we receive a crispy pomegranate glazed lamb breast on top of a cool yoghurt. This is served alongside a crunchy thickly coated, coarse green za’atar crumb hiding a tender chilli garlic chicken.

Have you heard of Künefe? If not, let me educate you – it’s a crispy cheese pastry from Levantine. That may not sound ground breaking but in Selin’s hands this dessert, with its crispy kataifi pastry and mozzarella layers, drizzled in sticky and sweet orange blossom syrup and served with a scoop of the creamiest and richest pistachio parfait was so excellent we both let out a synchronised “mmmmmm” at the table. Couple that dessert with two glasses of sweet Arcadia dessert wine, and you have food heaven.

When one uses the words “Turkish” and “Shoreditch” in the same sentence, connotations of doner meat and midnight kebabs spring to mind. This Turkish in Shoreditch is far removed from that vision. Kiazim has taken traditional Turkish-Cypriot recipes and ingredients and spun them in a new, modern and creative way to develop dishes that burst with vibrancy and flavour.

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