Mangal II has existed in many forms since I first visited and fell in love with it. I was a little late for the party and first ate there in 2019 – on one of my first dates with my current boyfriend – when it was a cult favorite BYO spot that was way above its weight in terms of food would expect from a destination before night.
The next iteration was after the first coronavirus lockdown. During those four months, Ferhat Dirik took stock of what the restaurant should look like and started making changes. He called his brother Sertaç back from Copenhagen. BYO has been scrapped in favor of a carefully considered natural wine list and brewery collaborations. The menu was refined and remarkable dishes began to creep in: manti mushroom dumplings (delicious, silky, spicy, something you want to scoop and slurp for eternity), grilled onion salad (foamed in sumac, the onions, which is a kind of hard-earned sweetness unleashed by slow, generous cooking) and fried okra pods with sucuk jam (the crispy, lightly fried green veg that’s coated in sucuk that has been cooked until it releases its lightly flavored, jammy juices).
This issue stuck for a while. Special dishes hinted at what was to come, almost like the restaurant testing the water to see if there was an appetite for what might be. And then the lockdown struck again. Before moving further east in January, my partner and I made pilgrimages to Mangal II at lunchtime to eat their pide sandwiches. It was the kind of lunchtime meal that made lazy, aimless days all the better – even when mocked on the side of the road, the sidewalk eerily empty of corpses. However, while we were eating, Ferhat and Sertaç were obviously making plans and taking the time to refurbish the restaurant a second time.
The Cull Yaw Mutton Chop, which appeared as a chop in main courses and as crispy kofte in starters
On my last visit, it was like visiting Mangal II in its final phase of metamorphosis. Some of those original menu changes had stayed – the mushroom manti dumplings in particular – but there were plenty of newbies. Cull Yaw, Mutton’s revolutionary product courtesy of Matt Chatfield of the Cornwall Project and an ingredient de la mode of the London food scene, will be featured throughout. It was a crispy kofte in the starters, paired with a chicken and fat mayo that was so good it almost shouldn’t be allowed. It showed up as a chop on main courses, salted until it drove Utah for its money, and so damn tender that I had to explain the abbreviated version of the Cull Yaw aging process from a Vittles article to my fellow diners.
A dish listed simply as “smoked mutton sausage” arrived rolled up, spicy, smoky and reminiscent of a Spanish merguez, a delicately sweet glaze underneath that perfectly balances the deep hearty flavors of the meat. The seafood barely needed grilled lobster buns – the buttery brioche bun (crispy on the bottom, fluffy as hell in the body) and green mayo were so good. It was messy, dripping, finger-licking food that proves Mangal II’s culinary prowess.
One of the most controversial changes in Mangal II’s puberty was that they stopped giving away bread for free. Her social media posts alluded loosely to local rivals who threatened her and regulars who thwarted her for the decision – who would have thought carbohydrates were so dramatic? What the critics failed to understand is that Mangal II had bigger, bigger dreams in mind. These manifested themselves in the sourdough pide, a flour platter that you would like to pay good money for in any trendy Eurocentric restaurant these days – and probably for something too crunchy, a little less ventilated, a little drier, a little less wonderful – so why complain here ? They still bring you one with the dishes you need and remove any allegations of cheapness or money theft.
The bread at Mangal II is an absolute highlight
Grilled octopus was deceptively sterile on the outside, and the blackened exterior hid a wonderfully creamy meat. The doner kebab has become a staple food, but after a particularly emotional makeover scene, it now exists like a romcom character from the 90s. All the Cady Heron, Andy Sachs and Laney Boggs in the world could only dream of such a flash. It is exactly how lamb should be; tender yet crispy, the fat still retains its integrity for taste purposes without feeling like unwanted gristle. The kebab has always been good in Mangal, but now it’s one of the best in a league of its own. Chicken leg shish came up on inexplicably huge metal skewers (so long that my diner pretended to knight me with it. Meanwhile, I figured out how to fend off anyone who got too heated during the dinner debates) and had it soaked up all the carcinogenic wonder of the coals while it’s still juicy and sullen.
Anyone familiar with the Dalston area will know that Kingsland Road has a number of infamous characters. Having lived on the corner of Dalston Junction for a year and a half, I became very familiar with how these people contribute to the fabric of the neighborhood. It is not uncommon for someone to come to a restaurant, pub, or coffee shop to ask for money, and this indicates a wider problem of homelessness and a fundamental lack of social services in the country. Of course, this is a dilemma for businesses: they want to support every member of the community, but inevitably there will be some guests who disapprove of the interruption. Unsurprisingly, while we were eating, someone came to Mangal II to ask for some money. Our waiter leaned over the table and conspiratorially mentioned that one of the country’s most famous critics had been on a visit the week before (“He was here to rate us, I think”). He told me that they had someone parked outside the door to make sure no one came in while we were eating. I’m not sure what his reaction would have been, but I’d like to think he wouldn’t have minded. Dalston is not Kensington; real life exists in every inch of this wonderful area. If you don’t want to be reminded of this while you eat, maybe the W zip code is better for you.
Chicken leg shish arrived on inexplicably huge metal skewers
Mangal II tries to redefine Turkish cuisine. Fehrat has a lot to say on the subject, especially why food has so often been relegated to the gastronomic arena, where freebies and cheap and cheerful menus are expected. Anyone who dares to complain to the new version of Mangal II about paying for a wonderful piece of bread is missing the point: This is Turkish food, as Fehrat and Sertaç want it to be. If you don’t like it, go elsewhere. It will leave more tables for the rest of us.
This week’s food and drink news
Shipping post x El Pastor
With life in full swing after the pandemic and restaurant reservations becoming increasingly difficult, home jerseys have not yet fully fallen into the shadows. Dispatch has cemented itself as one of the industry leaders in this space and is showing no signs of slowing down. Her most recent collaboration is with the famous Taqueria El Pastor to celebrate Mexican Independence Day. Enjoy a range of their tacos, as well as extras like guacamole, tuna tostadas, and margaritas.
Celebrate pride in the Blue Posts
Just because the official event was canceled doesn’t mean you can’t go out anyway, have a great time, and support the LGBT + community. The multi-story Soho pub, the Blue Posts, are throwing a crazy party. From noon until late at night they have DJ Wayne David on the decks, the Mulwray Wine Bar upstairs when you need a break from the dance floor, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Albert Kennedy Trust.
Kudu Grill opens in Peckham
Inspired by their South African roots, the owners Amy and Patrick have quietly taken over London with the Kudu Collective. They launched their fourth outpost, Kudu Grill, last week, which focuses on the use of braai – a South African style of grilling – and adds a playful twist to the country’s food.