Last June I went to the UK to visit Lee of Semel Photography.
For three weeks we ate and drank our way around Edinburgh, Glasgow, Brighton and London, especially East London where Lee lived. Of everywhere we went, East London took me most by surprise.
Anglo-Australians seem to struggle with their idea that Australia is a place without a history and seek out grand and glorious things they can call their own. The images we see on television of England are bucolic, historical, or posh – lush green fields (no droughts in the Motherland), majestic buildings and castles, or sharp marble facades interspersed with sleek glass towers. I certainly saw all those things, but those fail to mention where the vast majority of the millions of people in, for example London, actually live. Places like East London only reach the Australian consciousness when they riot, when they’re threatening and dangerous, when they’re Other. Even within the expat community in London we encountered a lot of resistance to heading towards East London, and I certainly wouldn’t have found a reason to go there if it hadn’t been for Lee. But if I hadn’t, I would have really missed out.
Shoreditch is as safe as houses and Dalston is rapidly becoming gentrified with new and exciting small bars and restaurants like the fantastic Ivy’s Mess Hall popping up almost as you watch. Hairdressers and pound shops sit alongside tiny shops selling plantains and fashionable coffee places filled by the trendy and the incongruously beanie-wearing hipsters. Dalston has a particular fashion which thumbs it’s nose at Fashion. But some of the real treasures are the bits which pre-date the hipster migration away from rapidly-becoming-mainstream Shoreditch, bits like Ridley rd Market and the myriad of tiny, cheap, kebab shops. Yes, kebab shops.
They mean something entirely different in London. The meat is simply marinaded and charcoal grilled, then slapped in a warm bread which is heated by the grill and mopped with the cooking juices. None of that weird meatloaf on a stick warmed by a gas burner situation and shaved off with some kind of electric planer here. The number one place for charcoal grill, Ocakbasi, is Mangal 1 in Dalston. I loved this place so much that we went here over and over again, and back for one last dinner at 4pm before my flight home. It is that good.
My favourite dishes were Cop Sis, small pieces of lamb threaded on a skewer, grilled, and served with a huge plate of ‘salad’ and slices of bread, and Patlican Salata, an eggplant and capsicum salad topped with a yoghurt and butter sauce.
To my complete sadness, I cannot find a single place in Perth which does a good Turkish Ocakbasi. Luckily, TBC and R have a 44 gallon drum in their backyard which we fired up and managed a pretty good impression.
1kg Lamb leg
Salt to taste
Sumac to taste
If you are using wooden skewers, start soaking them first.
Chop the lamb into even sized pieces. Cop Sis means smaller pieces of meat, Kebap Sis means larger – follow your heart.
Toss the pieces in a bowl with a really generous amount of salt. Our experiences have varied, up to perhaps a quarter cup, but definitely use enough to give anyone with high blood pressure second thoughts. Add sumac to taste – a couple of tablespoons.
Leave the lamb to marinate for 2 hours, then thread onto your pre-soaked (if necessary) skewers.
Heat up your grill – you could do this on a weber, a drum, a campfire, or anywhere else you can get a good heat and some woodsmoke up. You could definitely also bbq this on a gas bbq, but it would be a completely different food. If you went with larger chunks of lamb, then set up your fire so you have a hotter and cooler area.
Grill the lamb skewers. If you went with larger chunks, then you will need to brown them on the hotter part of the fire and then move them to a cooler part (or alternatively into the oven) to finish them off.
While the lamb is cooking, prepare the vegetables. Peel and grate the carrot, shred the cabbage, slice the pickles and rinse the bitter greens. Pile everything on a big sharing plate.
When the lamb comes off the grill, put it on a plate or in a tray and give it a few minutes to rest and relax. Pop the Turkish bread on the grill to warm up, since you went to all that effort to get it going.
2 large eggplants
3 red capsicums
3 cloves of garlic
A bunch of parsley
200ml greek yoghurt
Before the lamb is grilled, take the eggplants outside and cook them until they are charred on the outside and softly collapsing on the inside.
Put them aside to cool down a little and grill the capsicums until they are also charred up.
Carefully, with tongs or extremely callused fingers, peel the eggplant and capsicum. Roughly chop them into small dice, or smaller than dice size, and don’t worry if they aren’t pretty. Stir them together in a big bowl.
Finely chop the garlic and parsley. Stir through the bowl.
To serve, melt the butter in a pan or pot until it’s bubbling and just starting to brown. Pour over the Patlican Salata and stir through, seasoning if necessary (and remembering the lamb is salty). Top with the yoghurt.
Serve everything in the middle of the table, for sharing.
Disclaimer: all the London photos are by TBC and all the food photos are by TBP