In Abu Dhabi, the elite can have anything. Gold leaf in afternoon teacakes, gold clothing. Lots of gold. In one shiny golden restaurant, seabass comes with a numbered tag for a website. A quick click and there’s a photograph of your fish, held aloft by the Breton fisherman who’s just caught it off the north west coast of France, the previous day. It’s then flown, direct, to you.
Had my generous hosts in this, the richest Emirate, had their way I would have spent my last visit eating gold and other jetted-in delicacies, but I demurred and wandered off to Lebanese Flower, a small chain of meat kebab shops which grill then serve attractively charred hunks of animal protein, including camel, on hummous and flatbread. No booze, just fruit juices of the gods, formica tables, and cheap prices. I’d go back to Abu Dhabi for a shawarma there alone.
My name is Derek and I’m a meataholic. Which is why I’m in the capital of world cuisine (London) at its epicentre (Soho) eating a kebab in daylight.
British kebabs are derided for good reason: they’re mostly shit. Not the juicy, meaty platefuls of Turkish joy from the ocakbasi in Dalston or Haringey’s Green Lanes (Gokyuzu, Hala) or the Lebanese shish kebabs grilled behind the shisha tables of Edgware Road, but out in that sea of questionable grey doner effluent clogging the post pub market, they’re almost universally disgusting. I once handed one back in Camden, declaring I was far too sober to eat half a kilo of dodgy grease.
And the name? Well possibly inspired by the late Jade Goody, who once found herself naked on television and declared that everybody could see her kebab
Now, under the heading “gap in the market” a bright young enterprise has raised £150k via crowdfunding (in 17 minutes!) to open a chain of posh kebab shops. At their temporary Soho pub popup in March the menu was simple: chicken, lamb or haloumi. I had the lamb. It was £7.50 and as excellent as a wrapped kebab can be. “You didn’t eat that, you inhaled it” the waiter commented a few minutes after putting it down in front of me. Not only were they busy, people were booking – to eat kebabs!
They have heritage. One partner is Claude who, if you know SW6, you’ll be aware that the coolest tasting menu in Fulham is to be found at Claude’s Kitchen opposite Parson’s Green Tube. If you can get a table.
And the name? Well possibly inspired by the late Jade Goody, who once found herself naked on television and declared that everybody could see her kebab, or Finbarr Saunders and his double entendres from Viz, which used to be funny, you’ll split your sides. Nine branches are due to open, starting in Shoreditch, and everyone got the joke, except Companies House, which refused to let them register their chosen brand. They’re therefore formally registered as Posh Kebabs Ltd, but will trade as Fanny’s Kebabs.
Further up the food chain, and while I’m certainly partial to vegetarian food, a friend and I have been to Hawksmoor (as Instagrammed at the top of the page) in Air Street ten times, for the express purpose of meeting and eating beef. They serve other things, apparently, but our inner cave men were separated at birth and on several of those ten occasions the nearest we’ve got to greenery is chips.
There’s a new branch in Borough Market which I took another carnivore to and sure enough we looked at the menu of fish and salads and daily specials from the market stalls over the road before ordering the steak, bone marrow and chips.
The point about steak places is that you can’t screw it up, which makes the tourist traffic into those red neon steakhouses around Leicester Square all the more inexplicable . A bad steak from a kitchen that specialises in beef defeats the purpose of the entire operation. Hawksmoor is supplied by Ginger Pig, the premier Yorkshire farm/butchery, it then grills thick meaty cuts over charcoal to perfection. This is the sixth branch which means they’re doing something right, and next year the plan is to open in Manhattan, where the beefsteak market is almost as overcrowded as it is in Washington DC.
So: fresh briny rock oysters (in this new branch they roast them with bone marrow, apparently delicious for people who like cooked oysters) followed by a cast iron skillet of bone-in prime rib, it’s crust salty and blackened, it’s inner flesh a lascivious deep pink. It doesn’t need sauce or mustard or anything except chips, and possibly a side of spinach.
And three large bones with the roasted marrow waiting to be spooned out.
Yabba. Dabba. Doo.
I’m sure it’s always pleasing when someplace you know well suddenly becomes fashionable, it’s never happened to me before, but by chance The Guinea Grill is 50 yards from a colleague’s office on Berkeley Square and for quite some time we’ve squeezed in between the suited business types at the tiny old oak bar, or in the gloriously old school back restaurant, a bolthole for refugees from the Peers’ Dining Room in the House of Lords.
Suddenly it’s all change. There are people taking photographs of their food, it’s full every frikkin day (you have to book!) and all because a cheeky chap, occasionally cutting a dash in green velvet, has injected a little elan. He’s Oisin Rogers who has transformed a variety of places around London, notably the Ship in Wandsworth, and now here, although it’s difficult to see what he’s actually done. Despite closing for refurbishment (when you definitely could not get a table, I discovered) it appears unchanged – a deft ploy, as it wasn’t broken – save for the addition in winter of a game pie to the chops and steaks on display beside the open grill. The staff have been there forever, they’re chatty, happy and friendly, operating a kind of silver service which works without being servile, to the bemusement of foreign visitors who always knew every London restaurant was like this. The wine list, infuriatingly, is heavily populated with a long list of chunky reds, some of which are affordable, that can lead to overstaying one’s welcome late into the afternoon.
They serve salads too. Apparently. C