Abrakebabra kicks off on August 1st, some posh kebab place called Le Bab is opening in Kingly court & even Sunday Brunch featured trendy kebabs the other day. As much as we’re down with these food revolutions, the Kebab is hardly anything new; it's been around for like, ever. From the greasy doner to Giles Coren's beloved Kentish Town local, BarChick asked London where the best kebabs were at, got trashed, visited them all and this is our guide to everything you need to know about kebabs. Hells yes!
Doner kebab, shish kebab, shawarma, kofta, gyro, adana—the many names & preparations of meat from The Middle East, South Asia & The Eastern Mediterranean can leave even the most worldly of eaters feeling totally clueless. But not to worry kebab compadres, we’re here to rub your temples & get you revved up for what is one of the nation's favourite cuisines. Forget whatever nightmarish experiences you’ve had at 4am on a stag do in Cardiff & let’s wade into it.
Centuries ago,Turkic tribe soldiers in Anatolia used their swords to grill meat over open field fires. Now, these savage men have been replaced by suits, raging pissheads & stiletto strapped flailing their arms over tarnished steel counters. But it’s all a part of the modern charm. And we think it’s pretty ace that with all the sh*t going down in our crises-ridden world, we can all at least unite over a very serious & profoundly deep love of food.
Be picky, but not uncompromising. Knowledgeable, but not annoying & you’ll get the mega meat hit you’ve always wanted. There are a helluva lot of dodgy doners out there, so let’s go over the jargon first so you don’t sound like a tw*t.
Kebab: This means to roast. Americans obviously do it differently so you’ll get meat & veg on a skewer if you ask for a kebab. If you’re on the right side of the pond, you’ll be feasting on sliced meat in pita. The former is shish & the latter is doner.
Shish: Chunks of meat, and sometimes veg, strung on a skewer & roasted over a grill.
Doner: Typically, lamb, beef, or chicken (horse if you're unlucky) cooked on a vertical rotating spit, shaved off & most popularly served in pita bread.
Shawarma: The Arabic incarnation of the doner.
Kofta: Minced or ground meat (usually beef or lamb) mixed with spices & onion. Kinda like mini oval burgers.
Adana: Long, hand-minced meat kebab mounted on an iron skewer & grilled over an open mangal.
Mangal: Not a family’s surname, but a Middle Eastern name for barbecue which refers to the grilling apparatus as well as the event.
Ocakbasi: The Turkish word for a grill restaurant with an open fire pit.
Gyro: In greek, this means ‘to turn’. Similar to the derivation of the doner, which comes from the Turkish word don-mek & refers to the act of spinning. In Greece, the gyro is prepared on a vertical rotating spit & shaved off accordingly.
Nazar: The blue eye-shaped amulet showcased at Turkish restaurants that wards off evil. Better to be safe than sorry.
Sensing a theme here? During one of the most brutal and powerful eras in history, there was high interaction between Greek, Turkish & Arabic cultures. This interaction inevitably effected cuisine & so regional incarnations of this all-mighty meat started to develop. Big up the Ottoman Empire for gifting us with the ultimate antidote to ‘the spins’.
Hungry? Good. Cos these are the most legendary legendary kebab hangouts in London:
THE TOP SPOTS
They’ve got shish, doner & adana at this West London institution. It’s all exposed brick, copper & ocakbasi. Oh, and it’s BYOB without any of the corking fees. Brilliant.
104 Ladbroke Grove, London W11 1PY
Cash only fluorescently-lit hole in the wall using grade-A meat from Smithfield Market. It's one of the premier late night snacking station for cabbies & Sloanes alike.
90 New Kings Road, Fulham, London SW6 4LU
No artificial additives, they boast. And everyone comes knockin’: rubbish collectors, Sultans, museum-goers etc. Hoggets delivered fresh each dawn, but if you’re not a carnivore they have a whole array of banging veg options. We opt for an XL doner kebab topped with yogurt salad.
59 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3JS
Giles Coren gave it his accolades and it’s status as a historic ‘kebabstitution’ was sealed. The men behind this Kentish Town joint are determined to take the kebab out of the mire of disrepute. All kebabs are made on sight & all chicken is free-range. Keep your eyes peeled for the Victorian signage & roll those sleeves up for a monstrous 500 g chicken shawarma.
287 Kentish Town Road, London NW5 2JS
They’re intent on remodeling the scarred image of the kebab. It’s like elevated fast food. Greasy spoon kebabs are always ace, but if you’re time-poor and meat-desperate, do Chifafa. You can get high-welfare English veal shoulder marinated in lemon, oregano & garlic, grilled & served with a mint/dill tzatziki & salad for under a tenner.
45-47 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5RS
Vast selection of grilled mains from kebab to kofta cooked on the ocakbasi grill & ample amounts of yogurts/sauces to cool you down. It’s marginally more pricey than your dirty doner shop down the road, but it’s a bucket list cert if you’re in London Town.
4 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 8BH
For when you’re shitfaced in Shoreditch & you can’t bear going to Polo Club. No frills Syrian-style shawarma. We elect the chicken shawarma packed with white/red cabbage, white onion, lettuce & copious amounts of garlic sauce. Eat it al fresco & never ever on a night bus.
21 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6PG
Ocakbasi Meze Bar with eat-in & take away options. Rolled vine leaves, spinach yoghurt dip, lamachun & most importantly…KEBABS. They’ll serve you “Mediterranean peasant food in the heart of hackney” & send you off sated. Vermilion walls, laminated wood & neon…Welcome to one of London’s most delicious Turkish transplants.
261 Mare Street, London E8 3NS
This Turkish family run joint’s got it all. Out back we’re talking a restaurant that’s packed with regs and is as ‘posh’ as kebabs get with an open grill, winding stairways and the chargrilled onion that’s served up as a pre starter that’s the total show stealer. Swinging by? There’s late-night kebab counter out front dishing out all the classics done to perfection. Ask nicely and they’ll chuck in an onion too.
54 Camberwell Church Street, London SE5 8QZ
Cos it won best take away kebab in London & there’s no way we can contest that. The former is exceedingly bright whilst the latter is easier on the eyes, but both grill & roast like absolute champs. Take some mates, order the mixed kebab & sprinkle your world with sumac. The take away caters to the well-inebriated, but it’s still a family joint.
54 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 7XB//111 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 8BX
If you’re between Pimlico & London Victoria & you’re dr*nk/horny/hungry/tired/ kebab daydreaming (a common affliction amongst Britons), then follow the yellow brick road, which is actually a fleet of black taxis. Efes beer, Turkish wine & succulent lamb’ll send you to the land of nod with the fullest of bellies & hearts. They’ve even got grilled quail for any local toffs.
45 Warwick Way, London SW1V 1QS