- Food & Drink
I have an excellent memory for birthdays. If it’s your birthday and I know you, you can be sure that I’ve bought you a birthday card and maybe even a thoughtful gift if we’ve known each other long enough. But you may not get the card and gift on your actual birthday. I’m normally so pleased with them that I keep them for a few days (or weeks) so I can admire them and think: “Yes, X really will like that.”
Which is why, a month after Sister Number 1’s birthday, we were in Camberwell and I was handing over the slightly dusty presents I’d been showcasing on a shelf in my bedroom for a few weeks. We met at The Tiger, a pub phoenix rising from the very fighty ashes of The Silver Buckle on Camberwell Green.
SN1 had a glass of wine (which came in a teeny carafe), I had a half of Doom Bar and the barmaid had a mini panic attack. I don’t think she’d pulled too many pints before and was hoping to deal with wines and spirits only. The heart-sinking disappointment she felt, having landed two lady customers only to have one of them order beer, was written all over her horrified face.
Still, she managed to get beer out of the pumps and although the lights around us occasionally went out, hinting at wiring problems yet to be sworn over, the pub seemed to be finding its feet. But it hasn’t opened its kitchen yet, so we left the comfy sofa and went to the only place British people want to go after the pub: a kebab shop. It was 8pm.
But describing FM Mangal as a kebab shop is doing it a disservice. It may look like your average purveyor of cheap meat and grease from the outside, but inside there’s an ocakbasi restaurant to treasure.
The last time we went in the summer, we sat upstairs and sweated in the rising heat of the charcoal grill. This time, in the shivering depths of pre-spring March, we sat in the downstairs section, admiring the giant glass window and artfully lit tree behind it and trembling as the cold poured through the glass. I have to start remembering the upstairs/winter, downstairs/summer rule for FM Mangal.
We started with a free bowl of warm flat bread and a chargrilled onion lounging in a sweet-sharp pomegranate dressing. I would come to FM Mangal just to eat these. The bread is dusted with a magic powder that makes it extra tasty and the onion is proof of the deliciousness of cancer-giving char.
A second bowl of bread was bought over with our starters: houmous and grilled aubergine with yogurt. The houmous was houmous. I suspect houmous is the sort of thing you only notice when it’s wrong. This had the familiar nutty, sesame and lemon flavours and the scoopable baby food texture that makes it so easy to swallow down.
The aubergine had been grilled tender, but the blackened skin proved tough. Every mouthful of melting aubergine flesh was spoilt by an unchewable slither of skin. A grilled aubergine dip full of smokiness and free from cindered outer bits will be my choice next time.
For mains, SN1 had grilled salmon and I had grilled sea bass. The meals at FM Mangal are absolutely huge and I came close to regretting eating that second basket of bread. I had to opt out of one section of my meal and unusually for me, I mostly ignored the chips (standard fried frozen fare) in favour of the fish and salad.
My sea bass bore a passing resemblance to a run over pigeon (no really, look at it. Doesn’t it look a bit like a flattened bird?). It had been mostly deboned and the head left on for anyone annoying enough to want to poke around the eyes and jaw and loudly insist that they’re the best bits. A spice rub akin to the magic powder that hangs around the bread had been rubbed into the exposed flesh.
The salads were plain carrot, citrus dressed chopped lettuce and earthy red cabbage, with a pickle on the side for some vinegary snap. I felt virtuous as I ate them.
Our waitress, who had been powered by pure perkiness all evening, came to our table with “some lovely, lovely Turkish delight and your lovely, lovely bill.” It was quite lovely – £27.30, including a Diet Coke and a pineapple juice but not including service. Like Silk Road opposite it, FM Mangal offers enormous amounts of good food at stupidly reasonable prices. Another reason to be happy to be a South East Londoner.