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The kebab revolution, from takeaways to fine dining

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Few town centres in the UK lack a kebab shop: the dish that once merely had a late-night reputation has in fact had a clear and positive social impact not just in London, but all of Britain’s cities.

It is fair to say that Britain has found a great love for the sliced and diced piece of meat from the east.

It was aptly reflected on by comedian Arthur Smith who claims he first fell in love with doner kebabs in Paris, before the dish became more common in the UK.

Then there were popular TV culture references like Harry Enfield’s “Stavros the kebab shop owner”, which was popular in his 1990s sketch comedy show.

This popularity owes a great part to migration of Turkish Cypriot, then mainland Turkish and Kurdish workers in search. Utter the phrase, “do you want chilli sauce with that?” and few Brits will not be able to identify it to a local store. Most will be able to tell you that it was a Turkish chap in a kebab shop, or someone Greek, or from the Middle East.

The entrepreneurs, who offered traditional foods such as kebab in traditionally decorated places, started to change their businesses by keeping their kebab-based menus constant after a while.

North London restaurants such as Gokyuzu, Selale and Diyarbakır, which are concentrated in areas such as Haringey Green Lanes and Hackney’s Stoke Newington, have undergone serious changes in the last ten years. These businesses, which spend serious money on their eye-catching decor, have started to pay attention to detail like the presentation of the food to the appearance of the waiters. Along with traditional dishes such as yoghurt kebab, doner and Iskender, their menus now boast cocktails like the Mojito.

The interest in restaurants has transformed the place of kebab businesses from a takeaway-only model to venues where big businesses such as old pubs have been converted.

And kebab restaurants have started to attract thousands of customers, especially Friday and Saturday nights, making it clear that the UK’s perception of Turkish food overall does not reflect the what the cuisine truly has to offer.

Case study: Veyso’s journey from a takeaway to Brassiere

Veysi Tangul, or Veyso as his nickname is, has been working in the food industry since he was seventeen years old: “Back then I used to work all evening and go out in Romford or central London straight after”.  

Veyso started in a small takeaway restaurant in Romford and two decades later, now owns and runs that very same restaurant renamed Veyso’s Restaurant. However, he had a different dream: in all his years of dining and experience in the food industry as well as his love of socialising and going out he felt that nowhere in the UK combined all of those elements with high quality Turkish food.

“I always loved going out and the atmosphere of nightclubs, to me it completed my night”.

Veyso wanted to combine the experience and exclusivity of a night out with high quality Turkish dining and he has succeeded in doing just that. The idea was to bring a true representation of the richness of Turkish food and the atmosphere of Istanbul nights out on the town. Veyso’s Brasserie is designed completely by Veyso bringing together the two worlds of quality dining and a party atmosphere.  Veyso also brings East and West together to create a completely unique experience of escape from the ordinary hustle and bustle of daily life. From the outside Veyso’s Brasserie looks quaint and contained. Situated in a listed building in Hertford you would never imagine the shift in your surroundings as soon as you were inside. But you can feel it as soon as you step into the restaurant, as though you are transported to another world in a warmer climate.

Veysi Tangul, is one of the first to make changes that can be considered as innovations in kebab businesses.

On entry you are greeted by a friendly smartly dressed host and seated in a comfortable lounge area with a DJ booth and speakers. The lounge is set against a wall of wine bottles displayed uniquely as per Veyso’s instruction. Walking through the restaurant is a delight for the senses, especially at night. Each area is unique and well thought out with touches of detail that nod to Turkish tradition. Veysi arranged for each doorway and several tables around the restaurant to be individually handcrafted in Turkey and sent to the UK on completion. The process involves a craftsman carving out small symmetrical shapes by hand with a small hammer and a series of wires to be inlayed with high quality mother of pearl. To explain exactly how much work goes into this one element of the restaurant, Veyso explained that the mother of pearl is shaved down to fit the cuttings in the wood – a process which is also completed by hand. Some walls are covered in small pebbles which have been designed specifically for the restaurant whilst others are covered in wooden discs and sculpted stone slabs. Contrasting these detailed traditional fixtures with the modern features like grand chandeliers or the bar which acts as a centre piece to the restaurant creates a unique atmosphere at that takes you away from the routine of daily life.

Kebab lovers from Hertfordshire enjoy their favourite kebabs in Veyso’s Brasserie.

Delicious kebabs in a nice garden terrace

The restaurant is adjoined to a spacious outdoor garden terrace. Partially covered for the unpredictable British weather and partly exposed for the glorious bursts of sunshine. Even here, the palm trees and layout of the terrace affirm the idea that this is a place away from home. This is the setting for what Veyso hopes will be the newest addition to his restaurant – live entertainment. Veyso insists on staying ahead of the curb in the world of hospitality and regularly visits new restaurant concepts both in London and internationally. These visits provide Veyso with the inspiration he needs to make additions and tweaks to his restaurant both in design and in the food offered.

The marrying of traditional elements and touches of modern life can be seen in the menu as well. Deep fried calamari and avocado and beetroot salad sit alongside lahmacun and lamb shish. Here, the real range of Turkish cuisine can be seen both in its authenticity and the quality of ingredients.

An extensive list of cocktails a long with a range of premium champagne alongside Raki. Dining at Veyso’s is intended to be an experience and an experience it is. I was treated to an ice cold pornstar martini with fresh passionfruit and the right amount of sweetness to take the edge off a long week as I welcomed Friday. To begin with, a selection of the most popular starters: Falafel, fluffy on the inside and encased in a crispy shell next to grilled halloumi slices and juicy meatballs. East meets West with fried calamari, a spiced and sliced beef sausage and cheesy borek.

As the daylight faded away and the weekend began to creep in the mood softly changed too. The music became slightly louder and more upbeat, the lights were turned down low and the weekend was truly upon us. The staff were friendly and weaved in and out making sure that everyone was attended to without being intruded on. Our empty platter was taken away and another drink procured. This is not the kind of place you can stroll in with trainers and loungewear and after the long year of staying at home it’s a refreshing change. Veyso’s Brasserie prides itself on being somewhere to go on the weekend where you can feel everyone has made an effort and it shows.

The main arrived and it is a Brasserie favourite, a chunky and succulent lamb shish. A generous portion of melt in your mouth lamb with fluffy rice and crispy fresh vegetables lined up alongside each other. The lamb was lightly spiced to bring out the best of the umami flavour and complement the taste of the meat.

And although at this point it felt as though there was no room for anything else, the dessert was too hard to resist. Traditional Turkish filo pastry and fresh roast pistachio served with vanilla ice cream. The filo pastry both crisp and moist made the dessert feel so light that it only added to the experience and did not cause any discomfort. Contrasted with the fresh richness of Turkish coffee and the light breeze on a warm evening I couldn’t think of a better way to end the night. 

Nicol Lamaa

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