After several (very) successful pop-ups all over London, chef Selin Kiazim finally made a permanent home for herself and her Turkish-Cypriot fare 18 months ago in the form of Oklava, inconspicuously nestled in the heart of Shoreditch. The restaurant opened to rave reviews, but could their gluten-free offerings also live up to the plaudits? I went along to find out…
As I stepped through the entrance, I was welcomed by a plethora of incredible smells and knew immediately I was in for a treat. While Oklava’s weekday and Saturday evening menu is a la carte-based, my Sunday visit meant I was to enjoy the Sunday Feast – a set variety of sharing plates to be taken by the whole table combining both meze and hot dishes. There are 18 huge plates in total, although three are not gluten-free, taking the number to a (still very feast-like) 15.
Our food was bought to the table as soon as it was ready, which meant my companion and I tucked into the meze dishes first – hummus, cacik (tzatziki), marinated aubergine, grilled hellim (halloumi) and Cypriot pastirma. The hummus was the perfect introduction to our meal, being one of the smoothest and full-flavoured I’ve ever tasted, while the pastirma – bite-sized pieces of seasoned, air-dried beef – provided the perfect accompaniment. The marinated aubergine had a delightfully spicy kick, while the hellim was spot-on – grilled to perfection on the outside, with an inside bursting with hearty texture and flavour (no bland, squeaky, rubbery-ness here, thank you).
After this came the hot plates, which were a meat-eater’s paradise. On a day-to-day basis I tend to eat more veg than meat, but the fact I devoured everything put in front of me is a testament to just how good it was. I fell a little bit in love with the lamb doner – a million miles away from your typical greasy kebab house fare, thanks to superbly tender, small flakes of meat that melted in your mouth. The seftali (a skinless sausage) was juicy and succulent, while the chicken shish was subtly seasoned for a perfect flavour that wasn’t overpowering.
The staff at Oklava are very knowledgeable about allergens in the food they serve and will do everything they can to accommodate dietary requirements where possible. When they have the capacity and ability to use separate fryers, the chefs will do so; however, on occasions when the restaurant is very busy and does not have the time, the wait staff will inform the diner that in that instance, cross contamination cannot be avoided and will advise them to choose an alternative dish.
Oklava was a feast I was promised and a feast I most certainly had – and I don’t feel as if not being able to have a few of the dishes caused me to miss out in the slightest. The menu has evidently been very carefully considered and the food is lovingly prepared, both of which translated to a fantastic dining experience. Oklava is certainly worthy of all the praise it has received, and I cannot wait to return to try some different dishes on the a la carte menu.