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What's the deal?
These days, going out for a meal in London as a budget-conscious diner is a minefield: are those prices for sharing plates or individual portions? How many dishes could I reasonably order to feel full? Can a plate of padron peppers really cost that much? Ordering has become a sweat-inducing, high-stakes game where one wrong move could land you with a £150 bill.
Enter the set menu. Recently, loads of restaurants have pivoted to this model (see Bubala, Peg, et al.). Oklava – a popular Turkish-Cypriot spot in Shoreditch – is one of the latest. After a rocky few pandemic years that saw the restaurant close its bakery outpost after just eight weeks, they’re taking a punt on a set format, hoping that it will draw patrons who are keen on something a bit more special. Their new menu may have the feel of occasion dining, but at just £48 per head (including service), it hardly feels out of reach. The small, minimally-decorated dining space also feels pretty caj – only a few scattered tables means diners are just as likely to sit at the counter.
That £48 investment bags you a button-busting spread made to share between two. Diners get to choose two dishes from three sections, loosely divided between starters, mains, and sides – an excellent system that mixes the benefits of ordering a la carte (choice) with those of a set menu (no price surprises, a predictable output for the kitchen, a steady income for the restaurant). Everyone starts with girit ezmesi (a walnut and ricotta dip) served with sourdough crackers; from there, it’s a hitlist of all your Turkish and Cypriot favourites, each done extremely well: honey-dripped hellim, cheese pide, lahmacun. There are also a few surprises thrown in that speak to chef Selin Kiazim’s knack for incorporating Western indulgences into her eastern-Meditarranen lexicon – like the kavurma pidesi (another flatbread-based Turkish dish), stuffed with confit beef and stringy cheese.
So, in our view, Oklava’s experiment is a triumph. If you’re still keen to go a la carte, you can still do so at lunchtime – but you’d be missing out on a finely-tuned feast for an excellent value. Doesn’t get much better than that.
What should I eat?
That glorious Cypriot invention, halloumi, is at its absolute best here: a thick slab carved with deep ridges from the grill, drenched in a pool of honey then scattered with mint. Firm and flame-licked on the outside, chewy on the inside, it’s a solid ten.
Unmissable as well is the pide, here made Black Sea-style with a circular crust that’s charred, honeyed, caked in herbs and za’atar and shaped into a shallow bowl, then filled with cheese and crowned with a cracked egg.
You’ll have to pay a bit extra, but the künefe is well worth it – Oklava’s version of the classic Turkish dessert is served tongue-searingly hot, with layers and layers of stringy pastry, honey-soaked and topped with clotted cream and pistachios. Cut into it to let a river of molten cheese spill out.
Why should I go?
For a great-value feast at a London favourite.