We stand on the cusp of another Olympic year: cookery, sadly, is not included in the Games, but The Gannet often dreams idly of what such a global competition might be like.
One of the most keenly contested events would surely be the dumpling category. There is barely a cuisine I can think of that does not have something starchy and steamed close to its heart: dim sum, pierogi, potstickers, Brazilian bolinhas, Nepalese momos, to name just a few, as well as a host of filled pastas that technically qualify.
Gold, however, might well go to Selin Kiazim, a London chef with Turkish-Cypriot heritage. Oklava, her Shoreditch restaurant, specialises in breads and grills – lahmacun, pide, kokorec (an offal sausage) – but the menu at its little sister, Kyseri in Fitzrovia, is built around manti: dumplings.
These are traditionally tiny – a skilful bride would, apparently, aim for 40 in a spoonful to impress her mother-in-law – but Kiazim has rethought them. Cornish butcher Philip Warren’s finest minced beef is mixed with shredded parsley, sour cherries and a whisper of fennel, and worked into walnut-sized chunks that are wrapped in homemade pasta and boiled.
They are then smothered in a garlicky yoghurt sauce and tomato chilli butter, crimson and smoky with Turkish peppers; finally, toasted pine nuts and tiny sprigs of thyme are scattered over the bulging, four-cornered dumplings and their rich, shimmering sauce. As Kiazim will admit, they are not authentic, but they are delicious, and Kyseri is the most charming little restaurant in which to enjoy them. You should also try the house-cured pastirma, washed down with something from Kiazim’s business partner Laura Christie’s terrific Turkish wine list.
At Yeni in Soho, meanwhile, chef/proprietor Civan Er is also raiding the Turkish larder and bending a few rules. His Istanbul restaurant Yeni Lokanta has won many admirers for its modern approach, and his London outpost – packed when I had dinner, on a Monday night – seems to be doing the same.
Excellent sourdough and acma (a Turkish bagel) arrived with smoked butter; 12-month aged feta, burnished on the grill, is dressed with spinach, spiced honey and hazelnuts; beetroot is braised in olive oil and served with sour cherries and xigalo, a soft Cretan cheese; and sardines are wrapped in vine leaves, grilled, and partnered with smoked tomatoes.
The handsome, high-ceilinged, gently lit dining room is as contemporary as the food: bare bricks, dark wood tables and bistro chairs, with a few strips of blue Iznik-style tiles lending an Anatolian frisson.
Most Londoners’ experience of Turkish cuisine comes from late-night kebabs: using their passion and skill, Kiazim and Er are trying to reshape that perception. For that, they both merit places on my culinary podium.