Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Restaurant Review; Flame

I love lahmacun, the crispy base, the rich meaty lamby topping, the fact that I can buy a great one for £1.40 round the corner from me.  Also it must be healthy, surely you can't buy that many calories for £1.40... surely (he says grabbing belly).  It is much to my surprise, therefore, that my new favourite Green Lanes restaurant does not sell lahmacun.  What's even more surprising is that it's still Turkish.  Turkish, no lahmacun, favourite... how odd.  So what's so great about this place (the food obviously, but why).  Amazing, amazing grilling skills - something key to any ocakbasi experience - and a real, attention and care to making sure that everything about what are at root simple dishes is just right.

This place is pretty unassuming, the exterior looks like any number of Turkish places on Green Lanes.  A bit of neon with photo displays of their food and some doner meat spiralling in the window.  Good sign number one is that the doner is made of real whole bits of meat, namely lots and lots of lamb breasts.  This isn't too healthy given what a fatty cut it is, but it is infinitely better quality than your usual post pub snack which isn't even meat, but is in fact soya soaked in fat and juice from lamb grilled in gian vats.  Thanks to Radio 4's food program for that disgusting fact.  Nothing like that here.  Instead the polar opposite.  Fresh fish in the window, and good quality meat is what you're getting here.  So don't be put off by the simple exterior and generic shop front.

Me and one of my main food buddies started with a fantastic dish of Albanian style lambs liver.  Lambs liver is strong, and its not something normally served as creamy as calves or chicken.  T he difficulty is that because of this it can be really grainy.  Not at all at Flame - perfect, just set cubes of liver had been fried in a light coating of flour and paprika that had crisped up giving a lovely extra textural element.  Also the little bits of fried flour that had fallen off the liver had blended with the fat and parika to make a lovely film of lovely juice with - and this is the best thing in all food - lovely crispy bits.  I know its a very simple dish, fried liver with paprika, a little bit of onion salad and some lemon to cut through the fat so its difficult to impart quite how brilliantly it was done and how immensely satisfying, but it was.

Next our friendly and efficient waitress brought over a good salad with sections of lettuce, grated carrot, some olives and red cabbage flavoured with horseradish.  Alongside came a tomato salsa, that I was a bit non-plussed by and a lovely cooling yoghurt dip.  While we were eating away at that our mains arrived.  Given the starter we were pretty excited and thankfully they lived up to expectations.    My adanda kebabs were minced lamb with parsley and red-peppers which lent a sweetness and spice to them.  The kebabs needed this to balance what is an extraordinarily rich kebab, with a high fat content.  Without the vegetal flavour it might have been too much.  The key flavour in the balance though was a fantastic deep charcoal charring from the grill, that had created a brilliantly crispy, crunchy exterior whilst leaving the insides really juicy.  The rice and potatoes on the side weren't amazing but I didn't care, the bread was all I really wanted anyway.

The other dish was ali nazik, pieces of lamb on top of a bed of yoghurt and smoked aubergine puree.  The lamb cubes were large and charcoal grilled, where you often get little fried slices.  They also left them pink and juicy in the middle, seasoned the pieces perfectly and again they had the flavour of the smoke from that great grill.  This wonderful dense meaty texture and crispy exterior was matched with a smooth yoghurt sauce with a really good hit of aubergine flavour.  The tomato sauce helped give some sharpness.  I would have liked a slightly thicker yoghurt sauce, but this was delicious.  Really, really delicious.  Our waitress left us about the right time to digest before offering some turkish tea which was brought with a nice piece of baklava each.

I just can't express how lovely and comforting the food at Flame is.  Rich meat, soothing yoghurt, balanced with warm chilli.  All perfect for a winters evening.  But the attention to detail in the food is what elevates it and left me with a grin on my face for almost the whole meal.  And the cost for food (we drunk tapwater) - £22.  £22!!!!!  For two people, for big plates of food.  Salad, tea and backlava, and extra bread all turned up with no extra charge.  Brilliant.  For the carnivorous amongst you, I can't recommend this enough .  

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