Muswell Hill's Posh Kebab House
By Greg on 1 March 2012
There is an ancient Chinese saying, something along the lines of: “Never complain about a restaurant where a man with a massive knife sits by the door”. This seems like a sensible piece of advice, but happily it’s not one which I had to pay heed to upon exiting Kilim, Muswell Hill’s excellent Turkish grill on Fortis Green Road.
Similar in style to, though more elaborate than, the myriad, authentic Turkish grills on Green Lanes in southern Haringey, Kilim is entirely devoid of pretension and wears its homely, take-away vibe firmly on its white, stained apron. By the door you have the “meat bar” where the restaurant displays its meaty wears on metal skewers, the grill chef sitting by the fire ready to plunge his meat into the furnace - a sight not dissimilar to “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”, though involving more smiles and less torture. Everything looks dead fresh, and the profusion of colourful vegetables and greenery gives the impression you’re not letting yourself in for a protein overdose.
Past the meat bar is the restaurant seating area, well-decorated but not ostentatious, and definitely with enough atmosphere to ensure you never think you’re just at the back of a takeaway. A touch of the Orient and a soupcon of the Sultanahmed in the exotic lighting, vaulted ceiling and flat woven kilim adorning the wall is enough to almost convince that you could be in the famous Istanbul Pudding Shop. It was quiet when I visited, though when it gets busy (and I’m sure it does) the tables are a good distance apart so that that you wouldn’t feel squished (more than I can say for some similar Islington eateries). Service was quick, friendly and helpful but never intrusive.
Meat, of course, is the order of the day, but to stave off the inevitable we ordered hummus and halloumi to start. Until recently I was firmly of the belief that you can never go wrong with hummus, until I went to a Persian “restaurant” in Milton Keynes that shattered my childlike chickpea innocence. Happily Kilim’s hummus is perfect – thick, dense and good enough to smear on someone you love. And, as something of a halloumi aficionado I know a rogue block of cheese when I see one. Kilim’s cheese is far from rogue – salty, multi-layered, thick, and appropriately squidgy. In fact, I’d be willing to throw out that Kilim has the best halloumi I’ve had in London, which in itself is enough reason to return.
But enough of the soft stuff – bring on the meat. There’s a good choice of tempting meat dishes – we went for the kalep kebab (grilled minced lamb, fresh tomato with bread) and the beyti (minced lamb spiced with garlic and parsley, with rice and salad). The kalep is like a tomato stew with tender chunks of minced lamb and plenty of bread to soak up the thick mush. The concoction is awash with taste and texture, each mouthful a delight of spice and flavour, never veering into disappointing liquidity. If it wasn’t so filling I could’ve eaten quite a bit more. The beyti was exactly what you’d expect – a couple of logs of juicy meat with rice and salad. It would be difficult to go wrong, and they don’t. Everything on the plate tastes fresh and authentic, and though there are no prizes for presentation (you’re definitely in the wrong place if you’re expecting Roux-like daintiness) the food disappears so quickly that pretentiousness would fit like a nun in a whorehouse.
With the meat sweats beginning to set in, dessert would have been a Creosote-like error. Instead we paid (£35 for starters, mains and wine - a bargain) waved goodbye to the spike-wielding chap by the meat bar, and went off happily into the night, content that next time we wanted an authentic tasting Turkish kebab we wouldn’t have to brave the Tartarus of Manor House. Highly recommended, and not just so I can avoid a skewering.