Some restaurants you go to because they’re new. Others you go to for reliability. Some you might even go to because they look so damn pretty on your pal’s Insta and you can’t wait to put it on your own. You should visit Dilara, on Finsbury Park’s Blackstock Road, for absolutely none of these reasons.
From the outside, you’d think this was just another low-key kebab shop. But if you’ve walked past it and not entered you’ve been sorely missing out.
Dilara is one of just a handful of Uyghur spots in London. Uyghurs are an ethnically Turkish group, predominantly Muslim, from Xinjiang in China. The Uyghur population is very small in London, and many people have only heard of Uyghurs because of their ongoing persecution by the Chinese government. Their food is a blend of northern Chinese dishes like noodles and dumplings, and kebabs, meat bread and rice dishes with raisins. The meat is halal and lamb features heavily.
Head past the takeaway counter to find a lively, brightly lit restaurant, with tables pushed close together, huge sharing plates of food and families and groups all tucking in. There are no starters and the food may change a little every time you visit. You eat by Dilara’s rules.
Cutting into these cold, slippery square-shaped noodles was like starring in your own ASMR video
The menu is a mix of hot and cold, saucy and soupy. An Uyghur salad came first, made up of peppers, carrot and cucumber in a thick coriander-and-chilli sauce. Usually served with vermicelli, this time it arrived with thick noodles and the new and slightly bizarre addition of red kidney beans. It was warmly spicy with powerful hits of numbing szechuan peppercorn – try not to chomp on them – and was a decent side order, but it was out-wowed by the lampung. These are cold, slippery square-shaped noodles (we’re talking 1cm by 1cm), swimming in vinegary chilli goodness and cutting into them was like starring in your own ASMR video.
The meat, of course, is truly where it’s at. Lamb skewers, chicken and beef are cooked on a tiny charcoal grill, which fills Dilara with tantalising aromas. The tugure dumplings, soft pockets of lamb and onions, were rich and fragrant. Chicken wings were crispy, salty and beautifully charred, sitting on buttery bulgar wheat. If you can squeeze it in, be sure to get some bread (on the house) to mop up all those incredible juices.
There’s only one alcoholic drink on the menu: Chinese beer Wusu, a pale, malty lager that pairs well with rich food. You’re not likely to be served it anywhere else, which slightly takes the edge off the steep £7.50 price tag. It was brought over in a can. When we asked for a glass, we got latte glasses.
We had to wait for our final dish – all part of Dilara’s charm – but luckily it turned out to be the star of the show. Dishes are brought out at the same time for everyone else in the restaurant who has ordered them, and a hush fell upon the room when the hand-pulled noodles arrive. You can get them in broth or stir-fried. We opted for the non-brothy version, the qoruma chop. Imagine if pici and biang biang had a baby and doused it in a rich, tangy, slightly sour chilli oil – that’s these precious noods. Tossed through veggies and spring onions (you can get them with lamb and beef too), they came in varying twisty shapes and sizes and had a thick chew. Like a lot of Dilara’s food, it was a massive portion. You will need to share.
To finish, baklava is usually offered on the house, which is a treat. Dilara is happy for you to sit and enjoy yourself for hours, so you might need to remind staff about the bill.
The vibe A lively, no-frills Uyghur restaurant with a tiny open kitchen.
The food Big and meaty sharing plates, dumplings, noodles, kebabs and salads.
The drink One very nice Chinese beer (potentially sipped from a latte glass), or a choice of hot teas.
Time Out tip Visit in a group so you can try a bit of everything, and definitely order the hand-pulled noodles.