The evolution of the mighty Mangal II has become London food lore. The first restaurant brought charcoal ocakbasi cooking from Istanbul to the UK in the early 1990s and a few years later came the larger, loftier Mangal II. Owner Ali Dirik made it London’s most-loved Turkish grill, famous for juicy lamb chops, bountiful borek and lashings of squeaky hellim cheese. A bastion of value slap-up feasts and home to hungover group gatherings in rapidly gentrifying Dalston, the great and the good and the absolutely ravenous of East London flocked in their droves. Once I sat so close to Diane Abbott I could have helped myself to her hummus.
Though Mangal II’s food remained traditional for over two decades, other things did not. In 2012 Ferhat Dirik – son of Ali – made Mangal II’s Twitter the sassiest social media account you ever scrolled; slagging off Mumford and Sons one minute and brutally baiting local hipsters the next, all while harbouring a vicious vendetta against the neighbouring Nando's.
In 2021 there was yet another change of tack. Despite their reputation as Hackney’s kings of kofte, Mangal II was in trouble due to Covid closures and worrying debts. Ali handed the grill to another son, Sertaç, who had been cheffing in Copenhagen at Noma’s sister spot 108. With no great fuss, Mangal II became a much more bougie proposition. There was also a lowkey refit; a blue and white paint job, the flashy red sign replaced by a sleek sans serif logo and a suitably wry poster by local artist Babak Ganjei directing punters to the loo.
The lack of fanfare surrounding the makeover is to Mangal’s credit. Rather than ushering in a wave of foodie show-offs and giddy TikTokkers, the clientele remains largely the same as before, and the food – which was always great – more refined, but still indulgent. Consider the fabulously oily, palm-sized sourdough pide. To slather cultured kaymak butter on the already oozing bread seems pure sluttishness, but we do it anyway. Zero regrets. A cull yaw kofte is next, a meaty nod to Mangal II’s menu of old, but accessorised with the spoils of Sertaç’s Nordic tutelage in a sweet splodge of grilled apple.
Young chefs wear iconic Mangal II merch; a ‘Love Kebabs; Hate Racism’ shirt
Everything pings out of the cosy open kitchen, where young chefs wear iconic Mangal II merch; a ‘Love Kebabs; Hate Racism’ shirt. A grill restaurant it might be, but veggies get a decent look-in. Fermented red pepper sarma – stuffed cabbage leaves plonked in herby yogurt – is so pretty I feel like an absolute bastard for attacking it with a fork. The mushroom manti is also a triumph; delicate dumplings with roasted chanterelles and black trompettes surrounded by softly spiced broth, though £23 seems steep for a relatively small dish. A tartare with a twist, the chopped beef ezme with fried bulgar and smoked pastirma is a comparative mountain of meat.
Dessert is faultless. A tahini and apple tart smothered with cherry stone cream, is chunky and zingy, while an elegant, extremely manageable pear sorbet with grilled grape and anise hyssop coulis makes for the perfect ‘I still want pudding but I’m full’ pudding.
Prices soar up to £74 a bottle on a punchy wine list, but the cheapest glass – a v drinkable Vinho Verde for £7 – more than does the job.
While Mangal II’s hefty prices wouldn’t cause a wink in Soho, they come as something of a shock on Kingsland Road – even if they are, in part, due to the inclusion of 12.5% gratuity. Mangal II remains one of London’s finest, but be prepared to dip a whole lot deeper into your pockets than back in the day.
The vibe High-end dining in a room you may possibly have sunk a Çöp Şiş in during a comedown in 2014.
The food Turkish cuisine according to the supremely talented Sertaç Dirik.
The drink You simply must sample a ‘picklerak’; cloudy, ice cold raki chased with a crimson fermented turnip juice.
Time Out tip Don’t skip the puds. They are perfection.