Head cheese. What do those two words conjure up for you? Cheese that’s so complex only connoisseurs will really enjoy it? The rare Eurovision entries that err on the subtle and sophisticated? Motherese for ‘bogies’?
As a relative newcomer to the meat landscape, I had no clue. Fortunately, at The Counter, a Turkish grill restaurant near Portobello Road, they spell it out for you. Brain. Tongues. Plus salad and spices. I simply had to try it.
If you search for pictures of head cheese (aka brawn), what you see isn’t very appealing. Meat terrines set in aspic, straight out of a 1960s cupboard. The Turkish version is much fresher, though no less intimidating if you’re only an occasional carnivore. You can make out the curves of the tongue. By deduction, you can work out which bits are brain. It’s basically a bowl of brown mush (costing £12), so there’s no getting away from what you’re eating. But with the added distraction of the za’atar-y flatbread, it is really rather moreish. And you get quite the thrill out of chowing down something so objectively grisly in such a refined setting. This is essentially Notting Hill remember, so as much thought has gone into the crockery and furniture and general vibes as the food.
You get quite the thrill out of chowing down something so objectively grisly in such a refined setting.
It’s easily the most interesting thing on the menu. But the rest – posh dips, healthy salads, incredibly tasty grilled meat – is largely good, if unrevolutionary, too. Everything here is inspired by the cuisine of south-east Anatolia, and of all the plates we tried, the £28 lamb chops were the standout. These glorious slabs were delicate and smoky – that’ll be thanks to the open-fire charcoal grill behind the titular counter – and a couscous salad of apricot, mint and pomegranate made for a zingy accompaniment. So did a şalgam cocktail, a Turkish twist on the Margarita made with fermented black carrot and turnip juice that’s so fresh and quaffable you’ll want to order three.
Less good were the desserts. The baked tahini halva wasn’t to our tastes. Not quite sweet, not quite savoury. Too big and too stodgy. The sage-infused rice pudding was marginally better, definitely finishable, though I wouldn’t order it again. So stick to dips, salad and kebabs, in other words. Plus, if you can stomach it, the head cheese may just be the most foul-sounding yet exquisite dish you’ll try in years.
The vibe Upscale Turkish food in a just-as-upscale Notting Hill location.
The food Kebabs, salads and dippy things that are meant for sharing (if you’re nice).
The drink Cocktails that put a fresh Anatolian spin on the classics.
Time Out tip Skip dessert and order more of the good stuff further up the menu.