I once had a really awful flatmate. His bedroom smelled like the London Zoo reptile house, his taste in music offended me and he often left the bathroom in a state of apocalyptic dilapidation. But I put up with it for one reason. He was a great chef. You do that, don’t you? Overlook the repulsive habits that make a person unfit to be a co-habiter, because they can knock up a decent chargrilled Norfolk quail. I only mention this because if The Nook’s chef Lalé Oztek-Pook was my flatmate, she could get away with absolute murder and I’d be fine with it – her cooking is that good.
The Nook, built on the white-tiled bones of Highbury’s much-missed Linden Stores bar, and run by a winsome husband-and-wife team. It sits awkwardly on a narrow bit of pavement, directly opposite a mysterious bubble tea shack.
Upstairs, you’ll find the kinetic Angus who does front of house and knows loads about wine. But he’d be the first to admit that, for all his talent, he’s essentially the Flava Flav to his wife’s Chuck D. You can tell Angus is as gob-smacked by Lalé’s Turkish-inspired, deeply personal cooking as the rest of us, and he talks about it like a teenager gushing to his mates about a new band that’s just changed his life.
Lalé trained at Cordon Bleu (and paid her dues at Oklava, Kyseri, and The Mash Inn), stays mostly out of sight, a Michelin-worthy Santa’s elf, toiling away in the kitchen downstairs. Alone. I mean really alone. Not only is she picking up veg on the way to work, she’s also pot washing and occasionally even rushing plates of food up and down the stairs. It makes you wonder how she finds the energy and time to cook the actual dishes.
Everything zings and everything snaps
On our visit my mate and I ate nearly everything on the changing menu and there wasn’t a dud among them. Her locally famous crispy courgette dolma bites with wild garlic and lemon yoghurt were sensational and deserving of their renown. The pickled naga chilli houmous, topped with crunchy chickpeas (like savoury Maltesers), was banging. And it would be remiss to not mention the burrata, crowned with a lattice of almond-studded samphire. Everything zings and everything snaps.
The sea bass swimming in beurre blanc was nestled within an underbrush of pak choi and peas. Alongside a couple of saucy lamb and bulgar meatballs, which kicked my goddamn ass. The best dish? Hands down the hazelnut praline parfait with miso butterscotch and crunchy cocoa nibs. I’m not really a dessert guy but this thing was from another planet and, in my opinion, has a flavour that exists outside of the English language’s domain.
My companion and I were left almost speechless by the consistency, charm and power of every dish. As far as medium-spenny restaurants go it’s not as slick as some of its better-established neighbours, but who cares when the food and its creators are so nice? The Nook deserves to be up there with Trullo, Black Axe Mangal and Sambal Shiok as part of the Highbury Restaurant Power Quartet. Long live Lalé.
The vibe Hanging out at a really talented mate’s house.
The food Mediterranean and Turkish-inspired. But touched by the grace of god.
The drinks Very special. Gus knows his stuff. We had some delicious orange wine and also a sort of hybrid beer-wine (by La Brasserie Du Mont Saleve) that made both me and my companion nod furiously.
Time Out tip It’s all great but if you skip the dessert it’s like going to see Metallica and walking out before they play Master of Puppets.