WLC‘s resident hedonist, Lucy Shaw, heads to Turkish delight Kyseri in Fitzrovia for decadent Black Sea fondue, a sprightly Lebanese Cinsault and heavenly mushroom manti.
The concept: A Great British Menu regular, Selin Kiazim first wowed us with her modern take on Turkish-Cypriot cuisine at Oklava in Shoreditch, which she opened with her business partner Laura Christie in 2015 after cutting her teeth at Peter Gordon’s The Providores then heading up Kopapa in Covent Garden.
Meaning ‘rolling pin’ in Turkish, Oklava introduced us to next level Turkish delights like Black Sea cheese and butter pide (a Turkish take on pizza) with garlic and egg yolk; and mulberry glazed chicken with green chilli and yogurt. A cookbook soon followed.
Last summer Kiazim and Christie opened their second site, Kyseri, a quaint 35-cover space in Fitzrovia. The restaurant takes its name from the ancient city in Cappadocia known for its stuffed pasta parcels called ‘manti’ – the star of the show and a permanent fixture on the menu in London.
The décor: The pair have made good use of the narrow space, filling it with pot plants, low-hung filament bulbs and terracotta banquettes.
Its wooden floors, earthy tones and exposed brickwork add to the cosy neighbourhood vibe – diners keen for a quick fix can prop themselves up at the blue-tiled bar.
The food: While Kyseri shares similarities with Oklava, it’s very much its own venue with its own personality. As Ottolenghi has done for Middle Eastern cuisine in the UK, Kiazim is helping to shine a light on Turkish-Cypriot dishes in her distinctive contemporary style.
The menu is short and the majority of the dishes are designed to be shared. We kicked off with the Cypriot hellim loaf and Black Sea fondue – a decadent dish of two parts: warm fluffy hunks of halloumi-stuffed bread and a dinky iron pan filled with a molten pool of cheese to dip it in.
Being a cheese fiend, I dived right in and demolished the contents of the pan with concerning speed, fearing all the bread may have wrecked my appetite. But I soldiered gallantly on…
The salad game is strong at Kyseri, from the simple but powerful union of sweet tomatoes, cooling mint and crunchy croutons, to a more elaborate ensemble featuring smoky aubergine and courgette drenched in yoghurt, dotted with jewel-like pomegranate seeds and imbued with a fiery underbelly of spice that seemed to encapsulate the staple flavours of Turkish-Cypriot cuisine (minus the meat).
Signature dishes: The aforementioned manti are unmissable. While the beef, sour cherry and pine nut version is the dish Kyseri hangs its hat on, it was the mushroom, cheese and smoked butter twist that really turned our head. Rich, savoury and earthy, the pyramid-shaped pasta was blanketed in wild mushrooms and salty cheese.
The most glorious part of the dish with the layer of umami-rich mushroom purée beneath, so thick it was almost paté-like. The flavour was so sensational I had to go to war with my dining companion for the last few glorious scrapes of the plate.
The other pasta dish on offer – glossy erişte with walnuts, lemon-braised greens, sage, egg yolk and Tulum cheese is also intriguing and delicious, but after the majesty of the mushroom dish, was less mind-blowingly good.
If you have room for it, another show-stopper on the menu is the pistachio katmer pud with mastic parfait, grapefruit and verjus syrup. Pancake-like in appearance, the sweet, syrupy, wonderfully nutty dessert is theatrically constructed tableside for an added dash of theatre.
The drinks: Kyseri has used its Turkish-Cypriot leanings as a chance to flag up not only Turkish wines, but those from lesser-known nations like Greece, Lebanon, Armenia and Georgia, which are listed from the lightest to the fullest in body, rather than by price.
Our 2017 Urla Chardonnay from Turkey fell towards the end of the list due to its mouth-filling flavours of biscuit, butter, hazelnut and pear. A sprightly glass of Lebanese Cinsault from Domaine des Tourelles meanwhile, made from 60-year-old vines grown in the Bekaa Valley, charmed with notes of fig, cherry and plum.
Who to know: Our sommelier, Lara Morgan-Hill, was a star in the making, guiding us through the character of the wines on a list that could be intimidating to many, with enthusiasm and insight.
What could be done better: Not everything about our experience was perfect. I was sat in front of a window sill that jutted into my back throughout the evening, making for a somewhat uncomfortable experience.
Service began too speedily, then, after asking for the food to be staggered, almost ground to a halt, meaning a number of the dishes were cold by the time they arrived.
Last word: Kyseri is a neighbourhood gem full of reasonably priced Turkish delights and fascinating wines from far flung regions. The staff are friendly and laid-back, and Kiazim’s dishes cleverly reinterpret traditional Turkish-Cypriot cuisine through a contemporary London lens.
Kyseri, 64 Grafton Way, London W1T 5DN; Tel: +44 (0)20 7383 3717