Fusion restaurants are ten a penny in London these days. Seemingly, each week a new glitzy opening offers some hybrid cuisine, ranging from excellent to awful. Just this week,
The Guardian’s Grace Dent derided a monumental venture backed by Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Nadal and Enrique Iglesias (which sounds like the beginning of a “walked into a bar” joke). The “Meppon” fare, a mixture of Mediterranean – in itself a huge variety of cuisines – and Japanese, was described as “drab” and “tasting of very little.”
Dilara, on the grubby north end of Blackstock Road in Finsbury Park, doesn’t offer fusion cuisine. It is, does, however, provide an odd sort of synthesis. On the face of it, it’s a regular Turkish kebab shop. As you walk in, you’re greeted by a glass counter with
carefully stacked skewers of lamb and chicken; a barbecue is roaring. It smells of smoky, burning fat. Regulars leave clutching takeaway wraps. Even more than lazy fusion, London is stacked with Turkish kebabs, many of which are excellent. But I’ve come for Chinese. A single restaurant serving both Turkish and Chinese sounds strange to the point of off-putting. Sweet and sour chicken with hummus? No thanks.
Dilara, however, is one of a growing number of Uyghur eateries in the capital. Further east in Walthamstow, there’s Etles, while down south in Camberwell, Silk Road has become a cult classic, lauded by respected critics like Jay Rayner. As its local, however, I decided to dip my toes into a new cuisine (for me) here.
The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group living mostly in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang. Primarily Muslim, their cuisine nods heavily to the Middle East (kebabs, flatbreads) while retaining a Chinese feel (noodles, chilli). In this context, a Turkish-Chinese hybrid restaurant doesn’t seem so strange.
Decor is basic; service is friendly if slow. On a cold Monday evening in November, it flits between almost empty and almost full, with a mostly Chinese clientele. I bring my pal Nic, an expert in Asian food. The menu, thankfully, is pared back, with around 10 options including starters and gargantuan sharing plates.
We opt for Uyghur kebabs, succulent cumin-loaded chunks of lamb that arrive on a sabre. £2 each with a minimum of three represents good value, particularly for the wrap on which they come, to mop up the juices. Divine.
Another starter isn’t listed on the menu but comes recommended by our waitress. Samsas (practically every country from Portugal to Indonesia has its version of a samosa), are cricket ball shaped pastries filled with lamb and beef. The meat was tender and flavoursome,
though the pastry was a little stodgy. Essentially, it was a round Cornish pasty. We shared a main (I recommend you do too). The descriptively named “large plate chicken” claims to feed 2-3; it’s enough for a small battalion. Copious amounts of the best bits of chicken – bone, skin and gristle included – are fried then cooked until tender in an extremely punchy sauce of ginger, orange zest, red peppers, numbing Sichuan peppers, garlic and a not-so-subtle hit of star anise.
It’s sweet and sour and spicy and salty in all the right measures, and leaves the mouth tingling for hours. Underneath, noodles and potatoes mop up the flavours. Nic wasn’t a fan of the thick, chewy wheaten noodles; for me they hit the spot. A side Langpung salad was underwhelming.
The service at Dilara was extremely friendly if a tad unattentive. On-the-house tea and an overly sweet rice pudding was a nice touch. The bill came to £34, for far more food than anyone deserves. Is it better than Etles or Silk Road? I don’t know, I haven’t been.
What I do know is I’ve found a new alternative to the also excellent regional Chinese at Xi’an Impression for my pre- or post- Arsenal match meals.
Article by Beats Traveller – Tomé Morrissy-Swan | Lifestyle Writer.