I dread being asked the question “what are your hobbies?”
I get overcome with severe sweating and aggressive pangs of anxiety hit me from all angles as I fear if I answer the truth (the truth being ‘I don’t have any’) I’ll be thought of as the most inhumane boring person on the planet. I fear people will say things like ‘Really? That’s odd”. So, in my experience in these abhorrent situations the best thing to do is to bide one’s time whilst you plan an exit strategy and answer the question with another question “Hobbies?”. To which they then will answer, “you know, what do you do in your spare time?”. Eat is generally what I want to say, however it has come to my attention recently that Backgammon is in fact, one of my hobbies. Phew!
I have never thought of backgammon as a hobby. It has always been my ‘go to’ game. The one that I was brought up on and that my father taught me when I was only 9 years old. I used to play hours and hours with my sisters and incidentally taught one them to play who now completely whips my ass each time we battle on the board.
It is thought the game first originated in the Middle East, specifically Persia (Iran) where excavations have shown that a board race game was played at around 3000BC.
Nowadays Backgammon is universally played and namely in Turkey. They call the game Tavla and still name the sides of the dice with Persian numbers. They love the game so much and are considered to habit some of the best backgammon players in the world as voted by the WBF (World Backgammon Federation) Turkey also have their own Championship which is being hosted in Istanbul this year. The Turks are ferocious at the game and seemingly at cookery too. Well that’s exactly what I thought when I visited Oklava founders Laura Christie and Selin Kiazim’s new restaurant, Kyseri last week.
Situated on a lazy quiet corner near Warren Street, Kyseri has a cosy intimate feel on first entrance.
Jimmy and I sat down to some exquisite non-alcoholic cocktails called ‘Virgin Turkish Apple Sours’ which were Turkish apple tea, egg whites lemon and mint. Phenomenal.
We looked at the menu and a sigh of blissful relief washed over us. I could not have been more excited especially when I saw Muhamma and Seeded Sumac on the menu which we ordered, as well as some cured Pastirma.
Muhamma is a blended spread of walnuts and chilli. It’s delicious and this version just kept reaffirming to me how good it is. It came with a slice of seeded sumac bread which was baptised in fragrant olive oil. Yummy.
We then got the Cypriot Hellim (a kind of Haloumi cheese) Fondue. Not for the health or diet conscious. This was oozy, gooey, naughty, delicious.
But the star of the show for me (and Jimmy too) was the Beef & Sour Cherry Manti. Manti literally translates as ‘Dumpling’ or ‘Pasty’ in English. However, this had more of the texture and shape of generously sized ravioli or tortellini.
I cannot tell you, it was one of the most delicious things I’ve had all year. Al dente pasta, housing a rich, deep, fragrant beef filling with a silky but nutty yogurt sauce. Jimmy and I couldn’t believe it. It was truly up there with the best pasta I’ve ever had in flavour and texture and cookery. Yummy yummy yummy.
We then had pickled octopus which was fresh and light but so deep in flavour. It was extraordinary. The natural colours of the ingredients left a multi coloured rainbow dressing dazzling on the plate like a unicorn syrup. Incredible.
Jimmy also ordered the sweetbreads which he said and I quote were “Perfectly cooked with pops of flavour as much as colour on every bite. Very good”.
We were sure that pudding couldn’t be as good as our main courses, but low and behold the desserts certainly delivered. I had the Kaday and London Honey Ice Cream Sandwich with White Peaches and Raspberry Caramel and Jimmy had the baked Mahleo Custard Roasted Cherries and Almond Crumble both of which took our breath away.
The Ice cream sandwich was sweet, sticky, but was perfectly flavoured and smooth. When hitting the Raspberry caramel, the ‘sandwich’ casing turned almost chewy and gummy like a fruit pastel. It was amazing. (My only feedback was the whipped cream was not needed on the plate).
Jimmy’s Baked Custard and Cherries however blew the sandwich right out the water. Crunchy, sweet, crumble with creamy interestingly flavoured set custard, and sweet & sour roasted moreish cherries. Dreamy.
I’ve not yet been to Oklava but I am definitely going to venture there as soon as physically possible. I am in complete awe of these two incredible women for creating such a gastronomic glory.
Kiazim first worked under Peter Gordon at The Providores, before becoming head Chef at Kopapa which then lead to some pop ups before starting up with Laura Christie and opening Oklava.
I have read extensive write ups on Kiazim on how she has always had an ‘Ottolenghi style approach’ to cookery and restaurants. This could not be more inaccurate, in fact, if it had ever been true it’s done a complete 180. Ottolenghi should have a more Kiazim approach especially when it comes to flavour. I reviewed Rovi in my last post and Kyseri is exactly what I think Ottolenghi was hoping to achieve. An unpretentious restaurant with flavour bursting food that is totally memorable.
I’ve never been this lost for words before or this positive in a review. I couldn’t fault anything. If I was being extremely picky maybe the basin in the one loo downstairs was too small (you couldn’t fit both your hands in when washing them) but that’s it.
If my dinner had been a backgammon game I would have been doubling that dice after every course urging and knowing that Kyseri would backgammon whoever was sitting on the other side.
Cheers (şerefe) to Kyseri and to my first 5 Star review.
Rating (0-5) *****