Yosma 50 Baker Street, London W1U 7BT
Contact: 020 3019 6282 yosma.london
Price: Lunch for two: around £70 without alcohol
I am the worst kind of tourist. I go abroad without bothering to learn even a few token phrases from the local language first; I stay in the kind of resorts where almost everyone, including the staff, is British; and then I barely venture beyond the pool.
I experience next to nothing of the local customs or heritage. I don’t make friends, nor do I attempt to. I spend almost the entire time lazing around, eating too much, drinking too much, and reading thrillers. I’m not looking for adventure or spiritual enrichment, for immersion in other cultures or new worlds to conquer.
I’m looking for Britain, but hotter.
Take Turkey. I’ve been to Turkey twice, yet hardly saw it. The first time was for about six hours, on a stop-off during a Mediterranean cruise. (Cruises are perfect for people who like everything about going abroad except for the 'abroad’ bit.)
The second time was for a week-long stay at a holiday resort. The only time I set foot outside the resort was to board the coach back to the airport for the flight home.
I know. I’m appalling. I hate myself. I do. Just not quite enough to do anything about it.
Shamefully ignorant as I may be about Turkey’s land, history and culture, however, I do love its food. Which is why I was very keen to try Yosma, a Turkish restaurant that recently opened in London.
To judge by its size, the proprietor must be confident of making a success of it. Yosma is big, bright and spacious – a pleasant change, I think, given how poky so many new restaurants are. Sooner or later, I swear I’ll find myself reviewing a repurposed phone box.
Purely out of curiosity, I started by ordering a glass of salgam: fermented turnip juice. It’s extremely good for you, as you can tell from the fact it tastes absolutely foul. It was vinegary and wincingly sour. I felt as if I’d just drunk a jar of pickles.
To eat, I went for a wide range of hot and cold meze. The cold, on the whole, wasn’t great. The haydari (strained yogurt with garlic, mint, dill, parsley and walnuts) tasted like lumpy Philadelphia. The hummus was drab. The pancar (roasted golden beetroot with garlic oil and dill) was slivers of orangey nothing. The babaganuş (roasted aubergine pulp, lemon, garlic, oregano) was a plate of cold brown squelch.
Personally, I would recommend skipping the cold meze altogether and going straight to the hot. Because the hot were much better.
The sucuk, for example: an angry little sausage, livid red and bristling with spice. I loved it. Then there were the manti: Turkish dumplings stuffed with lamb neck, yogurt sauce, chilli oil and mint. Dreamily melt-in-the-mouth.
The halloumi was terrific, too, although perhaps I shouldn’t give credit for that, because you can’t go wrong with halloumi. I’ve never had halloumi that was anything less than delicious and I don’t expect to. God, I love it. Even the sound it makes as you chew it: that rubbery squeak, like plimsolls on a laminate floor.
To bleach the taste of turnip juice off my tongue I ordered some raki. Raki is an alcoholic Turkish drink also known as aslan sütü, which translates as 'lion’s milk’. It’s an apt name. Milk, because it’s white and opaque; and 'lion’ because it bites your head off. It’s a furious throat-burner, volatile, spiteful, spoiling for a fight. I liked it, not only the drink but the presentation: the waiter prepared my raki at the table via a curious procedure involving tongs and glass beakers. It was like watching a little chemistry experiment.
Back to the food, where a theme was emerging. Oil. So much oil. The patates kizartmasi – fried potatoes – were bathed in it. The tepsi kebab – spiced lamb mince, onion, tomato – dripped with it. The börek – essentially a kind of spinach and feta sausage roll – was pretty slithery too.
I wouldn’t have minded, but my toddler son – sitting beside me on the banquette – was eating with his fingers, and then grabbing greasily at my sleeve. I told him to wipe his hands: obediently he did so. On my trousers.
It was all good food, but my fingers were now so oily it was becoming impossible to type notes on my phone. Still, I was pretty sure I’d remember the note I wanted to make. 'OILY’.
On to pudding. I had the künefe. It was a bit like a bowl of Shredded Wheat smashed up, drowned in syrup and then sprinkled with pistachios. Not bad, although so sweet I could practically feel my teeth dissolving. It was also, need I add, extremely oily. I know, even the pudding. I was now so full of oil I was worried the Americans would invade me.
My son had the chocolate ice cream. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t oily, but it was extraordinarily chocolatey. In fact, it didn’t really taste like ice cream at all – it was more like a bowl of very cold melted chocolate. Not that my son minded, obviously. 'Too much chocolate’ isn’t a complaint you hear all that often, from two-year-olds.
On the whole, I liked Yosma. The cold meze wasn’t up to much, but the hot was good and it was a fine place for a leisurely family lunch. All that oil, though. Next time, I’m wearing rubber gloves.
Making a meal of it