Bistro Laz is a cosy, rustic restaurant in Highgate specialising in Turkish and Italian food. This rare cuisine combo is a true battle of the titans – but how on earth do you choose between a lamb köfte and ragù alla bolognese? There was only one way to find out…
Unusual combinations often make the world a better place. The clock radio. The spork. The printing press, which brilliantly coupled the coin punch with the wine press and single handedly revolutionised the spreading of ideas and information across the globe.
Bistro Laz may not be quite so radical. But blending Turkish and Italian food seems at first a subversive idea. Turkish food is rich, spicy and aromatic, fusing Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan influences, while Italian tends to be lighter and more refined, bearing shades of the Etruscans, Romans and Greeks. Should such disparate fare really share a menu?
'Yes, of course!’ insists Turkish owner Numan Devrim, who comes from the small town of Hemsin, by the Black Sea. ‘They contrast but also work well together. They have lots of similarities, such as the Mediterranean herbs, seafood and sauces. Neither one overpowers the other.’
As we tuck into our cross-cultural starter of humus (deliciously creamy) and funghi al forno (succulent and meaty), we can’t help but agree. These two great culinary rivals seem made for each other. It helps that – unlike more questionable gastro mashups, such as the cronut or burgerizza (yes really) – Devrim hasn’t tried to combine the contrasting flavours into hybrid dishes, but kept them entirely distinct.
‘It’s better this way, so then people can choose how they want to put them together, or if they just prefer one or the other,’ Numan explains. ‘It’s the best of both worlds.’
Numan should know what he’s talking about. Now 46, he opened his first Italian restaurant, Goodfare, in Camden, aged just 28. It was an instant hit, boasting Amy Winehouse and other celebs among its regulars, and even once had a visit from David Cameron. In 2007 Numan opened Bistro Laz, and in June 2017 he added the third string to his bow: Laz@Camden.
Alongside food, the key to success is ‘a relaxed, friendly ambience’, he tells us. ‘I’ve tried really hard to make all my places fun and welcoming. This is how it is in Turkey, and to me it is very important.’
This is clear in Bistro Laz, where eclectic décor and Ottoman textiles warm the cockles on a frosty Friday night. Galleon ships, glass evil eyes, earthenware and classic vinyl records smother the walls, while hanging lamps clad in multicoloured mosaics cast a toasty glow overhead. It is all decidedly Turkish rather than Italian, but feels both homely and edgy, and in keeping with the lively spirit of the waiting staff.
While we devour our generous portions of ‘House Special, Iskender’ (a grilled chicken and lamb dish modelled loosely on its namesake kebab from Bursa, Turkey) and ‘Laz Favourite’ (char-grilled lamb fillet filled with spinach, mash and artichokes, which immediately wins over my fussy dining companion), I attempt to impress our waiter with my intimate knowledge of Turkish cuisine, having spent a couple of months in the country in late 2015.
'Yes yes yes!’ he says excitedly, when I proclaim that Gaziantep without a doubt has the best food. ‘Did you try the baklava? Soooo delicious!’ And how does the Highbury version compare, I ask, as I glimpse it on the dessert menu hovering provocatively between ‘apple, apricot & almond crumble’ and ‘gelato ice cream’. He grins: ‘Even better!’
Overall, of course, our waiter believes Turkish cuisine trumps Italian. Following a highly dedicated taste test, we still find ourselves torn – but valiantly vow to keep coming back until the question is resolved.
DO: Try the Kavaklidere ‘Yakut’ Turkish wine, which is smooth and ripe, and an excellentalternative to the more traditional reds on the menu.
DON’T: Limit yourself to Turkish or Italian. Variety is the spice of life!
Enjoy 10% off your total bill
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