Half a decade on from its (almost) world-conquering NW5 debut, every local’s favourite stop-off for a ’bab has taken over a smart new outlet on Camden High Street.
And about time really, as the teeny hub on Kentish Town Road with the oh-so-charming Victorian signage (which dates back to 1872) has just celebrated its fifth birthday. Count ’em.
Owner Michael Ustun’s father was in the kebab business for over half a century, so this really is a family who knows how to work a grill. The charm of the original branch was that all the kebabs were made on site (including the elephant’s legs) from fresh, not frozen, meat, with only free-range chicken used. Prices were reasonable, staff smiling – and a stylish sense of heritage was massaged by the fact that they restored the shop’s original sign. And then, of course, named the restaurant after it: clever.
For this new opening at the former Chico’s Pizzeria (also owned by Ustun), the gimmick is that several tables have a personal grill right in the centre so you can cook the meat “according to your personal desire,” as the menu says. If that feels a little like hard work, the chefs will of course do it for you. It’s a bit like those Korean BBQ restaurants, in fact, although the grills here are quite big – so it’s aimed at Saturday-night groups of revellers and tourists, for sure.
Prices are more grown-up, too – not the cheap-as-chips eat-and-go of the Kentish Town branch (about a fiver for a small kebab). Here a shish wrap starts at £8, or £12.95 if you want it with chips and salad (or if you choose an Iskender, the spicy tomato sauced version). Grilled mains such as chicken or lamb hover at the mid-teens mark. Better value are the pizzas at around £8 (remember, the wood-fired grill is still in situ so these are probably good, although we’ve yet to try them).So what did we eat? Best was a lamb shish, smoky and tender; and chicken came pleasingly charred. Sirloin was a little too thinly sliced and therefore cooked over the requested rare. A plate of salad was classically Turkish and full of interest, with tangy beetroot, olives, feta, carrot and tomato. A generous garlicky pide bread comes straight out of the wood-fired oven.
We tried the turnib, too, a spicy savoury drink with a vivid red colour and pickled flavour, its taste as divisive as can possibly be for a soft drink: it hovers somewhere between a bloody mary and an alcohol-free negroni. Definitely worth sampling if you’re adventurous; but, like coffee, beer or Campari, it’s surely an acquired taste.
Overall this new E.Mono is a fun concept, and perfect for this lower part of Camden – although there’s now a slew of good value eating options around these parts (such as Hawker, Camden Bakery, Band of Burgers, Hungerdog and Argentinian classic La Patagonia).
The best-value offer? A lunch special of two skewers of lamb or chicken shish with rice, chips or salad (with soft drink) for a tenner.