Durum Ocakbasi, Golders Green
So, after my beloved Likya lost its kebab crown to neighbouring Durum Ocakbasi at the British Kebab Awards 2015, I put my own feelings aside and wandered down to see what all the fuss was about. It always smells great walking past and there are plenty of bums on seats every lunchtime and evening, so my hopes were high.
My immediate thought on entering was that there was none of the in-your-face smoke and heat like at Likya as you walk past the ocakbasi (charcoal grill) to the tables. You can see how hot it is in this pic. But none of that at Durum, although the meat looked just as good. The most marked difference with Durum was how friendly the staff were - they cooed over Leo endlessly, brought us a salad freebie to try (which was delish) and chatted to us about how they recently won at British Kebab Awards. At Likya, they begrudgingly find you a table if they absolutely must, order you to leave the buggy outside and pleasantries are few and far between - and still we return over and over again.
In the interests of fairness, we ordered a couple of dishes that we have a lot at Likya - the menus are very very similar in any case. After the usual flatbreads with yoghurt and spicy dip, we had a grilled lamb's liver, which I must say isn't one of Likya's best dishes. Durum had the edge with this one as the lamb was well cooked, well flavoured and plentiful:
We had the Lahmacun too, which was full of lovely fresh parsley and chilli flavours and light enough for a starter:
There was also a lentil soup, which was mild and warm and comforting, but didn't have that earthy oomph that you get in an Indian dhal for example, and was definitely missing something.
I felt I had to order the lamb shish as it is the best thing ever at Likya, so had to be put to the test. Hmmm. It was good in terms of the quality of the lamb, and if I'd never had Likya's then I'd probably be saying nicer things but... meh. It lacked the proper charcoal taste in a big way; I don't think their grill was hot enough and the marinade was not enough to carry it through. Such a shame.
Another of our fave dishes, the Yogurtlu Beyti (a well flavoured spicy kofte in a yoghurt butter sauce) which is incredible at Likya was also lacking at Durum. The meat just didn't sing in the same way due to lack of seasoning and the same lack of heat, while the yoghurt sauce was excessive and not properly flavoured - it was like eating a normal pot of natural yoghurt.
Another friend ordered Tavuk Sote (chicken, pepper, mushroom and tomato in a butter sauce) and the less said about that the better as it looked, smelled and tasted exactly like a poor quality sweet and sour chicken. Utterly bizarre.
The meal came to an end with an extremely good Turkish coffee which really hit the spot and some Turkish delight.
I feel mean writing this as I so so wanted to like Durum, but I'm afraid I rather disagree with Keith Vaz (which tbh is not unusual) and the rest of the judges as Likya is poles apart from Durum in terms of food. I'd go back for a quick takeaway maybe, but Likya is still the one for me.