When Jon and I first started dating, we’d go out to dinner on Valentine’s Day, despite generally blah experiences. We finally had it and swore “never again” when, one year, we went to our local divey Thai place in New York and discovered that instead of enjoying the comforts of cheap pad thai, we could order only a “Valentine’s Day Prix Fixe menu.” Basically, I can’t handle how a perfectly yummy, reasonably-priced, well-serviced restaurant suddenly transforms on V-Day into a mediocre, expensive, poorly-served one. Just say no!
One place that’s likely to stay true to its divey self, Valentine’s Day or not, is Mangal Ocakbasi Restaurant. It’s a Turkish grill restaurant (an ocakbasi, in fact) in scruffy Dalston, and in the fine tradition of divey restos in scruffy neighborhoods, it’s BYOB with no corkage charge.
When you walk in, you’re faced with a counter of meat – lamb chops, kofte, kebabs – and instead of sitting down and ordering from a menu, you pick what you want from the counter and then you sit at a table while your meats of choice are grilled on an enormous charcoal grill (thank goodness for powerful hoods over the grill or else the smoke would be unbelievable).
I’d say Mangal is not the place to bring your vegetarian friends, but our vegetarian friends Russell and Johanna came with us, and they claimed they had a full and enjoyable meal consisting of hummous, cacik, and assorted grilled eggplant dishes.
As good as the veg-friendly options are, though, they definitely play second fiddle at this place. I loved Mangal’s juicy lamb chops, and the kofte was out of this world — tender, spicy and decadently-fatty. All meat dishes cost £7-8, so when you combine that sort of pricing with the BYOB policy, this is a good place to chow with a huge group without running up a big tab. Of course, Mangal’s been around forever, so you’d better believe that a lot of groups have figured this out and turn out in force.