For one of London’s foremost tourist hotspots, Leicester Square is oddly underserved when it comes to things to actually do there. Unless a trip to M&M World is your idea of a perfect day out, most Londoners can find better things to do around the centre of London. However the newly opened Turkish Ali Ocakbasi restaurant can’t help but stand out from the morass of Wagamamas, Angus Steak Houses, Weatherspoons and amateur beatboxers that make up the square’s non-cinematic entertainment. The evening kicked off to a bad start as my friend arrived a full hour late, leaving me to wilt under the painfully sympathetic care of my waiter Mehmet. Clearly assuming that I was in the midst of being dumped in a spectacularly public way, he provided me with a consolatory glass of Ayran, a yogurt-based drink mixed with salt. Something of a national beverage in Turkey (to the point where an iced tea manufacturer was fined approximately £70,000 for producing an advert where an actor claims that Ayran makes him sleepy) it’s a cool, refreshing drink which would be delicious on a hot day, and I can anxiously assure the Turkish state that it has no soporific qualities.
Once my friend finally arrived with an irritatingly casual verve, we were presented with our starters with quite some flourish in the form of a groaningly packed platter which you could snag anything that appeals. Seeing that we were paralyzed with choice, Mehmet courteously stepped in with a detailed explanation of each of the mezze style dishes and he ended up leading us to some delicious obscure dishes that we might have ignored like the Abagannus (£5.90): roasted eggplants mixed with yoghurt and garlic, with a canal of olive oil snaking across the top which particularly stood out from the pack. Another highlight was the Ciğköfte (£7.40) raw meatballs seasoned with bulghur, onion and chili red pepper; wrapped up in lettuce cups were particularly succulent without being too filling. We ended up taking 5 starters between the two of us; as whilst you couldn’t call the portions small, they aren’t exactly generous either. However the whole starter menu is priced between £5.90-£7.40 which is pretty reasonable for anywhere in London, let alone Leicester Square.
The main course was the real jewel in the crown, we were present with a Karişik Tabak (£19.50), a trio of chicken, beef and lamb kebabs to be shared between the two of us. The chicken in particular was so tender that it felt somehow immoral to eat it (not that that stopped us) and the lamb had a rich smokiness that saw my guest prepared to stab me with a fork rather than give any of it up. Managing to avoid full scale warfare by a whisker we made peace over Baklava (£6.30) which was the perfect capper. High quality Turkish restaurants have started to pop up more and more throughout the capital and going by Ali Ocakbasi this is a trend that should run and run.
Address: Irving Street 16 WC2H 7AU