A modern take on Turkish food in Soho from one of Istanbul’s masters – 7/10
The first of February welcomes us in traditional style with freezing wind and pouring rain. We struggle through the hordes on Soho’s Beak Street and step into Yeni – a welcoming oasis of calm amid the storm. Blue and turquoise tiles, copper lamps and gently weathered walls are tastefully Mediterranean, without bombarding us with fake olive trees, Corinthian columns and mosaics of the Acropolis.
Yeni joins the ranks of upmarket London Turkish places such as Kyseri (Fitzrovia) and Oklava (Shoreditch), both run by Selin Kiazim and Laura Christie. Its atmosphere is more casual and relaxed, much like its sister restaurant in Istanbul, Yeni Lokanta. Behind the main counter, Civan Er stands alone, stoically plating up many of the dishes himself as they come up from the kitchen downstairs.
The size of the starters wafting past us looks very manageable, so we order all six on the menu. Unfortunately, the only meat option – a çig kofte tartare with sumac molasses, which sounds phenomenal – is sold out already, but we make do with five veggie dishes. Just before our starters arrive, our waiter gifts us a little amuse bouche (presumably just part of the soft launch). There’s not many things in the world better than unexpected free food and the beef manti – a kind of Turkish dumpling – is delicious, served in a rich goat’s yoghurt sauce flecked with parsley and chilli oil.
Snow peas win the race out of the kitchen and arrive on our table first. They are mixed into a fresh salad of julienned green apple, chopped mint leaves, all topped with a thick dollop of chilli-infused yoghurt. Tart apple and a warm heat wake up our tastebuds for the dishes to come.
A dish of sliced beetroot with sour cherries and kouvaraki – a soft, spreadable Cretan cheese – is very pleasant. The cheese is sour enough to temper the natural sweetness of the beetroot and soft enough to melt between the slices. We demolish it with a couple of slices of toasted sourdough and smoked butter.
Thick slices of celeriac, braised in olive oil, are piled high and sprinkled with lemon thyme leaves. The pasta-like slices are firm and nutty and there is a hint of quince somewhere in there that subdues any extra oiliness. Our first wine – a 2016 Naked Truth Savatiano vin jaune from Greece – initially has a strong, yeasty aroma but mellows after a little rest into something quite drinkable.
A bulgur wheat dish is quite unremarkable, but this might be down to my own personal prejudice. I have particularly fond childhood memories of my dad cooking huge pots of it in a tomato sauce with onions and garlic, also known as pourgouri – a very Greek addition to our otherwise traditional Sunday roast. Yeni’s version is served cold with ruby-coloured sour cherries and anthotyro (a soft cheese made from goat or sheep’s milk). Maybe it strays a little too far from tradition for my taste.
By contrast, the final starter is the best by far. A grilled fillet of feta rests on top of a mess of samphire, dressed with chill-infused honey and hazelnuts. The feta has been aged for 12 months and has a very different flavour to its fresh cousin. It’s rich, musky, peppery and, when combined with the other ingredients, totally delicious.
Roasted beef ribs seasoned with chilli and cumin fall apart in a sea of spinach. Isot pepper (urfa biber) is a specifically Turkish chilli pepper, which has a smoky, drawn-out heat redolent of raisins – a lovely companion for the beef. I fish out the little sprigs of dill, which are unnecessary but not unpleasant.
The roasted vine leaves are not served in the traditional stuffed rolls, but in a kind of rough medley with chickpeas, spinach, celery, mint leaves and another kind of soft cheese. Somehow it works – big forkfuls are quite satisfying and go well with a light, plummy 2014 Andreas Bender Pinot Noir from Germany.
The lamb shank is possibly the highlight of the mains. Crisp and caramelised on the outside, soft and juicy on the inside, it falls right off the bone into a puddle of earthy gravy. There is tamarind paste somewhere in the sauce, which adds a lovely sweet-sour tang to the lamb, almost giving it a tagine-like flavour.
We order two desserts to finish: custard fritters with a mastiha ice cream and a caramel panna cotta with pumpkin jus. Mastic (also known as “tears of Chios“) is a plant resin extracted from trees on that island and is commonly used to make a natural gum or the Greek liqueur, mastiha. It gives the ice cream a thick, slightly chewy consistency and pine flavour. The fritters are a little small, but good for dunking into the ice cream. I was a little tipsy by this point, so didn’t pay much attention to the panna cotta, but was rather hoping for baklava or another pistachio-themed dessert to be on the menu.
Yeni will be serving a rotational menu, dependent on seasonal ingredients. We understand from our waitress that there are a number of new dishes (or dishes similar to those served over in Istanbul) that will be making an appearance soon – possibly a scallop dish and some courgette flower tempura. I may not rush back within the next week or two, but I am excited to see where Civan and his team take the menu next.
As it is the soft launch, there is 50% off the bill. Without the discount, our food would have come to about £65 per head, which is relatively pricey (although, to be fair, not compared to Bob Bob Ricard across the road). We spent an additional £87 between us on two bottles of wine.
A Moveable Feast