64 Grafton Way, Bloomsbury, London, W1T 5DN
- Style of food: Turkish & Eastern Mediterranean
- Wine to try: Vita Vinea Kisi, Georgia, 2017, £57
- Price: £90 for a meal for two with wine; set menu £40/six courses, wine pairings £35
- Kitchen open: 12pm-3pm, 5.30pm–10pm Thursday to Saturday; 5.30pm-10.30pm Tuesday to Wednesday; closed Sunday-Monday
You could easily walk past Kyseri, a small restaurant on the quiet back streets of London’s Bloomsbury; but that would be a mistake. The corner spot with pavement seats may look (and feel) like an unassuming neighbourhood haunt, but the brief one-page menu and carefully curated wine list boast real pedigree and are well worth seeking out if you’re a wine lover with a sense of adventure.
This is the second restaurant from Selin Kiazim and Laura Christie, who opened Oklava to much acclaim in 2015. Their calling card is Turkish food (‘oklava’ means ‘rolling pin’ in Turkish) – but not Turkish food as you probably know it. Forget kebabs and think vibrantly flavoured dishes, authentic ingredients and culinary flair, for an altogether upmarket take on Turkish.
The same level of care and creativity has gone into the wine list, which exclusively features bottles from Turkey, Greece, Armenia, Georgia and Lebanon. Arranged in order of the wines’ weight and body, it’s a treasure trove of native grapes, regional styles and distinctive flavours – and it could be off-putting for anyone unversed in these regions. But informed and engaging wine service ensures the complete opposite; you’re bewitched not bewildered by the choice and may well leave with some new favourites in your wine lexicon.
Everything is available by the glass, making it easier to experiment. Our visit kicked off with a sparkling Dakishvilli Brut 2016 from Georgia, a méthode champenoise rosé made from the Saperavi grape. Laced with raspberry fruit it paired beautifully with spicy slivers of aromatic house-cured pastirma (the Turkish version of bresaola), made from pressed, dried Cornish beef and drizzled with olive oil.
A little dish of sheep’s milk feta followed; the sharp saltiness of the cheese cleverly pitted against sweet candied watermelon, chilli spice and fragrant thyme. Arcadia Narince 2016, an elegant Turkish white from father-and-daughter winemakers, made light work of these complex flavours, thanks to its balancing acidity and grippy minerality.
The dishes at Kyseri are made for sharing, but Kiazim’s take on manti – a type of stuffed pasta – could bring out your selfish side. Traditionally served as tiny pillows, these are tortelloni-sized parcels, neatly folded into squares and filled with a winning combo of savoury beef and sour cherry. Matched with a sweetly spiced, orange, Georgian qvevri wine, Vita Vinea Kisi 2017, and served with yogurt sauce and a scattering of toasted pine nuts, they highlight Kiazim’s skill at updating Turkish classics for a new audience.
Larger plates keep on delivering: Cornish hake and leeks are pepped up with coriander, chilli and lime; while slices of perfectly cooked duck are partnered with an array of vibrant greens – runner beans, cucumber, sorrel – and a green tomato paste. Try it with Domaine des Tourelles Vielles Vignes 2017, a Lebanese Cinsault with notes of spice, baked fruit, fresh red currants and a hint of menthol.
Kyseri may push you out of your culinary comfort zone, but grab a glass of wine and you’ll enjoy the trip.