Mantl served up the best Turkish food I’ve ever had. It’s a big statement; One I don’t make lightly, having lived in Istanbul for two years and eating out pretty much every day of those. Food is at the very centre of Turkish life. Eating is what you do there. Meals take hours to prepare and many more to enjoy, with even week-day dinners winding down in the early hours of the next day. Having travelled through Anatolia on essentially an eating mission it’s a huge shock that it’s here in London where I’ve made this claim. Of course it can’t replace the food experiences of home-cooked family meals, the simple grilled fish sandwiches looking over the Golden Horn, the stuffed mussels from street stands, barbecued sucuk and lamb chops over a home-crafted fire by the beach at sunset. There are the unbeatable evenings of fresh fish and mezze in the atmospheric, bustling city centres (whether done upmarket or local) and a world-favourite cuisine of ocakbasi (or mangal) cooking lamb, chicken and aubergine over charcoal. But Mantl in Knightsbridge has nailed it with its quality, the innovation and execution of these Turkish classics with a modern twist.
So out from East London and the Turkish hole-in-the-wall restaurants where I get a weekly fix to the bougie location on Brompton Road opposite Harrods. Mantl’s decor is modern and sleek – upmarket but comfortable. Two large families took up most of the tables inside; both speaking Turkish. Always a good sign. I visited late-summer so sat half inside, half out with the front of the restaurant opened up for prime people watching. Serdar Demir is the owner of Mantl. His family is from Bursa in Anatolia, a city not far from Istanbul close to the Marmara Sea, and run several London restaurants. Mantl uses traditional cooking methods over charcoal with the best ingredients and cuts of meat. The starters, or sharing plates as all Turkish food tends to be, are experimental, with incredible results. Smoked sheep’s yoghurt with glazed figs, dried oak cured beef, grape molasses with pistachio and pomegranate seeds is unlike anything I’ve tasted or seen before, so beautifully crafted and presented. Likewise, the favourite meze dish of charred aubergine flesh was better than any other I’ve tried, with small kapia peppers, walnuts, garlic, honey and tarhana crisps (a dry mix of grain and yoghurt usually made into soup).
The most inventive of all the starters is the Feraye fried mantı. Mantı is a kind of dumpling, a little like ravioli when cooked, stuffed with minced lamb or beef. It’s usually boiled, covered in yoghurt and eaten out in a diner-type mantı restaurant as an easy, comforting dinner. Not here in Mantl (no the restaurant’s not quite named after this dish – though it easily could be – instead it’s the fire kind of mantel everyone gathers around to cook and eat). Demir has taken this classic but rather basic Turkish dish and turned it into something quite different. He’s fried the mantı giving it a crisp shell, and filled it with quality beef and lamb, served with a fresh tomato sauce, smoked yoghurt and mint butter – an easy highpoint of the meal. Another highlight was the Turkish Chardonnay we were recommended. Turkish wine can be a huge hit but more easily a miss if you – like me – don’t know how to do it. The country has an ancient winemaking history, though it’s still a relatively small industry and its local grapes aren’t perhaps well known outside of Turkey. There are strict alcohol laws and wine never seems to be cheap, even if it’s not the good stuff. But there’s some delicious wine to be drunk when you put a little more money down and learn how to order. Demir advised a Chardonnay from the Aegean region of Denizli, the grapes grown at 900m above sea level. Of course, it went beautifully with the food and we ordered more after the first bottle went quickly.
The main meat courses are more traditional than the starters, but no less impressive. Lamb fillet shish (the house speciality) is served on top of aubergine puree with pomegranate seeds and a light chilli oil on top. We also had Adana, minced and seasoned lamb cooked on a skewer over coals with sauteed peppers and onion. ‘Padron’ peppers on the side with a Mantl salad of mixed leaves, caramelized quince, walnuts, barberries, cranberries, pomegranate molasses and dry, ripened crumbled goat’s cheese. It really doesn’t get much better. Desserts are Turkish classics. A Kadayif of shredded filo pastry, nuts and sugar syrup was served cold – as should be – and softened in lightly sweetened milk, topped with pistachio crumbs. The slightly less sweet Mantl version (to the supersweet trad.) again made it the best I’ve had. We finished off the meal with delicate chocolate-cherry cubes looking a lot like Turkish Delight, but are not, for those unconvinced by the old-fashioned sweet. I’m about to go back to try out every other dessert on the menu they were so beautifully made. There’s the tahini souffle, sutlac (rice pudding), kazanandibi (caramelised milk pudding) and Mantl-style deconstructed baklava still to try.
142 Brompton Road