I was recently approached by CitizenMag, who wanted to chat about some of the city’s coolest eateries and things to do – and were willing to send me off on a foodie fact-finding mission at a top local restaurant of my choosing. Not bad, eh? After reading their review of Babaji, I was absolutely sold on the fact I HAD to visit.
Opened by Alan Yau, the man behind Wagamama, Yauatcha and Hakkasan, the concept of Babaji is pretty simple – offering quality Turkish Pide in central London, inspired by Yau’s Turkish wife and his love for the country’s cuisine. If you’ve never wrapped your lips round some Turkish Pide before, it’s basically a pizza-like topped bread with cheese and lots of tasty bits.
The exterior of the building definitely stands out on theatreland’s Shaftesbury Avenue – clad in iron, designed by Turkish studio Autoban. A little at odds with its surroundings, but it surprisingly REALLY works. The interior is beautifully decorated with blue tiling, large windows and ample seating space. On the ground floor, the large pide oven is just as much decor feature as is kitchen – the openness of it means you’re able to watch your pide being cooked up in front of you.
After a cheerful greeting and being seated near the window (score one for natural photo lighting), we started off with some drinks. Conor had a Turkish coffee (£3) – despite my recent discovery after a sip of a flat white that actually, I might be able to do this coffee thing, Turkish coffee is very strong and bitter. Not my jam at all, but he liked it, and it came with such a cute little setup.
Instead, I had a bottle of Niğde gazozu (£2.50) – a lemonade-style fizzy soft drink that was amazingly light and refreshing. In fact, I liked it so much, I ended up having two. Who says soft drinks ain’t no fun?
Because it was most definitely Sunday brunchtime, we grabbed a bowl of Fried Eggs and Sucuk (£6.80). If you don’t know what sucuk is (I didn’t either. The power of Google…), it’s a dry, spicy sausage made from ground meat – usually beef – with plenty of spices thrown in. When I say spices, the sucuk with the eggs wasn’t actually particularly hot, but more in the sense that they brought out a whole palate of lively flavours. The eggs themselves were fantastically cooked – oozing out all over the sucuk with plenty of seasoning.
Alongside the eggs, we also had a plate of Izmir Green Olives and sun blushed tomatoes (£2.50). The olives were smaller than the more common ones you might be accustomed to from the supermarket, but really tasty and salty. The sunblush tomatoes were also a great compliment to the egg, and I ended up mixing them in with the egg and the sucuk. Trust me, it’s great. Having also paid £3+ for a tiny bowl of olives before, I felt like the sizeable plate of these offered really good value for money.
Of course, we grabbed some Oven Baked Halloumi with Datterini vine tomato and oregano (£5.50) to share. Probably one of the tastiest halloumi plates I’ve ever had, my only regret was not ordering one each. AMAZING.
For the sake of ‘research’ (and the fact we were super hungry and in need of all the carbs), we ordered two pide dishes to share. The first was the Afyon Pide (£8.80), topped with beef sucuk, tulum kaşar cheese,
red chilli & parsley. And it was AMAZING. The generous amount of cheese was beautifully melty and oozing, perfect with the thin and crisp bread encasing the filling. The chilli gave the beef and cheese a little extra kick without being too hot for more delicate tastes.
Our second pide was the Kiymali – minced lamb, tomato & pepper (£8.50). I think I slightly preferred the Afyon, but this one was still delicious – with the toppings more spread across the bread rather than inside it. The flavours were fantastic together, and the thin bread really allowed the topping tastes to come through. I am definitely a newly initiated pide lover.
The one negative issue we did have at Babaji was with the service, which seemed to get rather muddled between table and kitchen. The servers didn’t actually write down our order, and memorising it definitely caused a few problems.
One of our pides was missed off the order, so we ended up having it after we’d eaten everything else, and we also ordered the corn bread with guacamole, and were then told it was out of stock – but it still ended up making it’s way onto the bill. However, the service team were ridiculously lovely and friendly, it was hard to stay mad at them. They sorted their mistakes quickly and knocked our drinks off the bill as an apology.
Issues with the service aside, I absolutely adored the food we had at Babaji. I’d happily eat here again next time I’m in the Shaftesbury Avenue area – and even if I’m not, it’s worth making the trip for.
Are you a fan of Turkish cuisine?
53 Shaftesbury Avenue
London W1D 6LB
*I was given some spends by CitizenMag to do this review – as usual, all opinions are honest.