London welcomed a wave of new food trends last year that aimed to concoct healthy, guilt-free versions of all our most favourite and comforting dishes. The healthier hybrids that evolved in 2014 and 2015 saw the creation of foods such as courgetti, quinola, cauliflour pizza, buckwheat pancakes, the list goes on... More and more though, we're seeing how these healthier adaptations are winning over the hearts and stomachs of foodies to their original versions, (making my frenzied and slightly obsessive health-related Instagram hashtags all the more worthwhile!)
It appears however, that one particular type of food has a reputation that is proving difficult to shake or should I say grill off?
It's our notorious kebab, but the ones photographed here are not your average, late-night, drunken scoffs. The kebabs at Clerkenwell's Chifafa are light-years above your greasy, donor kebabs despite the shameful demand for them that still endures. Chifafa stands to revolutionise the perception of kebabs as we typically know them here in Britain. I can happily say that you won't find any grease, half-cooked chips, dodgy white sauce, what is meant to be meat on a kebab spit or a man chundering outside from 20 pints of lager at this kebab joint.
Chifafa boasts a sleek, modern and clean interior and wields an excellent choice of food and drink at extremely reasonable prices. Owned by Nick Green who started Chifafa after experiencing the greatness of authentic Turkish kebabs in Berlin, he wanted to bring them to London to show how our idea of kebabs need liberating from the sinful, cultural archetypes that only appear past 2am.
The sophisticated and refreshing décor is very much reflected in the ingredients, preparation and presentation of the food. The meat they use for their kebabs is 100% ethically raised, British, fresh meat and it is all cooked in the big 'Green Egg' charcoal grill (my research tells me this is a favourite amongst top chefs), giving the meat a smokier taste and drier texture. They use three different types of meat here: chicken, lamb and veal (which is marinated for up to 24 hours) and offer two delicious vegetarian options: halloumi and falalel. As well as kebabs, Chifafa also do rice boxes and salads with any of the four choices of meat or halloumi or falalel to accompany. My guest and I tried the Chicken, Lamb and Veal kebab and then one of the halloumi salad boxes.
One-day marinated veal with fresh mint & dill yoghurt at the forefront, chicken in the middle and lamb at the back. (£9.70)
The verdict: these kebabs were hella good. I'm going to describe them to you by undressing them out of their glistening foil wrappers. Let's start with the bread.
Nick has chosen to wrap his kebabs with Greek 'souvlaki' bread after what he explained took 10 weeks of careful decision making. I'm glad it took him this long as both he and I agreed how wonderfully soft and tasty it is and how unlike a lot of bread, it doesn't make you feel bloated and full. Freshly chopped and dressed salad accompanies the meat, but what separates Chifafa out from other Mediterranean and Arabic fusion restaurants is the explosion of flavours that flood your mouth with every bite. The chicken is parceled with crumbled feta, cucumber and sumac salad and a fresh mint tahini yoghurt, the marinated veal with fresh mint & dill yoghurt and the slow-cooked shoulder of lamb with amba (a tangy, mango pickle), fresh herbs, feta, red cabbage slaw. Every element is so thoughtfully infused within these three meaty mains proving that sometimes, quality overrules quantity.
Lamb Kebab with amba (a tangy, mango pickle), fresh herbs, feta, red cabbage slaw. (£7.90)
My personal favourite was the marinated veal, it was so great that I'm still dreaming about it now. I rarely eat veal, not because I don't like it, but more because it's rarely offered on the menu. It really synergised with all the other ingredients. Most importantly though, the meat was fresh and the flavour from the 24-hour marination process had really sunk in to give a dry, meaty effect. Succulent and moist meat is great for savouring braised beef, or lamb in a stew but I personally don't want a flood of juices falling out or anything moist in my wrap or kebab whilst I eat it.
My guest's favourite was the lamb but to be honest, each one was excellent and I especially loved the feta in the chicken one. Oh and did I mention the regular sized kebabs are priced between £6.50 and £9.70? They offer short and large sizes too, depending on how hearty your appetite is. Very reasonable for a lunch menu.
Halloumi served on a bed of baby gem lettuce, red cabbage slaw, roast butternut squash and cucumber and sumac. Choice of spicy tahini dressing or mild pink peppercorn vinaigrette. £7.40
The salad was really zesty and confounded me with tastes I couldn't identify. The butternut squash was tossed in a spice I'd never heard of called sumac. This is a tangy, lemony spice often used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking. A quick foodie tip for anyone who enjoys cooking these cuisines: BBC GoodFood recommends using sumac in salads instead of lemon juice or to season grilled meat and fish - I'll need to give this a try sometime! I love discovering new flavours, especially when they are used to enhance and appreciate a healthier alternative.
We then had the pleasure of eating freshly baked gluten-free brownies and millionaire shortbreads...both super, but the millionaire shortbread definitely came out on top. It was pure heaven, especially because of the quality of the chocolate roof.
This small restaurant also offers a remarkable range of drinks displaying some of London's latest healthy and delicious food and drink trends. I felt quite proud to be able to recognise familiar names such as the 'Nix & Kix' Peach and Cayenne Pepper infused drinks and some of the fantastic products I tried at VegFest 2015. It gets busy for lunch at Chifafa on weekdays but it seems that Clerkenwell's full workforce is yet to fully discover the brilliance of their kebabs. On weekends when things are much quieter, the kebabs are available by delivery. I think if another Chifafa was located in a more touristy area or where people were drinking nearby that that they'd see queues of people trying to get their hands on the food. I know we're trying to steer clear from the nasty kebab stereotype, but I could totally see myself craving one of these after a late night out; and I wouldn't have to regret it the next day either. It's not a #cheatday treat, it's wholesome, fresh, healthy food.
Chifafa are currently looking to open a second venue and I am certain that depending on location, that it will be just as, if not ten times more popular. I'll be totally honest and say that I was blown away by this place. As a big fan of Mediterranean and Levantine cuisine (Turkish, Syrian), I felt that Chifafa epitomises the best of them in a very simplistic, trendy and appetising fashion. They've had some admirable press coverage too, raising debate amongst national press on whether their kebabs are the 'poshest' around. I don't agree that being good quality, fresh, and healthy means 'posh' but I'll agree that they're in another league to regular kebabs. 'Kebabs made good' is the slogan here and they certainly give kebabs a whole new identity for me. You need to visit Chifafa, not just to forget about regular kebabs but because the food there is so good. Chifafa...I'll be back.
To find out more about Chifafa:
Click share to share below this post across social media