Alan Yau is one of London’s most successful and influential restaurateurs, from highstreet favourites like Wagamama and Busaba Eathai to renowned eateries like Hakkasan and Yauatcha. These venues all have one thing in common, serving innovative Asian cuisine. So when Yau launched Babaji, a casual Turkish pide restaurant on touristy Shaftesbury Avenue, we were all quite shocked.
Babaji is a labour of love, the result of a long-standing Turkish connection. Alan’s wife, and occasional business partner, Jale Eventok is Turkish. Babaji is casual and humble, offering simple traditional food with a focus on authentic Turkish pizza, pide. Situated on the edge of Soho, Babaji will be popular with tourists passing by or could possibly become an exotic late night drop-in for hungry drinkers.
We went along on a weekday for an early speedy supper. It was efficient and useful as a pre-show feed, though the food had little wow factor. Many favourite Turkish dishes are represented on the menu, including manti (ravioli-like dumplings), coban salad, flatbread and delicious small plates of meze. With, of course, baklava for dessert.
The restaurant is arranged over two spacious floors, decorated in muted shades of brown and blue with Turkish tiles adding colour and pattern. There is a Middle Eastern vibe although I thought it felt a little like a formulaic chain. The thin and fresh pide pizzas are what most come to try. Cooked in the oven minutes before reaching your table it is steaming hot, light and crisp topped with vibrant ingredients. We tried the kiymali pide with minced lamb, tomato and pepper.
Alongside our pide, we tasted the oven baked halloumi, which looked a bit pathetic on the plate and was a pitifully small portion. However the Beef and lamb kofte was absolutely delicious, highly flavoured with spices and herbs and nicely grilled to give a caramelised salty edge. Ask for some chilli sauce and wrap a bite of kofte in a piece of bread.
If you are really in the mood, you can order a Raki aperitif, designed to accompany your meze, or a freshly pressed pomegranate juice.
Babaji offers passable Turkish food, but if you want the real deal head to Kingsland Road, Dalston where the atmosphere is more alive, the prices more friendly and the food more exciting.
More information here: www.babaji.com.tr