Say it whatever way you like, single-dish, sole-themed, one-ethos restaurants, but the rise of short menus, with an individual ingredient or ethos in mind has burgeoned in the UK and Ireland.
It’s refreshing to see more and more restaurateurs and chefs sticking to their guns and designing restaurants and menus that highlight their passion for a style of cooking, ingredient or cuisine. There is a place for all restaurants of course, as there is for all tastes, but naturally only good-quality fare will succeed, especially as savvy diners comments and photos now live on social media platforms as this era’s restaurant critics.
Ottolenghi protegée Josh Katz is a man whose passion for cuisine from the Middle East, North Africa and across Turkey is clearly evident in every morsel of food served in his two restaurants. His latest, Berber & Q Shawarma Bar, which opened in July 2016, specialises in rotisserie Middle Eastern meats slow-cooked over charcoal and wood. Simple ethos, simple menu, but with a rich symphony of flavours.
East Meets West – Inspiration from Around the World
“We take inspiration from all over North Africa, across the Levant and the Middle East, as well as being influenced by our Western heritage, and, a particular love for American barbecue. It’s really an amalgamation of all of these influences that define how we like to cook,” explained Josh.
“I was sitting in one of my favourite barbecue restaurants in Brooklyn, Fette Sau, when I conceived of the idea for Berber & Q,” he recalled. “I just perceived a lot of similarities between the way American’s eat and are dedicated to their barbecue and the North African and Middle Eastern food that I’ve been cooking and researching through the years. It may not seem obvious at first, but if you dig a little, there are a number of commonalities between these different styles of barbecue that I wanted to accentuate and present to a wider audience.”
“I’ve always loved the barbecue cultures from both these parts of the world and wanted to cook the food that I love to eat”
“I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a barbecue, or have nostalgia associated to sitting around a fire enjoying good food with friends or family? I’ve been barbecuing since I was a little boy, in all sorts of different places, with many different dear friends and loved ones, and the one constant has been the sense of enjoyment and satisfaction I get from it,” said Josh. “Everything tastes better when cooked over charcoal. I can’t think of any ingredient that isn’t immeasurably enhanced by being cooked over burning wood or charcoal!”
Josh has certainly mastered the \rt of the barbecue, enhancing meat and other ingredients with the smokey flavours from the grill. But what are his secrets? “It’s a combination of many different factors. The quality of ingredient is obviously very important. The philosophy behind Turkish barbecue, for example, is to do very little to the meat by way of marinade or sauces. All of the technique and craft is in the butchery and preparation of the cuts, as well as the process of grilling the meat. The meat is cooked very close to the heat source, so that the juices hit the charcoal and turn to smoke, which in turn impart flavour into the grilled meat.”
The Art of the Shawarma
While Berber & Q offers diners a mouth-watering selection of barbecued meats, including green chermoula chicken thighs, cured filfel chuma lamb chops and beef short rib, biber salcasi ketchup, Berber & Q Shawarma Bar has turned the focus onto a single concept – the Shawarma.
“The perfect Shawarma is created using great quality lamb that has been trimmed and cleaned properly, and the correct level of spice and seasoning layered throughout”.
“Technically speaking, shawarma refers to the technique of shaving meat off a vertical or horizontal rotating spit, where the meat in question has been cooking slowly over the fire for several hours,” Josh explained.“Our cauliflower shawarma is therefore not technically a shawarma, in the true sense of the word, but we refer to it as such because the spices we use to flavour it are the same as the spices we use for our lamb shawarma.”
“My favourite place to eat Shawarma in London would be Ranoush Juice on Edgware Road. It’s old school. When it comes to cooking meats over the mangal, my favourite is probably lamb chops. The juices hit the fire and come back to impart a lovely flavour in the meat. All meats taste great off a mangal to be honest.”
Berber & Q serves up “Mezze from the east, music from the west” and like a lot of newer restaurants, music plays a central role in the theme and atmosphere of the venue. Josh explained his reasoning behind his choice for his restaurants, “We play electronic music in the restaurant, but mainly because that’s what we love to listen to, as opposed to it being a natural fit. It’s a personal, subjective topic I guess that very much comes down to individual taste. One of my favourite restaurants in London grills to heavy metal, which isn’t my kind of thing but it works for them. I could see hip-hop working well too!”
“Music is food for the soul,” he stated. “I always cook better food when I’m in a better mood. Music lifts the spirit, almost universally. So it follows, for me at least, that music helps my cooking. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but I think it makes a difference in the margins!”