When I said I was heading to Stoke Newington after work, my South Londoner colleagues looked at me in disbelief, biting their tongues one second shy of asking “Stoke where?”. That could have been my reaction, if it weren’t for my North Londoner past. And yet, even though I knew where Stoke Newington was, my only memory of it was a featureless view from the 67 bus (a staple on many Sunday afternoons during my Wood Green days).
As of last week, I know much more about Stoke Newington. For a start, it’s far more lively than I’d have imagined; in the short space of a 5-minute walk from Dalston Kingsland station, I spotted more than one cafe I’d like to come back for. More importantly, it’s home to Testi: the first “real” Turkish restaurant I visited in London, after years of street food experiments that inspired my unconditional love for that cuisine.
Testi welcomes its customers with a shop front that reminds of many other Turkish joints in London: picture the all-present steamy grill right beside the door, and the usual counter of raw ingredients awaiting their round in the kitchen. And yet, there’s more to Testi’s atmosphere than just that. The back of the restaurant hosts a spacious dining area, decorated with ethnic furnishings, and featuring many comfortable, evenly spaced tables. Everything, from the setting to the service, suggests that sit-down diners are as welcome as takeaway patrons. Our waiter was attentive without being invasive, never hasty, and never impatient to see us out despite the flocks of customers that kept coming in: a real gem.
The menu is comprehensive and suitable for all palates. Order a starter of lamb testicles if you feel adventurous, or go for a classic grilled meat dish if you prefer to play it safe; whatever you fancy, you can be sure to find your match. The breadth and quality of the offer may explain why Testi attracts such large crowds: its rush hour seems to begin between 8 and 9pm, and carry on until closing time. We booked in advance, and I’d suggest you do the same.
Our dinner for five was a diverse feast of meat, vegetable and fish courses. We kicked it off by ordering three starters to share, and began tucking into a selection of side dishes shortly before the mains.
- My personal highlight was a platter of sigara böreği (top left picture): typical fried filo pastry rolls, with a smooth cream cheese filling. Served warm, the have a pleasantly delicate taste, and achieve the perfect balance of outer crispness and inner softness.
- A portion of humus, which met all our taste and texture expectations. A particularly successful pairing with warm Turkish bread, brushed with butter and sprinkled with sesame seeds, contributed to bringing all its flavour alive.
- A range of salads, including mixed vegetables with a chilli dressing, garnished leaves with pickles, and grilled onions in a “special red sauce” (possibly made with pomegranate). A different breed of Turkish bread appeared: this time, it was a flatbread with a light salt and chilli coating, even tastier than the seeded bread we had before.
- A handful of deep fried squid rings, pleasing to the palate, and yet rather bland in comparison to the fried böreği.
Our mains all came in generous portions, with plentiful helpings of soft, buttery rice.
- Emma went for a vegetarian musaka (top left picture). A more Greek than Turkish specialty, perhaps; if you’re a fan of its “classic” meat counterpart, be aware that it’s not on the menu, and ready to peruse the menu for a plan B.
- Leng‘s lamb pirzola consisted of four charcoal-grilled lamb chops, which all looked positively thick and filling.
- Alex and Jesse had the lamb sarma beyti: a beautifully presented plate of charcoal-grilled spicy lamb, wrapped with soft bread, flavoured with garlic and parsley, and garnished with yoghurt and tomato sauce. Judging by its looks, and by the excitement it inspired, it will most likely be my choice when I next dine at Testi.
- Hungry for the rich flavour of Turkish marinated meat, I chose a lamb and chicken shish mix. The chicken pieces were large and juicy; the lamb pieces were slightly smaller and drier in comparison, but still more than satisfying.
With mains ranging between £8 and 15, and starters priced at around £5, the price to portion ratio is by all means fair. You can expect to spend around £25 per head and leave well full – especially if complimentary plates of fruit and Turkish Delight bites land on your table at the end of the meal. If you’re a lover of hearty dinners and rich Mediterranean flavours, Testi’s cuisine won’t disappoint you; I’d certainly brave another trip to Stoke Newington to feast like this again.
38 Stoke Newington High Street
London, N16 7PL
(nearest Overground stations: Dalston Kingsland, Dalston Junction)
020 7249 7151
Open daily, 11am to midnight
Find Testi’s menu on Zomato.