This week’s review owes a big debt of thanks to Mansoor, a long-time reader of the blog who came to the first ever ER readers’ lunch over four years ago. He came on his own and very kindly, in reference to some of the conversations we’d had on Twitter, brought me a blue Toblerone as a present.
For those of you who’ve never had one, the blue Toblerone has salted, caramelised almonds in it and is, for my money, the finest of all the fruits of the Tobler tree. You can only get them in airports (and it’s better to get them in the UK, where they’re usually three for a tenner), and for a long time I had a decent stockpile in my basement, because I was lucky enough to go on a fair few holidays in 2019. My failure to replenish it before the lockdown this time last year is one of my many Covid regrets; we finished the last one at some point last summer, and it was as tangible a reminder as any I could think of that we were, quite literally, going nowhere fast.
I wasn’t sure whether that first readers’ lunch might be a bit much for Mansoor – he was at a boisterous corner of that long table in Namaste Kitchen – but I’m happy to say that he kept coming along and these days brings his delightful wife Zahra with him. Mansoor told me at one of the lunches that he had used the blog to find places to take Zahra for dinner back when they were courting – which was lovely to hear, but also highlights just how long I’ve been doing this for. But it’s obviously worked for them, and they’re always a welcome presence at the events I used to organise, pre-Covid.
“Food is how I keep my wife happy”, Mansoor once said to me and, speaking as someone whose moods are largely managed through the judicious application of calories, I can understand that completely. Over the years, Mansoor has returned the favour by giving me lots of excellent recommendations in return – he was the one who introduced me to Reading’s best samosas at Cake&Cream down the Wokingham Road and recommended that I try the chapli kebab when I went to the now-defunct Afghan.
He has also been telling me to try Rizouq, on the same strip, for as long as I can remember – I never did, because you couldn’t really eat in there, but now I’m doing takeaway reviews it’s firmly on my list to try before this lockdown comes to an end. And at the end of January, when I announced that I was going to start reviewing takeaways, he was very insistent that I should try La’De Kitchen, the subject of this week’s review. “Best Turkish grill I’ve had in the U.K.”, he said. “It might be an 8 on the ER scale.” That was all the encouragement I needed.
That said, I’d heard murmurs about La’De Kitchen for much of last year. They’re in an interesting position, because they have restaurants in Woodley and Pangbourne so can, in theory, cover both east and west Reading (there’s a third La’De Kitchen – the original, I believe – in Muswell Hill: a good omen, because I imagine that part of London is home to quite a demanding clientele). A lot of the good feedback I’d heard related to the Pangbourne branch, but Mansoor was talking about the Woodley one. As it was the closest to my house, that’s the one I ordered from one weekday evening.
La’De Kitchen is on JustEat but you can order direct through their website, which I did because I wanted them to get as much of the money as possible. Their menu is wide, varied and enormously tempting: a mixture of hot and cold mezze; classics from the charcoal grill and güveç (Turkish casseroles). There are also pide, or Turkish pizza, along with a few more European dishes – some Italian pizzas and a couple of steak options, both also cooked on the charcoal grill.
I’ve heard some feedback that La’De kitchen is on the pricey side, but I couldn’t decide whether it was – most mezze dishes hover around the seven pound mark, and that feels reasonable enough, but some of the mains creep close to twenty pounds which I can see might feel steep for a takeaway. I guess part of the problem here is that for most people, the obvious yardsticks are Bakery House and Tasty Greek Souvlaki, both of which are reasonably priced almost to a fault. So, the question is: does La’De Kitchen represent a premium experience, or is it just spenny?
In a run which will probably jinx my delivery experience over the weeks ahead, for the third week running my food arrived efficiently, quicker and – crucially – hot. I ordered at about twenty to seven and forty minutes later a man was at my door holding out my bag. By my reckoning it’s just over a ten minute drive from Woodley, so I thought that was pretty good going. And the bag was absolutely chock full of food: initially I thought I might have over-ordered, and by the end of the meal I was certain of it.
Everything was in recyclable cardboard boxes, and the attention to detail was spot on – everything that was meant to be hot was, and everything that was meant to arrive chilled had survived the journey without warming up. We decanted some of it onto dinner plates and took the rest through to the living room to be divvied up when we’d cleared enough space.
Not only did I follow Mansoor’s advice when I chose the subject of this week’s review, but I also let him guide me on most of the things we ordered. The first of these was the pistachio adana, a lamb kofte studded with crushed pistachio. As a first forkful of the meal it was almost impossible to beat. I’m a sucker for a lamb kofte, whether it’s from Kobeeda Palace, or Tasty Greek Souvlaki or Bakery House, but La’De Kitchen’s rendition was so good that it was almost hyper-real. It was packed with dense, coarse, beautiful lamb, to the extent that it made its competition feel pappy and padded out by comparison.
One of my mother’s constant complaints about lamb in restaurants is that it never seems to taste “lamby” enough. I wasn’t sure I knew what she meant, but having sampled the depth of flavour in La’De Kitchen’s adana I am beginning to understand. If there’s one dish I would order again, it would be this one: and the strip of pita underneath which had soaked up all those juices (and some stray fragments of pistachio) was a wonderful bonus. This went particularly well with the yoghurt and mint dip they provided – unsurprisingly, you could say – and slightly less well so with the chilli sauce, which felt more like a salsa. A blackened chilli rested on top of the kebab: a very fiery one, as I was to discover.
Mansoor’s other recommendation was music to my ears. Turkish, Greek and Lebanese restaurants often specialise in shish kebabs and it can be a challenge to get flavour and moisture into chicken breast, to the extent that I often give them a miss in favour of kofte, shawarma or gyros. But La’De Kitchen’s chicken kulbasti kebabs – chicken thighs that had luxuriated on the charcoal grill – were truly gorgeous. Herbed, spiced, marinated and expertly cooked to have the char and tenderness I was hoping for. Chicken thighs can be difficult to get right, but thigh meat is always better than breast meat in the hands of the right kitchen, and this was astounding.
Both these kebabs cost sixteen pounds, which made them among the cheapest mains on the menu, and I thought they were very good value. You had a choice of chips, rice or bulgur rice as an accompaniment, so we tried out a couple of those between us. The chips looked limp coming out of the box but were actually very decent – dusted with herbs and with plenty of flavour, even if the texture was slightly lacking. And I liked the bulgur rice, nutty pearls rendered a rich red with tomato. There was also a salad, full of ribbons of red onion: I would have liked it to be better dressed, but perhaps it wouldn’t have travelled so well if it had been.
Octopus is one of my favourite things to eat, and a dish I always associate with holidays, so when I saw it on the hot mezze menu I had to try it. That smell of the charcoal practically leaped out of the box when I opened it, and there it was, that glorious fractal coil. There’s a skill to cooking octopus, too – too much and it can be dry and too brittle right at the end, not enough and the whole thing is too rubbery.
La’De Kitchen didn’t put a foot wrong with theirs, and within a few mouthfuls I was sitting by a harbour (in my mind at least) with a cold Efe in front of me and the sun beating down. Zoë had never tried octopus before, and although an unworthy part of me was hoping she wouldn’t like it so I could eat it all to myself, when she loved it as much as I did that made me even happier. It’s always better after all, if you can, to escape with an accomplice. This starter was on the expensive side at a tenner, but it was worth every penny just to feel like I’d travelled somewhere, even if in a small way.
Finally, I had really wanted to try the hummus kavurma, a dish I often order at other restaurants. It should come as no surprise by now to find that La’De Kitchen’s version was exemplary. The houmous was a lovely texture – coarse, but not too gloopy, with just the right amount of tahini. And the soft umami nuggets of lamb were resting on top just waiting to be scooped up with pita. I have to mention La’De Kitchen’s pitas, too, because they were stunning: full of air, edible balloons, with a scattering of black and white sesame seeds and a pleasing glaze to them. They were hugely generous, and they gave us three of them; eating them made me wonder what La’De Kitchen’s pizza would be like.
Mansoor had also told me that I needed La’De Kitchen’s pistachio cheesecake in my life, so after an appropriate period of rest and digestion had taken place I fished it out of the fridge. Desserts haven’t exactly been a feature of my takeaway reviews so far, so I was very happy indeed to get to try one. It was good but not great – the centre was very cold and much harder than the rest, in a way that suggested this dessert had previously been frozen. I might have been spoiled by the lovely cheesecake they sell at Geo Cafe, by the very talented Anabel of Reading Loves Cheesecake, but this was a little too sweet and a bit too insubstantial for me.
The base, which didn’t go all the way to the edge, was sponge rather than biscuit and tasted boozy to me, like the bottom of a tiramisu (and in fact La’De Kitchen also sell a tiramisu, so maybe they share a component). Some more chocolate chips would have been nice, too, but then I’m not sure I’ve never seen a dessert that couldn’t be improved with more chocolate chips. Your mileage may vary.
Dinner for two, which included more food than we could sensibly eat in one sitting – not that that stopped us – came to pretty much bang on sixty pounds. That may seem on the high side, but La’De Kitchen don’t charge for delivery and we could easily have ordered less food and have been every bit as happy – provided that octopus still made the cut, anyway.
As you can probably tell from this review, I was very impressed with La’De Kitchen. For one of the first times since I started reviewing takeaway food, I realised some of the things I miss out on by eating new food in this way. It’s lovely to eat dinner on your lap watching Interior Design Masters With Alan Carr, and it’s lovely not to have to brave the rain or leave the house wearing trousers that don’t have an elasticated waist. But even though La’De Kitchen’s food was terrific, it made me think how much I would have liked to eat it in their restaurant, taking my time over everything, getting through a bottle of a great Turkish red and catching up with good friends. And I imagine La’De Kitchen’s food could be very easy on the eye in the restaurant, far nicer than my very limited plating skills make it look.
But to make too much of that would be to be one of those people who looks at good takeaway food and says “I’ll come in to try it when they reopen”, because these restaurants need our help to make sure they can reopen. And La’De Kitchen, as much as any restaurant I’ve reviewed this year, absolutely deserve that support. There is nothing revolutionary about what they do, arguably, but they do it superbly. And actually, I don’t think Reading has ever really had a good Turkish restaurant: I’ve always had to head to Didcot, to the amazing Zigana’s Turkish Kitchen. Zigana does positively life-changing lamb chops: the fat is even more prized than the meat.
I introduced a friend to Zigana a couple of years ago, and she and her husband regularly went there to eat before Covid. He orders the lamb chops – just the chops, no chips or rice or garnish – and ploughs through them without a care in the world, in his happy place. After I’d finished eating my meal, I messaged my friend. I’ve just eaten the most delicious Turkish food. I said. The restaurant has a Pangbourne branch that could probably deliver to you. I haven’t tried their lamb chops, but I reckon they’ll be excellent. It felt like the right thing to do: passing on recommendations is what this blog is all about. And thanking people for recommendations, too. So thank you, Mansoor. See you at the next readers’ lunch?
61-63 Crockhamwell Road, Woodley, Reading, RG5 3JP (also in Pangbourne)
Order via: Direct through the restaurant, or via JustEat