Takeaway review: La’De Kitchen

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?

La’De Kitchen
61-63 Crockhamwell Road, Woodley, Reading, RG5 3JP (also in Pangbourne)
0118 9692047

https://www.ladekitchen.com
Order via: Direct through the restaurant, or via JustEat

Mangal

N.B. Mangal closed in December 2015. I’ve left the review up for posterity.

It feels like eons ago, but back in December Reading was transformed into a winter wonderland. There was an ice rink and a festive funfair in Forbury Gardens. The area down by the Oracle Riverside, occupied by the prehistoric crazy golf course in the summer, became a German-themed bar selling Glühwein and Bavarian beer. The square outside the Town Hall became a festive market, with loads of cute little cabins offering a variety of food, drink, crafts and other goodies.

Sounds marvellous, doesn’t it? There was only one catch, which was that nobody was terribly impressed. Most reports of Forbury Gardens (it was opened by camera-shy shrinking violet and brainbox Joey Essex, which with hindsight might have been a sign) were that it wasn’t great: people said that ice rink was decent enough, but that the funfair around it was a grotty way to be parted from a lot of money very quickly, the main concession to the festive season being some makeshift tinsel antlers hastily attached to the horses’ heads. I’m informed that the Glühwein at the “Wundrmarkt” was synthetic tasting, and there wasn’t any outside heating: I always felt a bit cold wandering along the riverside and looking at people huddled at tables trying to have fun.

As for the festive market, well, I wandered round it several times with a growing sense of despair mixed with indignation. Many of the food stalls were selling almost exactly the same things – a few did hog roast, a few did mulled wine, the rest were an anonymous smudge of winter kitsch. Worst of all was the horror of “Quidsticks”, a stall offering a variety of meats on a skewer for a pound (including sausages, that food so frequently found on a skewer). If you were visiting the town by train it would have been one of the first stalls you’d clap eyes on: it just looked tacky. The decent stalls – the ones that reflected what Reading was really about, that had a genuine connection with the town – stuck out like a sore thumb. I felt for the Grumpy Goat, on the edge of the market, and for Reading’s brilliant milliner Adrienne Henry. By the end she had stopped bothered opening, and many of the retailers complained to the organiser.

Apologies for starting this review with a rant, but the thing that saddens me most about all of it is the idea – prevalent among many people who don’t love Reading the way I do – that we should be grateful for anything we get. I think a lot of people think we should be happy to have a Christmas market at all, even if it looks like Lapland’s answer to Moss Side. They think an ice rink is a great thing, even if it leaves our beautiful Victorian park looking like a war zone afterwards. They don’t go to Bath, or Winchester, and think “why can’t we have a beautiful event like that?”, they think “they deserve that stuff and we don’t”. And if there’s one thing that annoys me it’s that underlying attitude that average is good enough for Reading. We have some great stuff here, we deserve better and we should aim higher. After all, surely nobody looks at the Broad Street Mall and actually says “yes, that really is Reading’s favourite mall”?

I’m afraid this train of thought was very much set off by visiting Mangal this week, because it’s another good example of this phenomenon. Some people might think “isn’t it great that Reading has a Turkish restaurant?”, whereas I want to be able to say “Reading even has a Turkish restaurant, and it’s brilliant.” But I can’t, I’m afraid, because Mangal isn’t it.

It’s not a bad space, on St Mary’s Butts just down from Monroe’s and Coconut. It’s mainly one big room packed with tables and a raised area with smaller tables (which is where they sat me). I can’t help remembering its previous location, where House Of Flavours is now, and thinking that was a much better spot for them – partly because their charcoal grill was out where you could see it, filling the air with those tantalising smells and giving you an idea of what was going to arrive on your plate. Without that the restaurant felt a bit boxy and lifeless (although perhaps the belly dancing – on Friday and Saturday nights – changes all that).

The menu is a range of hot and cold meze – no real surprises there – along with mainly grilled meats as main courses. The meze which turned up first were solid and unexceptional: sigara boreki, tubes of filo pastry filled with feta, herbs and egg, was the best of them although still very much the sum of its parts. It conjured up memories of cheese pies on holiday in Greece, which was great, but divorced of those happy thoughts it was nice but unspecial. It did fare better than the houmous though – a fridge-chilly bowl of something which was virtually indistinguishable from a two pound tub of houmous from Sainsburys. I didn’t get any garlic, any smoke or any tahini, and a few little dabs of olive oil and a dusting of paprika were never going to transform it from duckling to swan. Another disappointment: Turkish pitta is a wonderful thing, dimpled, thickier and fluffier than its Greek sibling, but this was over-flattened, crispy and brittle.

Mangalstarter

For mains I quite fancied trying pide, the distinctive boat-shaped Turkish take on pizza, but confusingly although it features on the website menu it was nowhere to be seen on the printed version. Instead I went for the grilled meats, reasoning that this was where Turkish food really excels, but that too was no more than okay. Karisik izgara was a selection of barbecued lamb and chicken, and when it turned up it looked like an embarrassment of riches. But, like the Christmas market or the ice rink, it was mainly veneer. The best thing, the lamb kofta, was quite delicious – beautifully spiced, lovely, soft and tender. But the lamb chop was oddly bland – an awful lot of work to take off the bone, not at all pink and somewhat short on flavour.

Most of the chicken was also on the bone – a couple of wings and a couple of what looked like minuscule drumsticks – and I’m not sure it was worth the effort to get it off. The first mouthful of these triggered happy thoughts – that glorious mixture of tender meat, charred skin and the hint of smoke – but the first mouthful was pretty much all there was. Last of all, there were a few chunks of chicken breast; firm rather than tender, with no evidence of any seasoning or marinade. By the time I’d finished this, the pile of bones on the edge of my plate seemed almost as big as the pile of meat that had arrived. The accompaniments – some pleasant enough rice, a puddle of yoghurt and mint with an oddly artificial taste, a rock hard tomato which had apparently once had a skewer through it – added little.

MangalMeat

The moussaka was similarly disappointing. I like a firm moussaka made up of discernible layers, tall rather than wide, with different textures for each of the layers. Instead this was a large, flat ramekin which definitely had potato, aubergine, meat and sauce in but was so (and I can’t find a more charitable word for this) runny that it wasn’t massively appealing. The top was nicely browned and I even quite liked the little bit of pointless salad (mostly rocket, dressed with something that seemed to be a mixture of balsamic vinegar and sugar; sweet yet astringent) but the moussaka itself? It was fine. Hot as the sun and sloppy as a Jackson Pollock but taste-wise it was vegetables in a tomato sauce with a bit of minced lamb in. Here’s the most damning thing of all: unlike the hummus, I think a supermarket moussaka would have been better. It also came with rice, for reasons which I can only assume somebody understands.

MangalMoussaka

It would be unkind not to mention the service, because it was efficient, smiley and friendly; we were there early on a Friday night – before the belly dancing started – but I got the impression that they wouldn’t have been fazed by a much busier restaurant. And it could be that, or the atmosphere (or the belly dancing) that attracts people, because the restaurant had a reasonable amount of tables occupied already. But good service can’t redeem average food, and sadly that was all I had during my visit. I couldn’t help thinking that there were better places to have all these things: the mixed grill at La Courbe wipes the floor with Mangal’s version, and if all you want is lamb kofte you may as well head to Kings Grill and spend the change on a pint afterwards. Dinner for two – two starters, two mains and a couple of soft drinks – was almost exactly forty pounds.

I feel sad that I can’t say more good things about Mangal. It’s independent, it has great service, it’s already made enough of a go of its business to move into a better location, and it’s doing something no other restaurant in town offers. But if I recommended it on that basis, I’d be making the same mistake as people who are glad Reading got an ice rink, or a Glühwein bar, or a row of shacks selling hog roast underneath Queen Victoria’s unamused silhouette. Because it’s not enough, and we shouldn’t pretend that it is: whatever you do, however simple your food, whether it’s independent or not, irrespective of whether you have competition, ought to be amazing. Otherwise we’re effectively patting people on the head for having a go and saying that’s all Reading should expect, and I just don’t believe that. It’s all very well to say that the best is the enemy of the good, but I reckon – when it comes to Reading, at least – that the average is a much more dangerous adversary.

Mangal – 6.3
60 St Mary’s Butts, RG1 2LG
0118 9504039

http://www.mangalreading.com/

King’s Grill

Let’s start with the chicken. It’s glorious; straight off the grill, lightly charred on the outside yet tender inside from the marinade. It’s frustrating having to eat it with nothing but a plastic fork (even a plastic knife would have been something) but it’s so perfectly cooked that even a plastic fork can break it into smaller pieces. The lamb, if anything, is even better – juicy, savoury, no fat, no suspicious bounciness. The lamb kofte is just as good, minced but pleasingly coarse rather than turkey twizzler smooth, the herbs and seasoning bringing out every bit of the lamby goodness.

Both kebabs are topped with salad – crisp iceberg and crunchy red cabbage – all fresh rather than wilted and forlorn. The mint sauce, perfect with the lamb, is sweet and thick. The chilli sauce has less kick than I thought it might, which is a relief, but is smoky and delicious. A mixture of the two, with a mouthful of the meat and some texture from that salad, is heaven. The garlic sauce is creamy and rich without being overwhelmingly garlicky – all of the plusses without the halitosis horror the next day. And, let’s not forget, you also have the flatbread it’s all served on – gradually soaking up that sauce and those juices, waiting until enough meat is gone that you can roll it up, like a magic carpet, and eat it without dignity, savouring all those flavours and maybe, just maybe, dripping a bit of sauce into the bottom of your polystyrene container.

King's Grill - kebabNo, I’m not joking: this really is a review of King’s Grill, the kebab place on King’s Road. You know, the one next to the picture framers.

I considered all sorts of restaurants to review for the one year anniversary of Edible Reading. The French Horn, so beloved of the late Michael Winner, with its proper old-school starched linens and starchy service by the riverbank. L’Ortolan, which has a Michelin star. Orwell’s, whose chef has won one in the past and probably will again. It would have been easy to book one of those, dress up and eat pretty, seasonal, precise courses and carefully selected wine – and I probably will some day – but somehow it didn’t feel right for this week. Besides, none of them are actually in Reading and there’s a reason this blog isn’t called Edible Berkshire.

So I chose King’s Grill because, believe it or not, it’s all about the fundamentals – and King’s Grill gets those as right as anywhere I’ve been in the last year. There are only six seats, retro faux-leather stools looking out over a sidestreet and (if you’re really lucky) Reading Library. There are only a few options: lamb shish, chicken shish, kofte (you can have lamb or chicken doner, or a burger, if you like that sort of thing: I don’t). But it’s scrupulously clean – I swear every time the staff aren’t cooking or serving they seem to be wiping or cleaning – and the service is unfailingly polite. And those shish and kofte are cooked perfectly, served up fresh and bloody gorgeous. It’s a room with seats and pleasant service in which you can eat marvellous food; as good a definition of a restaurant as any I can think of.

It’s not all perfect. Chips are standard fare – I’d be amazed if they aren’t frozen – although they’re nice enough when added to that edible magic carpet at the end. Houmous is thick, claggy, slightly tahini-infused wallpaper paste (I only ordered it to try and prove that there’s something at King’s Grill for vegetarians: silly me, there isn’t). But the cornerstone – well marinated meat, cooked skilfully by people who know this stuff like the back of their hand, rushed from the grill to a warm flatbread and topped with crisp, fresh virtuous salad – is right on the money.

Of course, I’m well aware that most people who go to King’s Grill won’t eat in. They won’t sit at those stools. They won’t even necessarily be sober. They’ll roll up at one in the morning, needing to line their stomachs, and they’ll have a doner with lashings of chilli sauce and a few of those odd pickled chillies they insist on plonking on everything, and they’ll probably regret it in the morning. But that’s not the point, because King’s Grill is far better food than drunk people deserve – and as a pit stop, unfogged by booze, early on a school night, it’s as good and fresh a quick option as you’ll get anywhere else in town. People will gladly go and sit at Mangal and pay twice as much to sit down and eat something very similar, but if you’re in a hurry King’s Grill is unbeatable.

Dinner for two (two large kebabs, some chips and that forgettable houmous) came to fifteen pounds. The kebabs were six pounds each and, for me, if you compare that with Five Guys, or Handmade Burger Kitchen, or even Mission Burrito there’s only going to be one winner. I feel like King’s Grill is a well-kept secret – a few times I’ve seen waiting staff and restaurateurs from other places nipping in there after closing time. There’s a reason for that, put it that way.

For me, the biggest irony of all is that in London, people rave about restaurants which don’t take reservations. Restaurants which specialise, which do a very limited range of dishes but with consistent excellence. Places where there are only a handful of seats and you have to get there early to avoid disappointment. The capital is littered with them, and people queue round the block to get into them. But you know what? We already have one right here in Reading. It’s terrific. You should go.

So yes, I’m sorry if you were expecting a two thousand word review of a fine dining venue, full of plates that look like art (and my photos of them which, err, don’t) along with a blow by blow summary of the amuse bouche and the pre-dessert. Except actually, I don’t think I am: there’s a place for that kind of restaurant (and it’s a pity that central Reading doesn’t have more of them, but that’s another story), but – this week of all weeks – I reckon made the right choice.

King’s Grill – 8.0
16 King’s Road, RG1 3AA
0118 9500220