On an early Thursday morning at the newly opened Yosma in London's Marleybone, I find myself in the awkward situation of not knowing whether to shake hands with or hug executive head chef Hus Vedat.
Luckily, Vedat is far more decisive than me. He goes straight in for a full embrace.
"I'm Turkish—we hug!" he explains.
Intimate introductions out of the way, I look around the new restaurant and take in just how big it is. With 150 covers, a raki lounge bar, and an open kitchen complete with Mangal grill, Yosma does a good job of transporting you to one of Istanbul's sprawling taverns, or meyhanes.
Vedat notices me checking out some of the paintings that line the restaurant's vast walls. The one I'm staring at features a belly dancer smoking a crack pipe while dominating a man who looks like Tintin.
"Oh those?" Vedat laughs. "They're made by an artist called Neal Fox. We wanted something that nods to Turkey and is quite edgy at the same time, so he came up with a series of artworks called Beatniks."
This approach also sums up what Yosma is trying to achieve with its food. Not the dodgy, LSD-laced shisha pipe part, but the idea of Turkish traditions being mixed with something cutting edge. And delicious.
Vedat's background is in hotel and cruise ship cooking, where he worked before moving to Jamie Oliver's Barbecoa restaurant and popular London Peruvian joint Ceviche. But throughout his cheffing career, one cuisine he never touched upon was the one closest to his own roots.
"When a new cuisine and challenge presents itself, it gets really exciting," Vedat says, explaining that Good Food Society, the London hospitality venture behind Yosma, invited him to work with them and cook Turkish food. "I'm now at the point of my own career where I want to be able to explore my own culinary roots, but no one has really touched upon Turkish cuisine properly."
I follow Vedat over to the mangal section of his open kitchen to see some of this experimentation in action. I spot a hairdryer lying next to the coals.
"You've never heard of the hairdryer trick?" gasps Vedat when I ask what it's for. "It's such a timesaver and it really helps get the fire going without using all that extra effort."
And within seconds, I see the fire come to life as it grows and begins to smoke the aubergines Vedat has carefully placed on the grill. The vegetables are for his ali nazik lamb dish, one of the restaurant's signatures.
"A traditional ali nazik uses sautéed minced lamb and the aubergine puree consists of yoghurt, pepper, and parsley," Vedat explains. "Typically, the diced lamb pieces are served on top of a bed of mashed creamy aubergine with a green chili on top."
Vedat marinates his lamb overnight, cooks it in a Josper indoor barbecue oven, and grills his aubergines whole, which is what imbues the dish with its smoky flavour.
"I've had Turkish people come into the restaurant and say, 'That's not an ali nazik!' But I'm like, 'This is my ali nazik,' he says. "Now, there are people who have been turning to us for inspiration and following what we're doing."
I take a bite the lamb dish and am instantly hit by the intensity of its flavours. This may not adhere to the traditional roots of the ali nazik, but it tastes good to me.
As I finish the dish, Vedat explains the meaning behind his restaurant's name.
"There are lots of variations, but in Turkish, 'Yosma' generally means to insult someone by calling them an 'easy woman,'" he says. "I chose it because Istanbul is such a masculine-dominated culture and Yosma is making a statement against that. It's as if she's a carefree, confident, and fearless woman that doesn't give a fuck."
"Yosma is basically about doing whatever you want?" I ask.
"Exactly," Vedat laughs. "I'm interpreting things in a way that I like to interpret them."
And if that means cooking inspired grilled lamb dishes with the help of a hairdryer, you can call me "Yosma," too.
All photos by Liz Seabrook.