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KEBABS

My Search for London's Best 'Best Kebab'

There are no less than 37 Best Kebabs in London. But which is truly the best?

by Lucas Oakeley
11 September 2018, 10:20am

Photo: Arco Images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Nowhere is the descriptor "best" bandied about more than in the names of late-night kebab shops. Of course, not every one of these Best Kebabs can be the best; that's not how the concept of "best" works. So, in a bid to crown the true king of köfte, I thought I'd visit every Best Kebab in London to work out which, truly, is the best – or, at least, find out why each believes they deserve the title.

First off: how many Best Kebab shops would I need to visit? The answer, reader, is: a lot. According to the Food Standards Agency, there are 37 restaurants in London whose names use the words "best" and "kebab" in some iteration, meaning there are lots of kebabs that claim to be the best in London. However, I was only interested in those simply called "Best Kebab" – the shops brave enough to promise men and women 20 times over the legal driving limit the pinnacle example of marinated meat shaved into bread.

What follows is what I gleaned from the people I managed to speak to in the course of my investigation. I was "oh, won't you please fuck off"ed out of more than a handful. (Also, a quick shout-out to Stoke Newington's Best Turkish Kebab – an OG of London's kebab scene. If it wasn't for the "Turkish" in its title, it would have been the first stop on the trail.)

The Best Kebab
118 Old St, London, EC1V 9BD
Price of kebab: £7

Located close to Old Street station, The Best Kebab has been catering to London's hungry cabbies for over two decades. Head kebab man, Ali Guler, has been working here himself for coming on six.

VICE: How many kebabs do you think you serve in a day?
Ali Guler: A lot. It's a really busy place. We get a lot of cab drivers, a lot of regulars, and we've even got a few guys coming here every single day. And they have the same thing every time: chicken shish. It's mostly those cab drivers that come daily.

Why is your kebab the best in London?
Because we prepare everything fresh in-house, so we know what we put inside it, y’know. We get all our meat from a local supplier as well. It helps when you know exactly what’s going into your kebabs.

What’s the secret to making the best kebab?
It's all about the meat you use, really. If it's good quality meat, then you obviously get a better product.

The Verdict: The Cabby Kebab – reliable, if somewhat overpriced.

The Best Kebab
233 Old St, Hoxton, EC1V 9HE
Price of kebab: £7

Old Street is home to two of London's "Best Kebab" shops. Both seem perfectly happy to coexist, which is likely because enough All Saints black card-holders descend on Old Street every weekend to keep both in thriving business for the foreseeable future. This late-night favourite has been run by owner Yusuf Ali – who asked not to be photographed – for the last 22 years. It was even nominated for the "Best Takeaway in London" at the 2018 Annual British Kebab Awards.

Why is your kebab the best in London?
Yusuf Ali: Well, we've been around for 22 years and we're still going today, so you'll have to ask the customers why that is.

What do you think the secret is to making the best kebab in London?
What makes our kebab special is the ingredients we use. We also have halloumi for the vegetarians, because the best kebab is the kebab that everyone can eat.

What’s your personal favourite kebab on the menu?
I like to mix things up. Some people like to eat the same thing over and over again, but I like some variety. Maybe I'll have lamb today, chicken tomorrow. Then lamb the day after.

The Verdict: The Late-Night Hero – a heavy duty offering beloved of Shoreditch's Friday night army of gurning bankers.

Best Kebab
503 Cambridge Heath Rd, London, E2 9BU
Price of kebab: £7 (with chips and salad)

Owned by Mehmet Çetik since 2013, Best Kebab and its employees are keen to deliver on the promise of the shop's name. Ali Yusel has only been working at Best Kebab for two weeks, but he's already bought into that ethos.

Why is your kebab the best in London?
Ali Yusel: We have best kebab because everything we do is the best. Everybody is always writing that they have the best. You'll see "Best Turkish" and "Best Kebab" all over London. But we have the true best.

What makes your kebab so much better than the other Best Kebabs out there?
We have good quality. Because Turkish people like me are naturally skilled at cooking, whether it's kebabs or home dishes. And everything we make here is done inside with our own special preparation. We have lamb mince which we mix with green pepper, some parsley, some paprika inside. We make that in the back. No one else does that.

What's your personal favourite kebab on the menu?
My favourite changes every day. Sometimes I'll eat the wings, sometimes I'll eat the chicken shish. My favourite of all-time is our lamb mince because of the fat inside it. It's tasty and soft.

How many kebabs do you sell per day?
I don't know that. But every week we sell over 100 kilos of chicken shish.

The Verdict: The Crowd-pleaser; sometimes it's the simple things you crave, sometimes it's the complementary side of chips.

Best Kebab
166 Victoria Park Road, London, E9 7HD
Price of kebab: £7

Bulent Ganita has been working at Victoria Park's resident Best Kebab for over ten years. While he's seen plenty of customers come and go, Ganita swears the menu (and the prices) haven't changed much since he first stepped foot in the store.

What's the most popular kebab you sell?
Bulent Ganita: Probably the döner, but everything is popular here.

Why is your kebab shop the best in London?
That's a good question. A lot of the places are really the same and do just have the same name. But we just try to do our best and try to be the best. We're working hard, y'know? This Best Kebab has been open for 30 years now, so if we've been running out of kebab every week for all that time, it's obviously good.

What's your favourite kebab on the menu?
Well, I'm not actually eating any at the moment because I'm on a diet right now. I've already had too much kebab over the years!

The Verdict: The Old-timer – the secret spice blends here are likely older than you.

Best Kebab
143 Dulwich Rd, Herne Hill, London SE24 0NG
Price of kebab: £7

This Best Kebab is the perfect place to undo all the work you've just put in at the nearby Brockwell Lido. Server Zach has spent years dishing out grilled meat to happy customers; however, he himself tends not to partake in any form of shish consumption.

Why is your kebab the best in London?
Zach: Because we have the tastiest. If it tastes that good, it must be the best.

It must be pretty hard to stay in shape with all the temptations working here…
Yeah, I don't actually eat any kebab anymore, because it’s not best for the gym.

What sort of customers come to you for the best kebab?
Oh, all sorts. We even get some people come in here and ask for their lamb shish to be very bloody. Almost raw. All sorts of people…

The Verdict: Kebabs so large – and, at the same price as everywhere else, superior value – they'll set your gym progress back a week or so, in the tastiest way possible.

Best Kebab
13 Tulse Hill, Brixton, London, SW2 2TH
Price of kebab: £7

The sign outside may indicate that this Best Kebab doubles as a "traditional fish bar", but Onder Yilcil's Best Kebab is all about the meat.

Can you tell me a little about the history of this place?
Onder Yilcil: This shop has been here almost 25 years. I've been here for seven years now and it's still the same since I first came here.

What's your most popular kebab here?
All our kebabs are popular here: Chicken, lamb shish, döner. All of them are equally popular.

Why is your kebab the best in London?
Because we do the best! We cook all our meat barbecue-style with charcoals – it adds some smoky flavour – and we always use fresh and local ingredients.

What would you say your favourite kebab is?
All of them. I've had them all and they all are my favourite.

The Verdict: The Smoky Bandit – meat meets grill meets you.

The Best Kebab
294 Walworth Rd, London SE17 2TE
Price of kebab: £6.50

This is possibly the fanciest kebab shop I've ever been inside of. It's got leather seating booths, air-conditioning and is quite definitely the only kebab place I've visited that has steak on the menu. The premises may have opened back in 1984, but owner Levent Gurel has really revitalised the place in the six years since he took control.

How many people do you reckon you serve a day?
Levent Gurel: I can't even give you a count. We’ve never ever thought of counting because it would honestly never end. It gets busy with everyone. With the families, with the going out crew, the younger crew, and even the older generation.

Why would you say that you guys have the very best kebab in London?
Because we're the only ones that cook our döner on stones. Actual stones. It's not grilled: it's cooked on stones. So, the stones will actually heat up and cook the döner. And everything is home-made, including our döners, our kebabs, even our bread… you name it. It’s all done in-house. We don't buy anything from outside. It's all prepped here.

What's your favourite kebab?
It's got to be the lamb döner. It's just a classic. And with our one, especially because we make it here and we know how much of what is in there. All döners are fairly standard, but you get different percentages of the meat-to-herb ratio and it makes it taste very different. So, for example, our döner is extremely light coloured because we use a 70-30 ratio to minimalise all the spices and herbs, to keep it fresh and to keep that real lamb flavour intact.

The Verdict: The Date Night Döner – grab a cosy booth for the most romantic kebab of your entire life.

Best Kebab
124 New Cross Rd, London, SE14 5BA
Price of kebab: £6

One of the "best takeaways in the UK", according to a Hungry House survey, New Cross Road's Best Kebab was also a recipient of a Good Takeaway Award in 2016. This is a kebab shop with pedigree. A kebab shop where you can order an apple pie to go alongside your hunk of meat. The man who runs the place is Metin Pekcin.

Why do you think Turkish people make the best kebabs?
Metin Pekcin: Because it's pretty much our national food, and we grow up eating it. It’s in our blood. In the whole of the country it’s probably what Turkish people are best at.

Does your mum make a good kebab?
Oh yeah, she does.

Whose is better: hers or yours?
She's always better! She has all of the experience. You just learn from them, y’know, your mum and dad. And then obviously they’re always going to be better than you.

What makes your kebab the best in London?
Myself, I do everything fresh. I make daily salad – I don’t keep salad from the day before. I don’t cut my meat and leave it waiting there for ages. When customers come, I always cut it to order.

What’s your most popular kebab here?
I'd say chicken is most popular with the Eastern Europeans; the Polish and the Russian guys who come in here. But lamb döner is bought more often by our Chinese customers. I don’t know why that is, but I suppose people like to try what they don't usually have.

The Verdict: The Katharine Hepburn Kebab – timeless, decorated and fiercely independent.

Best Kebab
150 High Rd, East Finchley, London, N2 9ED
Price of kebab: £6.50

Resat Aksoa is passionate about delivering the best product possible to his hungry (and usually inebriated) customers. Unfortunately, competition on the high street means that Aksoa will likely have to increase his prices in the immediate future.

How long have you been serving the "best kebab" here?
Resat Aksoa: I've been here 16 years now and it's stayed the same. The only thing that's changed is the menu. We have chicken nuggets for the kids.

What’s your most popular kebab?
Chicken shish.

What's your favourite?
The same.

Why do you think you do the best kebab?
It’s all about the quality and care that I use to make my kebabs.

The Verdict: The Stoic – one bite will tell you all you need to know.

There's not a lot that separates the best kebab from a middling kebab: fresh ingredients; high quality meat cooked over coals, if you – like a human with working taste buds – enjoy that smoky taste. Price, maybe, but that's more a value thing than a flavour issue.

The reason it's hard to quantify which of London's Best Kebabs is truly the best is because the best kebab you've ever had probably isn't about where you had it, but when you ate it. The "best kebab of your life" isn't from a place, it's from a time.

It's the kebab that soaks up the six tins of K cider you downed to impress your new flatmates at the fag-end of a Freshers' Icebreaker party. It's the very same kebab that you wake up to the next morning: cold, congealed, yet still strangely curing of your hangover. Because eating a kebab isn't worrying about the macronutrients on your MyFitnessPal; it's about living in the moment.

Carpe döner.

@LucasOakeley