To celebrate the release of Kings of Kebabs, our brand new show celebrating the dons of the British kebab scene, we revisit Mangal 2, the Tweeting Turkish grill restaurant that features in our inaugural episode. Watch the full first episode here.
Ferhat Dirik has nothing against pizza—in fact, he says it's "nice." It's the "stupid, bratty" American kids that he finds annoying, the ones on Buzzfeed and Reddit who bang on about pizza "like it's some sort of religious experience."
As you can tell, Dirik does not pull his punches. It's part of the reason why the Twitter account of his family's Mangal 2 Turkish restaurant in East London is such a raving success. Its 25,000 followers know what to expect: 140-character rants like "'Omg I'm from America I just love pizza slices omg pizza is like my life pizza pizza omg.' Fuck off."
Not that the British-born, Turkish-Kurdish Londoner ("Five-foot-ten, slim, with a good sense of humour") simply sits behind a computer screen pumping out pizza-hate all day long. Six out of seven, Dirik is behind the grill at Mangal 2 flipping adana kofte and lokma kebabs, splitting restaurant-running duties with his father Ali Dirik, who came to London from Istanbul in 1987 and bought the charcoal cooking method of ocakbasi with him. He has even trademarked the Mangal name—"mangal" being the Turkish term for barbecue.
But how did a small, seemingly innocuous kebab joint in Dalston end up with so many followers on Twitter?
"Our Twitter account was actually initially formed by my older sister, who's a psychologist," Dirik tells me. "Our first few tweets were written by her and, with all due respect to her, were pretty standard restaurant-promoting stuff you'd find with 90 percent of other eatery accounts. But she had enough on her plate with her profession and other commitments, and I was fresh out of uni, so she kept pestering me to take over the account."
Dirik caved in 2011 and bit-by-bit, tweet-by-tweet, he turned 200-odd followers into thousands.
"Since then, I've personally written every tweet. Good and bad. Funny and offensive. Insightful and downright stupid," he says. "No other member of staff or family writes our tweets. Mainly because they don't speak English very well—and they have no internet access in prison."
It goes without saying that Dirik's biggest sell is his humour. He's actually funny. "Proper LOL" one might say, although I'm sure he'd tell me to fuck off if I said it to his face.
Dirik is also frank about what goes on in the shop. There's no polished PR front with Mangal 2. Controversial comedian Jim Davidson might pop in ("Do you know what? Jim Davidson was actually polite and courteous. Maybe our delicious kebabs killed the racist in him") and cocaine is regularly left in the loos ("People always take cocaine in our toilets. White powder every weekend on the tiles. Whatever floats your boat!").
As kebab shops go, Mangal 2 is a pretty open book.
It's also pretty famous. Artists Gilbert and George eat here almost much every night, according to legend (they were attracted by the testicles, apparently) and the account's most popular tweet—"Fuck Nando's"—has even appeared on Have I Got News For You.
"I cringe every time I hear it. I mean, fuck Nando's, and fuck those who like that type of boiled, plastic chicken with Peri-Peri-very bad sauce," Dirik says. "But I don't personally like to be perceived as a one-trick pony. My actual favourite quote is something altogether different. It's: 'Shish 'bout to get meze.'"
Is Dirik aware that his humour pulls in the punters?
"The humour aspect developed with trial and error. No other restaurant—at least to my knowledge—was tweeting anything irrelevant, unrelated to the restaurant industry," Dirik admits. "I made a conscious decision to make our own identity stand out, and my own views and sense of humour, and the restaurant's, intertwined."
Part of that identity is political and combative. But it's the balls-on-the-table approach to say it how it really is that has made @Mangal2 a cult. For a restaurant feed, it's pretty topical, with references to Donald Trump, the Panama Papers, and even ISIS.
"My tweets are often topical, political, and I suppose offensive (if you're a Tory or UKIP voter). But I make no apologies. I tweet what I feel and this may be at a cost. We may lose potential customers," he says. "However, I stand by my views. I feel liberated to be able to express my opinions without fear of retribution and imprisonment (like in Turkey.)"
Dirik's certainly not popular amongst vegans. The backdrop to his Twitter feed is a lamb, and tweets like "People want to know if the lamb they're eating came from a happy place. Well, ours is from happy Wales. The lamb, however, had an awful life" fly in the face of animal welfare. Does he ever fear a backlash?
"In response to that particular tweet, I mean, it's just dark humour. We carnivores need to acknowledge that we take away another life form every time we eat meat," Dirik says. "We have to be at peace with this decision, and humour is the best way to overcome this. Any potential backlash could be by vegans. And fuck vegans, honestly. Vegans don't allow my family to bring home the bacon, so to speak. They're no use to us."
When I ask Dirik if he ever thinks his language puts customers off, his answer is unambiguous.
"I do swear on the account, and now that I'm a father to a beautiful 11-month-old boy, I'm more conscious of my language and profanity. The coarse language is only now used when absolutely necessarily," he says. "Like when aimed at David Cameron—the pig-fucking, NHS-murdering cunt."
One glance at the feed and you'll realise Dirik is firmly a Corbyn guy.
"I like Corbz because he's refreshing and doesn't sprout the usual bullshit all New Labour bastards do," he says. "I met him at the British Kebab Awards and had a brief convo with him. He seems an honest man, doing his best to stick to his own principles, and I respect that."
Away from the politics and the Twitter spats, there's one burning question I've been dying to ask: Does Dirik really fuck Pringles tubes?
"I've never fucked a Pringles tube in my life. I don't even know where this question came from. This isn't American Pie, man. Fucking pizza."
This article was originally published on MUNCHIES in June 2016.