Alan Yau is one of the UK’s most influential restaurateurs. In 1992 he created Wagamama, then was elbowed out of the noodle bar’s management just before it became a global phenomenon. Yau created Hakkasan and Yauatcha, then sold them both for £30.5 million to an Abu Dhabi conglomerate. He is also responsible for Busaba Eathai, the Thai canteen chain; this time, sold for £21.5 million. For these reasons rumours of his next project always abound, are always followed with great anticipation. Of late, Yau’s been dabbling with Turkish food, for example at Babaji in Soho (opened in 2015). Yau’s wife and sometimes business partner, Jale Eventok, is Turkish; this clearly informs his current exploration of food trends.
This little café occupies a corner of the pedestrian-only piazza between St Christopher’s Place and Selfridges. Despite having only two small indoor tables, it’s busy with diners, most of whom sit outside in the square under the cover of an awning and, in cooler weather, are warmed by outdoor heaters. A large wood-fired oven dominates the interior; the cooks roll dough by hand, and use wooden peels to give the topped Turkish flatbreads, called pide, a fast bake.
The similarities to an Italian pizzeria don’t end there; some of the congenial staff were speaking Italian to each other and to customers on my visits. The Turkish manager is particularly charming and engaging.
A blackboard menu inside lists the dishes, but unless you’re fully conversant with Turkish dish names, you’ll need help. With no printed menus, the staff direct you to their Instagram account online. We ditched that silly idea and read from the chalkboard, asking for verbal explanations.
Yamabahce is a pide specialist, with daily-changing specials. Being Turkish, there’s no pork; the red meat is beef. On our first visit these included Develi, named after a famous side place in Istanbul. A boat-shaped pide with piping-hot corned beef filling and a raw egg topping that cooks at table; a knob of butter is supplied to smear on the dry edges. The base was sublime, but like all pide (pizza), it’s best to eat it while still hot.
On a return visit – the second of three, as I liked it enough to keep returning – I tried the Sucuk version. This is made with Turkish salami-like beef sausage, the pide sliced and garnished with rocket; and a vegetarian option with blue cheese and roasted onion. Other meat-free options include coban, the Turkish version of Greek salad, and very nice it is too; and more East-than-West was a tangy salad of tomato and walnut, sharpened by sumac powder and pomegranate arils.
There’s lager, Turkish wines starting at £4.50 per glass, teas and coffee to drink. We recommend the ayran, a salty yogurt drink: a very traditional thirst-quencher. Despite the fact that centuries-old production of raki, wine and beer is currently thriving in Turkey, ayran is promoted by the conservative (and teetotal) leader of Turkey, Recep Erdogan, as the national drink – but we’ll not hold that against it. The Turkish teas is served black in a glass, the traditional way.
North of Oxford Street and close to Selfridges, this delightful but also affordable café is already a hit with shopaholics and fashionistas. You can’t book, so visit off-peak; it opens early for baked-egg brunches. And if you can’t get in, remember that the equally wonderful new branch of the celebrated Sri Lankan restaurant, Hoppers, is just around the corner.
All words and pictures: Guy Dimond
Tues-Fri 8am-11pm; Sat 9am-11pm; Sun 9am-110pm.
Meal for two with drinks and service: around £60.
26 James Street, W1U 1EN; +44 (0)20 3905 3139;