FIRST, you’ve got to walk Berkeley Street. Past shuttered doors, peeling paint, busted dreams and feel with every weighted step the disappointment at the way its once glittering life turned out.

Then you’ve got to carry your own freshly lowered expectations up some steps, pass an empty front room, mutter out loud is this damn place even still open, go gently through a dark and Byzantine corridor and then boom. Take a moment. To adjust your eyes. To what you are seeing. Warmth, life, chitter-chatter. Light. Everywhere.

People sprawling, talking, some actually playing WTF – is that chess? Couches, throws, furniture of all shapes and sizes, laptops, pictures. And all this in a stealth hall really, beneath a glorious Victorian vaulted ceiling. Secreted at the back of what was once, maybe, a grand terraced house.

By the time I’m sipping an Egyptian mint tea, pepperminty zings, trying just one more of those Turkish delights, pistachio this time, and eyeballing a sizzling platter of lamb ribs bobbing between crowded tables from that kitchen to me.

I know this much: I’m coming back. Probably tomorrow morning. For Turkish coffee and pastries ostensibly. For that walk from the weary old world out there into the warm secret one here, really. Kick back, cool down, check in, check out, man.

They make their own pitta bread, fill it with their own shawarma: the sweet and stickily plump chicken chunks being forked up by me as we speak. “We’re in at six in the morning,” says the man with the big black beard when he lingers. “That’s why we shut at 7pm. Long, long day.”

Brothers, uncles – I was served by a son earlier – it’s a family affair. A former banker, a one-time restaurant owner, I lose track of who does what as nods are made over shoulders towards that open counter, beside that big brown paper sign saying: Lamb shank on pulao £13.50, six portions available today, lamb rib (boneless), serves four: £38.

I’m forking my way now through a Turkish salad, every leaf, slice of tomato, perky little olive, and salty chunk of feta, glistening with sumac, pomegranate, olive oil, vinegars and washed by aromatic chopped mint.

This is the best thing I’ll eat this afternoon, moist, refreshing, super-summery. Yes, I’ll finish all those ribs too, of course, their crispness like a shell, the lamb sliding off the bone as in all the good movies.

But at this time of the afternoon, most people around me are on bakes and coffee. Chess games take place, one a four-ball, on at least two tables, mochas, pistachios, all manner of curious drinks being brought; the couple at the next table gossiping about their tutors at the uni not that far away. I think I recognise that guy sitting on the high chair down at the corner, but from where? Hang on? Didn’t he vanish in the 1980s?

This then is the antithesis of the post-Covid dining scene with its book-by-app, we-want-you-out-in-90-minutes table-turning hustle.

Yet in here, too, they have gone a little bit techno-crackers. When I sat down and looked distractedly for the menu I was directed to a QR code, scanned it on my phone, peered, scrolled, ticked items I wanted, peered, scrolled, paid online, checked my signal, tickety-tocked forever for my bank’s two factor identification, ignored all online warnings and then the waiter, hovering in case I blundered, finally pointed to the till behind us and said: look your order’s already here. Amazing.

And it only took 20 times as long as it would have if I had just told him what I wanted.

“Ah, yeah,” they will tell me later, as I’m chatting while a pitta bread is brown-paper-bagged for home, “but it lets our customers know exactly how many portions we have left”. Indeed and fair enough. And apparently it’s far quicker for repeat diners.

Which, and keep this one strictly to yourself, I will very soon be.

Ottoman Coffee House

73 Berkeley Street


Menu: Shawarma with rice, hand-made pitta, lamb ribs, Turkish salad, Turkish delight, bakes, cakes, Turkish coffees and loads made in-house. 4/5

Service: App for ordering but staff are always about, relaxed and helpful in case you, like me, have a poor phone signal or just wanna go old school. 5/5

Atmosphere: Fabulous, secret chamber feel, people playing chess, couches, throws, a vaulted ceiling. Hipster heaven without the hipsters. 5/5

Price: That Turkish salad was £4.90, Turkish delight £2.10, ribs £7.90 and shawarma with all the sauces £6.70. Bargain 5/5

Food: Super-summery, juicy, and herby salad was a joy to eat, ribs were as they should be and even that Egyptian mint tea was worth a pause. 7/10