My nickname is: I don't have a nickname because the name Berkok (ethnically Circassian name) is too rare. Actually, there are only two other Berkoks I could find, one of whom I've met. Lovely guy. The third one hasn't responded to our group chat request so far. Not very nice of him.
I have recently tasted: A sunny day in late October in London, it was sublime.
My favorite pub: The Crooked Billet, both for its spicy eggplant also for the number of different terrace areas they have.
Only a true Londoner would know: To buy produce where the stall owner and the haggling buyer are talking a language other than English.
A Londoner you must meet: Jonathan Nunn. Jonathan is the editor of Vittles, my favorite food publication in existence. His takes on the city and its food culture deserve a chef’s kiss. Read his newly published book London Feeds Itself.
On a regular Saturday, you can find me in the line: For a sausage roll at Dusty Knuckle or a chocolatine at Allpress.
SHOOT THE BREEZE
How long have you been a Londoner? What attracted you to live in this city?
My flirtation with London started when I came here for an internship while I was studying in the US. I was working on a global iced tea brand’s new flavours and marketing campaign, staying in Shoreditch despite a lengthy commute. Back then Shoreditch seemed infinitely cool and grunge, an illusion I rid myself of after I moved here permanently. Still, years later that experience made it much easier for me to seal the deal with this city. Now it’s London’s rhythm and liveliness keeps me here. Almost like a caffeinated heartbeat.
London is described as a multicultural, multi-colourful city, do you see indicators of that in food culture and politics?
More than anything. What distinguishes London from other global cities with large diasporas that enrich the food scene is how long the immigrant communities have called this place home. London’s cuisine is hardly British. It’s Punjabi, Gujarati, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Italian, Jamaican, Jewish, Nigerian, Turkish, etc.
Berkok’s table, an early dinner at Westerns Laundry
What is interesting however is those intercultural cuisines are harder to come by in London than in American cosmopolite metropoles like New York or Los Angeles. Fusion has never been London’s forte, and while I don’t necessarily advocate for curry pizzas becoming the norm in the frozen 'ethnic food' aisle, the lack of personal stories of multiethnic chefs surprises me.
Many of the aforementioned communities are present in London as a result of hundreds of years of violent colonial and imperial hegemony. Perhaps, communities and therefore their cuisines hang onto their identity tightly to preserve and delineate their heritage. Perhaps the idea of non-white British food being accepted as legitimate cuisine is still so new that the next stage in cultural output has not started to be entertained. Or perhaps multiethnic people tend not to be chefs.
Berkok (left) & neighbours
In London pubs, restaurants, and cafés, what do you complain about the most?
Scorching hot tap water in the bathrooms. To this day I do not understand how this widespread issue is accepted as normal.
What excites you about London food scenery? What is in vogue at the moment?
London is like the Lernean Hydra when it comes to food, a beast with many heads that multiply when you think you’ve got one down. Central London could be delving into boba and Korean aesthetic desserts while the east is in guest chef residency pop-up season. While the west discovers fancy, dancy pubs; the south might be leaning into diaspora pub menus.
I would not say this is what is trending but more than in any other city I see chefs collaborating on events with restaurants acting as a stage. Just last night I tried Chick n Sour’s new fried chicken sandwich made in collaboration with OREN, Shacklewell’s dimly lit Israeli restaurant. Did I love it? No. The zaatar was too heavy paired with the thick and fatty crust of the thigh, something acidic and brighter was absent. But I did love the fact that I could see what two great joints made together. If New York has Fred Again playing Miley Cyrus from a food truck, we have high-end Middle Eastern fried chicken, a Balkan decadent börek lady taking over the best gastropub north of the river, and a first gen young Turkish chef shaking the pans at Jeremy Lee’s Quo Vadis.