Has Kebab, Chaussee de Haecht

BRUSSELS. Greetings, Döner Fans. It was with satisfaction that I watched Germany narrowly pip Sweden in Saturday’s World Cup match. Dr Döner still retains a degree of fondness for his former Heimat. However, by the time of writing, things have now changed. In these new circumstances, Dr Döner is all about de rode duivels (i.e. team Belgium).

Not that Dr Döner cares much for football. It is mostly an excuse to drink beer and eat kebab. And indeed, after the match we went for a kebab. I was lured into the alleyways of Schaarbeek by whispers of a street composed entirely of Turkish restaurants. Can such a place of wonder exist? It truly can. The street is called Chaussee de Haecht. Every building sells Turkish food in some form. It is now a fantasy of mine to cruise from one end of the street to the other, guzzling lahmacun, döner and ayran in an endless, gluttonous orgy.

Somewhere in Schaarbeek…

Anyway, we managed to find a restaurant that was open and willing to serve us at this late hour. The restaurant was called Has Kebab. We ordered the Tepsi Kebap (basically a mix of everything) and a big jug of ayran. I spent the meal consoling a local Swede who had suffered cruel jibes at the hands of some nearby German fans during the match. Alas, the tables have since turned.

The menu. We shared the Tepsi Kebap between 5 people.

Has Kebab was full of Turkish families enjoying a good meal, which is always a good sign. As it was very busy, the service was a little slow and sporadic. When we finally got our massive plate of food, it was all worth it. The huge tray groaned under the weight of spiced mince kebabs, Turkish rice, bulgur, salad and bread. I tell you, Döner Fans, it was a sight to behold. Eating it outside, with boy racers zooming up the street and Turkish being spoken all around, I could almost imagine I was back in the glory days of Istanbul back in 2008. Ah, those were times…

Has Kebab viewed from the street. They also do pizza.

The food itself was good, hearty fare. I will not say it was the best I’ve ever had, but it succeeded in scratching my kebab itch for the night. The meat was flavourful, and the portion was very generous. I must reserve especial praise for the bread, which was fresh, expertly seasoned, and delicious. It sat comfortably in my stomach as I waddled back through the backstreets of Schaarbeek and Saint-Josse on my way home.

The Tepsi Kebap in all its glory. Get me on that!

My only niggle is that I felt a certain note of suspicion in the air between us and the staff. On my trips inside to use the facilities, I could feel mistrustful eyes following me. And when the time came to pay and we asked for tea, we were told that it was too late for tea. Any other day they would gladly have made us tea. But not today. Oh well. Still, don’t let it put you off if you’re looking for authentic Turkish food in Schaarbeek. Dr Döner will be back on Chaussee de Haecht sometime soon to sample the rest of the shops!

On one of my two trips to the lavatory during the meal, I noticed this sign above the sinks. It is always reassuring to know that one’s kebab has been handled with the utmost concern for hygiene.

Results

Service: 2/5 (sporadic)

Atmosphere: 3/5 (like certain parts of Istanbul)

Price: 3/5 (fair)

Taste: 4/5 (very nice)

Photographs by Dr. Döner

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Eat and Smile, Place Jourdan 44

BRUSSELS. Hello Döner Fans. Today, let me take you to Eat & Smile – a kebab shop on Place Jourdan whose name is also an instruction. Eat and Smile! Essen und Lächeln! Anyone found not doing both will be removed from the premises.

As fellow merrymakers of the night, you will know that Place Jourdan boasts a high concentration of pubs and bars. Of course, pubs and bars would be nothing without a kebab shop nearby, lurking like a hyena to pick off unwary drunks. A few weeks ago I left one of Place Jourdan’s pubs at closing time, smacking my lips at the thought of eating and smiling, only to find that the kebab shop had closed. It closes before the pubs do. Eat & Smile doesn’t want your filthy lucre, disgusting drunks! Eat & Smile will make its coin by honest means!

Factoring this in, I went back with my entourage another day at an earlier time to sample its wares.

Eat and Smile on Place Jourdan

Eat and Smile styles itself as a grill restaurant. This means that your meat is cooked horizontally over hot coals, as opposed to twisting vertically against an upright hot plate. Other than that, the concept is the same. I ordered the Dürüm Adana (spicy mince kebab) with all the trimmings.

The interior of the restaurant is rather classy for a kebab joint. The walls are done in bare brick and wooden planks. It is well lit and free of that sticky texture that often plagues the more humble kebab shop. You can watch your food being tenderly cooked on the grill before your eyes.

A selection of sexy meat and veg for the discerning diner.

One advantage of Place Jourdan is that the pubs allow you to bring in food that you’ve bought on the square. The result is an exhilarating relay of people shuttling between the pubs and the fast food shops. Also it means that all the pubs smell of chips. We were keen to add our own meaty odours to the mix, and so my hungry companions and I headed back to the pub, clutching our freshly-grilled kebabs, to do just that.

Eat&Smile gives away free branded merchandise with its kebabs, like this plastic bag.

My Dürüm Adana was all right, really, though not the best. It tasted no better than the sum of its parts. Some red cabbage had also managed to creep into the salad, which is always to be discouraged. However, if all you are looking for is ballast on which to pour a few pints of Belgian lager, then the kebabs at Eat&Smile will do just nicely. Assuming you are willing to foot the princely 4,80 EUR bill. This is more than you would usually pay for a kebab in Brussels, and to my mind it is more than that kebab is really worth.

Results

Service: 3/5 (fine)

Atmosphere: 4/5 (classy for a kebab shop)

Price: 2/5 (above average)

Taste: 2/5 (meh)

Photographs by Dr. Döner

El Turco, Place de Londres

BRUSSELS. Hello again, Döner Fans. Put down that kebab and wipe the sauce off your jowls, I have another treat to share with you. This time, an all-you-can-eat Turkish buffet here in Brussels. That’s right, all you can eat! No four words in the English language sound sweeter in Dr Döner’s ears! They are an invitation to disgrace oneself. Let me speak to you of El Turco.

Enter and disgrace thyself

On the little square known as Place de Londres, just the other week, I met my fellow diners at the agreed time. It was dark; conditions were perfect. By day we may have been respectable members of the community. But tonight we would be disreputable gluttons. We went into El Turco, ordered some perfunctory drinks, and then hit the buffet.

I should say that this was not my first time at El Turco. I had graced it almost a year before, and had done things to my body there that you would struggle to pay for in the backstreets of Amsterdam. It works like this: at El Turco you move in a line along the buffet, piling as much as you can onto a plate that quickly becomes too small. There is vegetarian mezze at one end and grilled meat at the other. After scooping up a shameful amount of food, your plate is then weighed to work out the price. If, like me, you anticipate eating an excessive amount of food, the combined weight of which you’d rather not know, then you can instead simply pay 24,90 EUR for all-you-can-eat, multiple plates, no weighing, no judgmental looks, no questions asked. It is the discerning diner’s option.

Vegetarian mezze waiting to be guzzled down in huge quantities.

I duly loaded up my first plate. I shovelled on börek, hummus, okra, feta, grilled peppers, grilled aubergine in yoghurt, chickpeas, and a deliciously crisp çoban salatası (shepherd’s salad) of finely-sliced cucumber, tomato, onion, parsley and peppers. There was barely space left to balance a huge köfte on the top of it all by the time I got to the grill. I staggered back to the table and shovelled it into my face. Perhaps I chatted to my fellow diners; I do not recall. The company was unimportant. The food was paramount.

The first plate. Or, as I like to think of it, the appetiser. The “amuse-bouche”.

I’ve always felt that the first plate is just a formality. It is your chance to find out what you want more of and what you can do without. The trick is to guzzle it down and get a second plate before your stomach realises it’s full. Avoid bread, as it only fills you up faster. Anyway, the food-fever was on me, and I returned to the buffet.

Plate number two

The second plate was more circumspect. I piled on the salad and left space for more meat from the grill. The köfte had been excellent, and this time I went for the lamb. Once more I devoured it, like a lion on a gazelle. It was juicy and delicious.

The debris

By this time I was beginning to sweat, and the buttons on my shirt were groaning under the sudden strain. I threw myself for a third and final time onto the meaty seas of the buffet, this time to load up on fruit for dessert. After that, I ate no more.

Nothing keeps a rich meal down like a big pile of fruit.

El Turco describes itself as a Mediterranean self-service restaurant with a strong Ottoman influence. It combines traditional and new types of delicious cold mezze with typical Turkish grilled meats. Its food is 100% homemade. They also serve raki, Efes and Turkish tea and coffee. Common to all its mezze is a feeling of freshness, and a modest plateful might indeed be extremely healthy. But who goes to an all-you-can-eat restaurant to eat only a modest plateful? The very idea!

I have been to all-you-can-eat buffets before which I can only describe as grim and upsetting. El Turco is neither of these things. El Turco is a classy place, with a chic interior of bare wood, concrete and tiles. Unlike the comfy, homely, living-room feel of Kervansaray, El Turco feels polished and sophisticated, the kind of place where hipsters might dine. I recommend it, though if you go, wear something loose-fitting. It plays havoc with your waistline. Until next time, Döner Fans!

The El Turco interior, borrowed from their website.

You can book your visit to El Turco on their website.

To Recap: What Have We Learned?

“çoban salatası” [cho-ban –sa-la-ta-seugh] (shepherd’s salad)

Results

Service: 4/5 (helpful and efficient, though really you mostly serve yourself)

Atmosphere: 4/5 (chic and sophisticated)

Price: 4/5 (depends how much you eat; I always get my money’s worth)

Taste: 5/5 (yum)

Photographs by Dr Döner

What Makes Turkish Rice So Delicious

Greetings, Döner Fans! If you have ever taken a foray into Turkish cuisine, you will no doubt have eaten Turkish rice. Most likely you’ll also have asked yourself: what makes Turkish rice so yummy? And what are those brown bits in it?

Yummy Turkish rice. With brown bits.

Turkish rice, which is rightly called şehriyeli pilav [sheh-ree-elly pee-laf], is a delicious Turkish staple. It is usually served on a separate plate alongside hot food such as stew, stuffed peppers, or other delicious things. I got to thinking about it after stuffing myself with the daily special at Turkuaz here in Brussels. (I’ve reviewed the kebabs at Turkuaz before, but I should also say that their 8-Euro daily hot meal is delicious.) You may also recall images of delicious Turkish rice from my review of Mercan restaurant in Berlin.

Turkish rice served alongside stuffed peppers at Turkuaz

If you deduced that it is the brown bits that make the rice so yummy, then congratulations: you are correct, Döner Fans! Şehriyeli pilav means ‘rice with orzo’, so the brown bits are really little pieces of orzo pasta. Sometimes vermicelli is also used. The orzo or vermicelli is fried lightly in butter before the rice and water are added. The şehriye gives the rice a tasty, juicy, buttery flavour.

A serving of Turkish rice at Mercan in Berlin. A spoonful of beef and chickpea stew anoints the crest of this small rice mound.

So there you have it, Döner Fans. Now you know why Turkish rice is so delicious. And now you also know what the brown bits are. Go ahead and order it with your next meal. Enjoy!

To Recap: What Have We Learned?

“şehriyeli pilav” [sheh-ree-elly pee-laf] (rice with orzo)

Photos taken by Dr Döner

Döner Haus Glasgow, West Nile Street

GLASGOW. Hello and Happy New Year, Döner Fans! Like many of you, I spent the festive season in the bosom of my homeland, bingeing and indulging. But it wasn’t all relaxation. One of my kebab scouts had sniffed out an interesting lead to amuse me during my stay. A new restaurant had opened on Glasgow’s West Nile Street, offering ‘Berlin-style kebabs and steins of beer’. Its name? Döner Haus.

The news hits the pages of The Herald: that pinnacle of modern journalism.

Readers who recall my previous review of a Glaswegian kebab-house will share my scepticism. Still, Berlin-style kebabs in Glasgow? The gauntlet had been thrown down! Such talk in Dr Döner’s ears is like a red rag to a bull in a china shop. And so, in December, I took a break from Christmas shopping and heaved my purchases through the doors of Döner Haus to subject it to a forensic Dr Döner analysis.

Like the mouth of Aladdin’s Cave, Döner Haus yawns open. What treats and treasures wait within?

As this was business, I wanted no distractions and I took a table for one. (Also, no one wanted to come with me.) But Dr Döner is not too proud to dine out alone in public! A waitress led me to my table and said that she’d be back shortly to explain the menu. I smirked up my sleeve: little did she know whom she was addressing! No more did Dr Döner need help with the menu than he did wiping his own posterior!

The Döner Haus menu. Replete with a man in a fez holding a burning sausage.

Döner Haus has a spacious interior with plenty of light, and a view straight into the kitchen where I could see a kebab log being wrangled by a pair of gentlemen. There was a mural on the wall of a guy in a cap that said Kreuzberg on it.

The jazzy lights of the Döner Haus interior.

Soon the waitress came back and started explaining what Berlin kebabs are to me. I humoured her. I even asked polite questions. Was ‘The Mustafa’ based on the famous Berliner Mustafa, by any chance? Indeed it was, and it was her favourite item on the menu. I wondered if Herr Mustafa had been consulted about this. Was he getting a cut of the profits for this use of his brand?

I ordered the Haus Döner (their flagship dish) and a pint of Spatenbräu. I thought it odd that a Berliner kebab restaurant should sell only Munich beers on draft. But Spatenbräu reminds me of happy times at the Oktoberfest long, long ago. Anyway, she brought me my kebab and my pint.

The Haus Döner nestles on its display plinth. Next to it, a crisp pint of Spaten.

The waitress had been keen to point out that the meat was 85% lean: a far greater percentage than can be found in your average British kebab. The first few bites transported me for a moment back to the dirty, sexy streets of Berlin and, yes, perhaps I wept a silent tear. But as I chewed, I became less certain. The salad was fresh, and the bread was excellent and crispy. The kebab was even served in a traditional Guten Appetit paper pocket. Yes, it was a very good imitation. Very close to the original. And yet…

The provenance of ‘ze meat’ is explained.

The Döner Haus kebab differs from your standard Berliner kebab in a number of ways. For one thing, I doubt if a real Berliner kebab is made of 85% lean meat. A Berliner kebab is a dirty, grubby treat. I feel bad saying it, but the Döner Haus kebab tastes a little too clean. I’m also unsure about bringing the kebab into a fancy restaurant setting. A kebab is something you eat on the hoof, or hunched over a sticky plastic table in some grubby kebab-house at 2am. I imagine I’d feel equally uncomfortable if a German restaurant was trying to flog me the ‘authentic Glaswegian chip shop experience’, complete with waiters telling me how their deep-fried sausage in batter is made only from the leanest pork steak.

A close-up of the kebab mid-munch.

But maybe I am being too harsh. Any attempt to improve the standard of British kebabs is to be applauded. And while Döner Haus might not be 100% like the original, it is close enough to get people interested. If Döner Haus spurs people to visit Berlin and taste the kebabs there, and then to start demanding more from their local kebab shop back home, then so much the better. Well done, Döner Haus! You are making a valiant effort.

You can find your closest Döner Haus on their website here.

Results

Service: 4/5 (friendly, eager to explain)

Atmosphere: 3/5 (pleasant restaurant atmosphere)

Price: 2/5 (restaurant prices)

Taste: 3/5 (fine)

Photography by Dr. Döner

The Döner Kebab is Saved by MEPs

BRUSSELS. Hello Döner Fans. Like me, I’m sure you were celebrating yesterday when the joyous news rang out. The döner kebab is NOT going to be banned in the European Union! The news came jingling in like an early Christmas present.

Phosphategate

The döner came under threat a few weeks ago. The crux of the matter hinges on the use of phosphates in kebab meat. Phosphates help frozen meat to retain moisture, and are used in the kebab industry to keep frozen kebab logs moist and flavourful. Under European legislation, it was unclear whether the use of phosphates in frozen kebab was permitted. And so, like the benevolent institution that it is, the European Commission proposed legislation to unequivocally allow the use of phosphates in kebab meat. So far so good.

A frozen kebab log in all its phosphate-infused glory.

The danger arose when the European Parliament was called upon to vote on the legislation. You see, Döner Fans, there is some evidence that a high concentration of phosphates in the human body can lead to certain heart conditions. The Parliament’s Health Committee therefore planned to vote down the legislation. This led to lurid headlines about the imminent demise of the döner in Europe.

What a load of rubbish, Döner Fans! I for one was never worried. The döner kebab is too much of a cultural institution to be toppled so crudely. There was a similar furore earlier in the year over the Belgian friet, when concerns were raised that the cooking method occasionally leads to botulism. And yet the Belgian friet was far too popular to be banned, and nothing was done. Hurrah! Botulism for all! Popularity trumps health concerns in this permissive world of ours.

As reliable sources have pointed out, the kebab industry would simply have searched for a replacement additive in the event of a phosphate ban, and the döner economy would have continued to boom as normal. In any case, the MEPs did not vote down the legislation. Hurray! We can now continue to enjoy our favourite phosphate-laced meaty snack with impunity! As to the role that Dr Döner played in the avoidance of a phosphate ban, I cannot say. But a few words in the right ear may have tipped the scale in the right direction.

Vegangster, Rostock Waldemarstraße

WARNING: the following review contains information which may be disturbing to some readers.

ROSTOCK. Hello, Döner Fans. Let it never be said that I do not exert myself for your reading pleasure. Like all professional food critics, Dr Döner has sculled some pretty murky waters in the great river of life, and sampled deeply troubling food with the sole purpose of keeping you, my readers, informed and forewarned. If my own bodily suffering is what it takes to warn you off making a serious culinary mistake, then it is a sacrifice I am prepared to make.

I made just one such sacrifice a few months ago. While in Rostock again this August, I was persuaded to try something which I would not recommend to the more squeamish of my readers. For you see, it was while in Rostock that I was introduced to something calling itself a Vöner. To you and me, that is a ‘vegan döner’.

Sound innocent enough? No. Don’t. Don’t even think about it.

It has always been a philosophy of the Dr Döner blog that everyone is entitled to live their life as they choose. No one is judged. The life of Dr Döner himself might indeed be viewed by some as decidedly unorthodox. As such, I will not dwell on the morality of devising such a thing as a Vöner, and will instead skip straight to the facts.

It was on a Saturday evening that, with some trepidation, I was taken to the vegan restaurant in Rostock’s Kröpeliner-Tor-Vorstadt (KTV to those in the know) which purveys the fabled Vöner. In what must be an attempt at humour, the restaurant calls itself Vegangster. It lies up some steps in an otherwise quiet street, and consists of a small queuing area in front of a counter, with limited seating against one side. Behind the counter is a view into the kitchen, where the alchemists of Vegangster concoct their ethical offerings. There are drinks fridges stocked with vegan-approved craft beer. The place has a distinctly hipster vibe.

A sneaky angled shot of the Vegangster interior.

In a quivering voice I asked the waitress for a Vöner, and my companions and I then seated ourselves to await our fate. When the Vöner was brought, it looked innocuous enough. For a moment I felt a note of hope. Why, isn’t a döner mostly bread and salad anyway? How different could this really be? Even the sauces looked similar. I took a gingerly bite.

It was then that I noticed that something wasn’t right. For at that first mouthful a strange flavour had arisen in the gluey membranes of my palate. What was it? I saw then that something straggly, floppy and grey-brown in colour was poking out of my Vöner. It was lurking in the place where the meat should have been. But it wasn’t meat. It didn’t even look like a vegetable. What on earth was it?

Vöner. Not even once.

As if by some cruel joke, this mock-meat had been inserted into my food, where it now sat, looking up at me, mocking me with its disturbing grossness. Not content simply with removing meat from the concept of döner, the people at Vegangster had gone so far as to replace it with some greasy, spongy substitute made out of soya beans. Though the grey-brown matter writhing in my hands bore little resemblance to the noble soya beans that had spawned it. If I had to describe the taste of it, I would have to say ‘vile’. Indeed, maybe Vöner stands not for ‘vegan döner’ but for ‘vile döner’.

Panic flared in me. It took all my strength to master myself. As if in disbelief, I tried a few more bites. Then, defeated, my trembling hands placed it back down upon its dish. I didn’t finish it.

I spent the rest of the evening feeling unwell. My only consolation was that my reporting on this traumatic experience might save you, dear readers, from a similar mistake. By all means order a döner without kebab meat. But do not take the soya bean substitute that Vegangster is flogging at 4 Euros a pop. Not even for a dare. Don’t do it to yourself.

Do not be fooled by its friendly glow, stay well away!

Results

Service: 3/5 (friendly enough)

Atmosphere: 2/5 (hipsterish)

Price: 2/5 (for the same price you could get a real döner in most places)

Taste: 1/5 (unholy)

Photographs taken by Dr. Döner