A bit late... but when A joined me in London while I was there on business in February; I promised him that I would guest blog to share my thoughts on Gem. Note to readers, this review is going to be very biased as Gem is my favorite restaurant. Ever.
We first discovered Gem when we first moved to London, many years ago. It's one of many Turkish restaurants in Islington, but Gem boasts a Kurdish take on food. Peering into the storefront, you will see an elderly woman making fresh Qatme (stuffed bread) for the patrons.
On our last trip, we found a fresh new Gem, as it recently underwent a significant remodel. It's spacious, bright and while we checked out the 'new digs' we were brought our Qatme. This time around, we received one with potato and the other filled with spinach and green onions. Thin, warm and very comforting, it's a perfect quick bite while you peruse the menu.
Being regulars, and not having a chance to eat there in so long (4 years!) we stuck to our usual: the Menu C. What is Menu C? 6 hot mezze and 7 cold mezze + dessert. Too much food you say? Never! Each item is appropriately portioned, and just enough for two people to share. Usually, the chef will select the dishes for you; our only comments to our server was to indicate that we were vegetarian and that we'd love to double up on the Halloumi (more on that later). We ended up with the following selection:
Cacik: yogurt with cucumber, mint, garlic and dill. It's very refreshing, and a great accompaniment to the hotter mezze
Yaprak Sarma: Essentially dolma. I'm not really a dolma fan, but I loved these! Gem's version had raisins, along with rice; which I thought was a great complement to the briney leaves.
Patates Salatasi: Potatoes with chopped pickle, parsley, dill, lemon juice. A heartier dish. The lemon juice and dill make it feel super light, even thought there are good sized chunks of potato.
Kisir: Cracked wheat in thick tomato sauce. This one was a new one for us. In all our visits, we'd never had it, so it was nice to try something different. It had a nice tang to it, very different from the other dishes, though I would have preferred this to be warm.
Taboule: Of all the taboule i've tried or made, these guys do it best! They've mastered the parsley/wheat ratio and the results are amazing. Not too herby, not too lemony; but just right.
Patlican Soslu: This, to me, is more like a giardinaria. It's fried aubergine with tomato and red pepper. Alone, it's a little underwhelming; but spread on the foccicia like bread? Amazing. It's tart, yet sweet.
Falafel: If you haven't tried falafel, you don't know what you are missing. Made from chickpeas, broad beans, and onions they are deep fried. Gem's take on falafel rivals the famous Falafel's Drive In in moistness.
Halloumi: A salty grilled cypriot cheese. I first tried halloumi at Gem, and I have been addicted ever since. It grills well, and pairs well with almost any mezze. It's hearty and surprisingly filling.
Muska Boregi: Filled with Feta and spinach, these samosa shaped pastrys were our last hot appetizer. I'm not always a fan of feta, but these are consistently good and never over powering
Sounds like a lot of food? Well, it was sort of. Did I mention that we also had dessert? As part of the fixed menu, we received a small baklava, a small seker pare with a scoop of french vanilla ice cream. As all things Gem, this dessert is a great finish to the meal. The baklava is homemade, not overly sweet and full of pistachios and walnuts. Seker Pere is a soft sweetened semolina cake. If you have a sweet tooth, this is for you! With the two desserts, if the ice cream had been absent, it would have been fine - but after all who can resist!
After so many years, I was curious if Gem would still be as good as we always thought, and it was! We've been to many restaurants in our travels (as can be seen on this blog), but Gem has always been my favorite, and continues to be. It's always fresh, feels like home cooking and reminds me fondly of our time in London. If you ever happen to find yourself in London, make the trek to Islington to visit Gem. You won't be disappointed.