Goda, London: ‘They take rotisserie very seriously’ – restaurant review

Goda, 144 Ballards Lane, Church End, London N3 2PA (020 8244 2244; godalondon.co.uk). Starters £5.90–£12.90; grills and main dishes £12.90–£60 per person; whole lamb £345.90; desserts £6.90–£8.90; wines from £31.50

There are things about the Turkish restaurant Goda in Finchley, north London, which are objectively funny. There’s the short tongue of red carpet, protruding from the front door, edged by velvet ropes, as if you’re arriving at a movie premier rather than a modest-looking grill house on a suburban shopping parade. There’s the sweetly random collection of black-and-white photos on the walls, which include the Turkish film star Türkan Şoray, Al Pacino in The Godfather and Elvis. I’m not sure any have eaten here, given it only opened five months ago. Then there’s the six-strong red wine list, which goes from an Argentinian Malbec at £37 to a barolo at £169, before suddenly offering a 2001 Château Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac, at £2,400. I decided not to check whether they really have it, in case they didn’t. That would have ruined the fun.

Enjoy these entertainments, because there’s one thing Goda takes very seriously indeed: the large, purpose-built rotisserie right at the front, on which turn various chickens and sizeable cuts of roasting lamb. It’s a shameless kind of window dressing. Waiting expectantly at a long table when I arrive is a group of eight young chaps who, I suspect, were inspired to visit, just as I was, by a recent breathless Instagram reel by Toby Inskip, who posts to his now 1m followers as EatingWithTod. Inskip has a PR company, is an investor in a restaurant-booking platform and makes up for any lack of interest in subtlety or piercing analysis with a huge and endearing puppyish enthusiasm. Fair enough. Instagram is hardly an essayist’s medium.

‘The meat is soft and almost sweet’: lamb neck. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

For his post, Inskip focused on the Goda whole roast lamb, which costs around £345, must be pre-ordered and feeds up to 10. He shows it off well. One of those is now rotating gently on its spit when I arrive, alongside shoulders, shanks and slabs of ribs. The salt-pelted skin is a bubbled golden brown, streaked darker where the juices have run and then caramelised. It is a profoundly elemental sight, this marriage of fire and hard-skewered animal. Of course they put it in the window. This is an offering that markets itself. Eventually the whole lamb, on its purpose-built stand, is ready. The Turkish music is cranked up to 11 for its short parade from fire pit to table and sharp knives are handed out. The party sets about demolishing the carcass. They look very happy. So they should.

‘Rich pickings’: lamb ribs. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

The specials section of the menu includes a roasted lamb’s head, which I am eager to try, partly because I want to know if there’s really good stuff on there, and partly because I regard myself self-importantly as the sort of person who will always explore the outer reaches of any menu; the bits that newcomers won’t order from. Which is a bit annoying if true. Disappointingly, it turns out that heads, along with quails and that whole lamb, must be ordered two days in advance. You have been warned, or at least informed. Instead, we have roasted lamb neck that arrives, like everything from the rotisserie, on a bed of swollen nutty freekeh “rice” (a wheat grain), with crunchy shredded salads. The meat has been pulled away from the bleached vertebrae, which lie in an anatomically correct serried rank along the platter. The meat is soft and almost sweet, and gently lubricated by the running fats. I dig around in search of the savoury, darker pieces of skin and seared meat.

‘Thick, crisp, spice-dusted skin’: whole rotisserie chicken. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

There are rich pickings for these from the ribs, which come with a generous top layer of that crisped, salty skin. In the rib world championships, pork and beef get all the attention, but quietly I’m coming to the conclusion that lamb is where it’s really at. Being smaller and more compact, there’s just greater textural contrast and more in the way of flavour. My cheeks, like my fingers, are now liberally smeared. We also have a whole rotisserie chicken, which arrives stabbed in the breast by a pair of golden-handled poultry shears, like it’s the image for the cover of a cosy crime novel. I’d call it Murder Most Fowl, but a couple of children’s books have got there first and I have my pride. It’s a proper sized, meaty bird with thick, crisp, spice-dusted skin that speaks of a little age.

‘An odd affair’: mixed meze platter. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

We eat this with generous amounts of their vinegary ezme, that brilliant salad-cum-condiment of finely chopped tomatoes, peppers, onions and the rest, liberally dressed with olive oil, garlic, mint, sumac and pomegranate molasses. It arrives alongside their cooling cucumber and yoghurt cacik. Do order the whole jacket potato, baked in the coals, then crushed open and heavily dusted with chilli flakes.

‘Soft and creamy’: baked cheesecake. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

There is a certain swagger and fun to what’s going on here at Goda, which means I’d rather not get into the rest of what we tried, because I want you only to think well of the place. But we did order the mixed meze plate and it’s an odd affair. The Barbie-pink whipped cod’s roe and the dull hummus will remind you very much of things that come out of plastic tubs for a depressing office desk lunch. The platter also includes deep-fried mozzarella sticks, which have all the textural joys of edible dental rolls, with a gloopy sweet chilli sauce. No idea why. That’s also offered with deep-fried breaded crab claws, an offering that doesn’t exactly sit comfortably amid the rest of the menu. My advice: make do with the bread, ezme and cacik they will give you when you arrive and wait for the rotisserie meats.

‘A sturdy slab’: baklava. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

The thrumming Turkish music, used for the march of the roast lamb, has given way to a gentle diet of big band jazz and show tunes, a fine accompaniment to steaming glasses of fresh mint tea. For dessert, there is a soft, creamy baked cheesecake and a slab of sturdy baklava, both described as homemade. One of our party is a Turkish speaker. She asks “Whose home?” They say they have a group of women who make their desserts for them. It’s worth noting that this stretch of Ballards Lane is clustered with fascinating-looking Iranian restaurants and patisseries. You could top and tail your meal elsewhere and come here just for the joys of the rotisserie. Whether you pair that with the 2001 Château Mouton-Rothschild is entirely up to you, though they do serve Efes beer. That might prove more the thing.

News bites

The Midlands-based restaurant operator A Rule of Tum, which lost a trademark claim to Gordon Ramsay, is continuing to expand. Back in 2020, the company trialled a pop-up noodle bar which they called Lucky Cat. Ramsay’s lawyers fired off legal letters demanding a name change because they said the chef owned the name, which refers to the ubiquitous Japanese Maneki-neko waving cat ornament. Rule of Tum rebranded as Maneki Ramen and opened a permanent branch of the noodle shop in Worcester. They will open their second branch on Ludgate Hill in Birmingham this autumn, offering a menu of ramen and Japanese small plates (manekiramen.com).

London’s Savoy Hotel is holding an auction of more than 1,800 pieces of furniture and art from its 267 rooms and suites, prior to a refurbishment. The items, from suites named after previous occupants, such as Frank Sinatra and Noël Coward, include tables, chairs, silk curtains, art and sofas, and will be auctioned off on 8 August. The sale follows a similar event last year at Simpson’s in the Strand. You can register to bid and view the catalogue here.

It’s a sad farewell to the modern Norwich bistro Farmyard, which has announced its closure after seven years. Owners Andrew Jones and Hannah Springham, who adapted working conditions and hours post Covid to improve the life-work balance for their staff, have blamed ‘the climate for hospitality’ for the closure, though they have said they hope to reopen one day. Their Farmyard Frozen meal delivery service continues (farmyardfrozen.com).

Email Jay at jay.rayner@observer.co.uk or follow him on X @jayrayner1

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