In this political climate, it’s sometimes easy to forget that politicians are human, too. In the lead up to June’s general election, a selection of the UK’s most prominent MPs and party leaders were quizzed on their favourite restaurants. Let’s be fair – it’s far easier to talk to journalists about food than matters of say dementia tax, Grenfell tower or Donald Trump’s recent defence of Neo-Nazis.
Theresa May is allegedly a big fan of Ottolenghi – a Middle-Eastern small plates restaurant with five branches across London. The prime minister is also a fan of Malik’s, a high-end Indian restaurant in Berkshire. David Cameron, on the other hand, likes to eat at Kitty Fischer’s, while Nick Clegg and his Spanish wife are devotees of the Mediterranean food served at restaurants like Brindisa and Enoteca Turi. Neither Nigel Farage or Paul Nuttall commented on their favourite places to eat, but I’m sure they’d inevitably favour a pub, of some sort – one that serves warm Continental lager and flagons of casual racism.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite restaurant, however, is a north London kebab shop. Of course it is. With that, the Labour leader also enjoys a (soft) drink at El Comandante – a South American bar near Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, bedecked with plenty of Che Guevara paraphernalia. At Archway Kebab, Corbyn is allegedly very keen on Archway Kebab’s falafel and halloumi wrap. A devout vegetarian since the age of 20, he hasn’t eaten meat since working at a pig factory before getting into politics. Conversely, David Cameron also has history of close contact with pigs. Although the Labour leader doesn’t endorse the kebabs, per se, speaking to The Evening Standard in 2015 – Jeremy Corbyn expressed that he “appreciates doner shops are linchpins of the community”.
— Aysha S. Raza (@DrAyshaRaza) March 23, 2016
Within his North Islington constituency, this unassuming kebab shop isn’t merely everything we’ve come to expect from one of Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite places to eat; it’s also a responsible choice. As such a key figure in British politics, it’s now more important than ever to take responsibility, without ignoring the shortcomings of buckling Britain in 2017. Lest we forget that the number of families in the UK relying on food banks is at an all-time high.
Established in 1982 by Turkish born Hakan Topkaya, Archway Kebab was named one of London’s best five kebab houses in London at the British Kebab and Retail awards ceremony at the Houses of Parliament in 2013. Here, unlike many other kebab shops, the prominent focus is on quality of produce and hygiene – with no members of staff working more than 40 hours per week. According to an interview with Islington Tribune, Archway Kebab may also be attributed (blamed) for introducing the chicken doner kebab to England during the 1980s.
Directly opposite rival Planet Kebabs, Archway Kebab’s frontage has been recently renovated, designed by Lyndon Goode Architects as part of a Junction Road regeneration project. A modernised sign exchanges the ‘A’ in ‘kebab’ for a lamb shawarma (or doner kebab), exactly the same as the two elephant legs of both chicken and lamb that rotate hypnotically in the window. Inside, the tiny space is notably clean, well lit and festooned – unsurprisingly – with Arsenal/Labour-red paint. Behind the glass counter, a photograph recognises the 2013 kebab awards victory, but it’s subtle – unlike the billboards that plaster most of Brick Lane’s curry houses, all of which claim to serve the street’s “best curry”, before dragging you inside and proving the exact opposite.
Opposite the serving counter, a select handful of stools are available for patrons to eat-in, though during a mid-week lunch visit, the majority of Archway Kebab’s customers order food to take away. Tightly wrapped in paper and inelegantly slung across the counter, the falafel and halloumi wrap served here is a must try. The nuggets of deep-fried crushed chick pea and fava bean are miraculously succulent given the plague of arid falafel that affects most of the UK. The grilled pucks of brackish halloumi, on the other hand, contrast the falafel’s texture, but it’s the slathering of sesame-rich houmous that really stands out.
For meat-eaters, the ‘Archway Special’ costs just under £9, but harbours a skewer of lamb shish, chicken shish and kofte. For lunch, it’s easily vast enough to sate two. The lamb shish is somewhat tough and parched, though the chicken is a slight improvement. Better still are the beams of kofte, soft and flecked with generous red and green pepper that adds piquancy, with delicious fat absorbed by the underlying pitta bread. Don’t forget the perfunctory garlic mayonnaise and profusion of healthy salad.
Fine dining is fine, but there’s something quite gratifying with utilising small business establishments, the sort that are suffering tremendously at present. No, Archway Kebab isn’t the best restaurant in London, but the low-thrill food is honest, with no attempt to be showcased as something it is not. It’s also substantial and ultimately offers outstanding value for money.
From the most deluxe dining destinations to independent, grass roots operations, it doesn’t really matter where you choose to eat. Yet there’s no escaping the fact that Archway Kebab – and London’s other humble kebab shops – really are for the many, not the few.