This is going to sound utterly bonkers, but I believe there are significant parallels between restaurant criticism and Krav Maga. Hold it! Don’t leave yet. Let me make my case. I promise I’ll get to it eventually.
Besides the evident discrepancies between the two, one being significantly more physically demanding than the other, and each having evidently distinguishing aims, both conscript a mutually rigorous attention to detail. This, all to be persuasive and efficient.
Take for instance the critical appraisal of an apple. It only seems easy because the image of an apple is so culturally proliferated. But what if the concept was unfamiliar, where you had to remind someone what an apple is? To portray with precision the said apple’s character, to express its history, where it comes from, how it tastes and what it looks like, requires in this scenario more than descriptions of its redness, sweetness and crunch. These leave us next to nothing to go on, even with the presupposition that the audience knows from the onset what an apple looks like.
Similarly, for one to understand a technique for the defence against a haymaker for example, it is simply not enough for it to be described as a defensive strike using your arm. Which arm? Which part of the arm? What are the mechanics of the movement? These are merely some of the questions that are required to be answered, for one to even begin to grasp the physically executed concept. While demonstration, experience and practice are fundamental to learning movements in Krav Maga, detailed carefully worded descriptions cement the concepts into your mind.
The way in which I dissect plates and restaurants is the same way I break down movements in Krav Maga. Understanding how things work and why they work in certain situations is proportional to my process when considering ingredients.
I pondered these thoughts as we settled down for our Christmas dinner at Kervan Sofrasi, a largish Turkish restaurant up in Southgate. It is a short walk from the tube station and not too far from the leisure centre where we train. To a group of exhausted Krav Maga students and masters, a place that specialised in massive meat platters, mezzes and fresh flatbread by the basket, seemed just the ticket.
I’ve been a quiet fan of Turkish cuisine ever since my father introduced it to us as children. He took us to Istanbul Flower, a restaurant in Dubai near where he used to work. He’d sometimes accompany his Turkish colleagues there for lunch, where they’d gorge on grilled meat and drink fragrant mint tea. After he took us there, it didn’t take long for this Turkish place to become a weekend outing mainstay. Their mixed meat iskander, oblong beyti kebab, and delicious oven pides, were perfect especially for massive family get-togethers.
Almost as soon as I was told about Kervan Sofrasi, I knew exactly what I would order. Whirling memories of tummy thrills and soporific fullness after plates made only for the hungry, had me revving for some hearty eating. But I had to bear in mind that I wasn’t attending the restaurant as a critic, nor as someone who is traditionally given the reigns when making an order. It felt weird taking the back seat as the instructors chose what we were to eat, but they’d been to Kervan before, and with similarly sized groups, so I left it up to them and absolved myself of responsibility. If this Kervan place was half decent I would have to visit again.
We pulled at Christmas crackers, teased each other over embarrassing moments in training, and discussed the more mundane aspects of our lives, all with the effervescence and camaraderie that grows with people who get comfortable hitting each other.
When the meat, salads, dips and starters arrived we’d all talked and laughed ourselves into a vicious hunger, lunging for pieces almost as soon as the waiters had left. Some of us did hesitate because there were still a couple more to people to arrive, but some didn’t. They know who they are.
For how quickly the food was served, and the impressive mounds in which it came, I was genuinely surprised by how well cooked most of it was. The chicken wings, lightly charred, well-marinated and with no dubious shades of pink near the bone, were the pick of the lot, with everyone scanning plates for their share. Even the skewered breast pieces, ones we asked for instead of the questionable quail, were tender and moist.
If you are particularly fond of shish then Kervan Sofrasi do these well. These are long strips of soft, moulded and skewered meat that have a light bounce to the bite and yield luxuriously to the chew. The doner strips were not greasy and the adana kofte were comforting. But it must be said that the lamb ribs were still arduously chewy, and the chops were disappointingly dry on the ends. Such cuts do not lend themselves well to quick cooking and this was proved true.
My order for lahmacun that I managed to sneak in showed definite promise for when I return to try their oven pides. And yes, I will be returning, with as many of my Krav Maga mates as I can drag with me – though I do not think there will be much dragging involved. All in all, the airy space at Kervan Sofrasi, with its keen waiters and a vast menu, need not have been a denizen of pure concept nor some bastion of tradition. It was, simply put, the perfect place for our Christmas event.
Though saying that, they could have served us anything and we would have still found a way to have a good time.