OFM Awards 2022: Young Chef – Sertaç Dirik – The Guardian

His dad’s Turkish restaurant, Mangal 2 in east London, was in trouble. His brother needed help. Sertaç came to the rescue…
By March 2020, Sertaç Dirik had been in Copenhagen for almost two years. He was 23 and had been cheffing his way round some of the best restaurants in the Danish capital, starting at Noma’s little sister, 108, and latterly at Matt Orlando’s acclaimed, zero-waste-themed Amass. When the pandemic arrived, Dirik took a call from his older brother, Ferhat. Their family restaurant, the Turkish grill house Mangal 2 in Dalston, east London, was in trouble. The business owed suppliers £40,000 and now Covid meant it had to close for the foreseeable future.
“I was dragged back home,” recalls Dirik, who is now 26, as he sits at a window table in Mangal 2, gazing out over Stoke Newington Road. “I had a job in Copenhagen, I had a girlfriend. But my brother said he needed help and he never asks for help. I broke up with my girlfriend, quit my job, and was home within the month.”
A shake of the head.
“I didn’t have a clue what I was doing!”
Dirik’s father, Ali, had set up the original Mangal in 1987. A more ambitious sequel opened round the corner in 1994. Both made pioneering use (at least for the UK) of the ocakbasi grill, an indoor charcoal barbecue designed to Ali Dirik’s exacting specifications. But, over the years, the Mangal restaurants became victims of their own success: Sertaç Dirik estimates that within 150 metres of Mangal 2 there were 10 similar restaurants.
This was the problem that the Dirik brothers faced in 2020. They didn’t know how to rescue Mangal 2, but Sertaç was adamant about what kind of restaurant it shouldn’t be. “I couldn’t go back to cooking Dad’s food again, as amazing as it was,” he says. “It would have been my sad replica of his cooking.”
Two years on, Mangal 2 (or should that be 2.0?), with Dirik behind a new ocakbasi and Ferhat front of house, is as revolutionary as their father’s restaurants were in the 90s. The mixed platters with rice have gone, replaced by modern Turkish food with mainly British ingredients. Pickles and ferments, a nod to Copenhagen but also a staple in Anatolian culture, give dishes a tangy, lactic sourness and are paired with beautiful, smoky meat. In the old days, Mangal 2 used to buy its hummus; now it makes its own butter, cheese, sourdough pides and charcuterie.
The restaurant’s fortunes have been turned around at improbable speed. Debts have long been repaid and the place hums day and night. This year, it placed at No 35 in the National Restaurant Awards and Dirik’s OFM Award is further proof that his call to reinvent a 25-year-old institution was the right one.
“I had wars with my family,” says Dirik. “My dad, my brother … We’ve had severe lows together. I’ve had regulars of 20 years yell at me: ‘Where are my lamb cubes? You’ve ruined everything!’”
He’s laughing but the pressure of sustaining and modernising the family business has clearly been a lot to shoulder. “I am insanely happy and extremely shocked to be getting an award like this,” he says. “None of this was part of the plan. There was such a small chance of this working. This was supposed to fail!”
Mangal 2, 4 Stoke Newington Rd, London N16 8BH


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