The interactions between the British and Ottoman Empires have left London with a remarkable legacy. But much is hidden off the beaten track and behind closed doors.
Yusuf Agah Efendi, the Sublime Porte’s first Ambassador to Great Britain arrived in London in 1793, and settled into Robert Adam’s brand new Adelphi, just off the Strand. In 1863, Sultan Abdülaziz visited as part of his european tour. Tucked away around London are such vestiges of a centuries old relationship,
The museums offer astonishing gems from the Izniks at the Victoria and Albert Museum to the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (ancient Bodrum) at the British Museum. For those in search of the Contemporary, the Serpentine Gallery’s commitment to the art of the Middle East and its diaspora takes shape in the form of its Edgware Road Project. Galleries like Rose Issa represent Arab, Persian and Turkish artists, amongst others, and hidden behind a nondescript red-brick façade, deep in Kensington, lies the shimmering wonders of Lord Leighton’s astonishing Arab Hall.
But the many forgotten relics of past interactions shape even that classic London icon - St Paul’s Cathedral. Christopher Wren made an effort to investigate Ottoman dome construction when embarking on his magnum opus. Unfortunately, the inveterate traveller and diplomats wife Lady Wortley Montagu was less than impressed with the new Cathedral on her return from Istanbul to London: “Perhaps I am in the wrong, but some Turkish mosques please me better…St Paul’s Church would make a pitiful figure near [them]”.
Good Turkish food is not easy to track down in London. The salubrious Sofra and Tas chains are the go-to restaurants for those in search of white linen table cloths and working lunches, but off the beaten track are more exciting discoveries. The East End of London offers the smoky grills of Dalston and the Baklava of Green Lanes - arguably some of the best this side of Edirne. Camberwell, meanwhile, takes the more adventurous gourmand all the way to Xinjiang, with the Silk Road’s take on traditional Uighur fare. Those in search of Georgian head east to Little Georgia or west, to Colchis in Notting Hill.