The slow rotational action of a doner kebab machine can have a hypnotic effect on many an Englishman. Although the doner kebab has its origins in Turkey, it has become something of a British institution, albeit a dubious one. During daylight hours, the mere sight of a twisting monolith of compressed lamb meat oozing hot fat from bubbling pustules while a kebab shop owner brandishing an electric carving knife grins ominously through the shop window, can be somewhat off-putting. At night, however - when the kebab meat begins to crisp against the persistent glow of the hotplate; when the seductive cry of "chilli sauce, my friend?" can be heard in kebab shops from Accrington to Yeovil Marsh - it becomes an entirely different proposition. So what if warm grease runs down your hand and into your sleeve? Who cares if your arteries are getting so hard you could cut diamonds with them? The doner kebab tastes good.
It was night-time when this Englishman happened upon Istanbul Flower on Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road, and the doner kebab was getting nice and crisp. However, the term "doner" is not readily used here. It's called Iskander, after the man who invented the concept of an upright spit roast, which is what the doner kebab effectively evolved from. Anyway, I'd resolved not to conform to English stereotype by eschewing the kebab in favour of something a bit more, well, Turkish. We took a table in the cafeteria-style restaurant surrounded by huge pictures of Istanbul, as if we were sitting in a Turkish travel agent. Soon a colourful mixed salad of lettuce, tomato, peppers, red cabbage and cucumber was slapped on the table along with a basket of firm flatbread. Then came a mezze plate of moutabel, hummous, baba ganoush and tabbouleh, along with a spicy Turkish dip made with tomatoes and onions, called ezme.
When the spinach filo pastries (distant relatives of the Greek spanakopita) arrived, I sloshed more spicy ezme on to them and munched them down decorated with tabbouleh. We were filling ourselves up nice and easy before the mixed grill materialised, which probably wasn't such a good idea. The platter buckled under a mountain of meat. There were soft and tender chicken wings that were so light they probably would have fluttered away by themselves. There were chicken pieces, which had been cooked on the skewer, along with juicy cubes of lamb that tasted like barbecued meat should taste. But the highlight was the lamb kofta, which fell to pieces in torrents of moist meaty flavour. By all of that, plus a good helping of cucumber laban, we were beaten, and all we could manage for dessert was some strong, sugary Turkish tea.
We'd enjoyed the informal atmosphere and dependably decent food at Istanbul Flower, but I left the restaurant feeling that something was missing. That night as I dropped off to sleep, troubled thoughts plagued me. I feared that my experience had not been as full, rewarding and authentic as it should have been. Round and round the worries went in my head, slowly but surely, steadily but stubbornly, round and round, like a doner kebab machine.
Some nights later, under the cover of darkness, I returned to Istanbul Flower. The waiter saw me, and whether he recognised me or not, he seemed to understand that I was a man on a mission, a man with unfinished business to attend to. He scooted over to my table and jerked his head backwards as if to say: "What now?" "Doner kebab, please," I said guiltily. But I forgot that the term "doner" is not readily used here. I had to get up, motion to the waiter to follow me to the open kitchen, and point to the large rotating hunk of sizzling processed meat. "Iskander?" asked the waiter, and I nodded. If I'd asked for the Turkish mutton shawarma, I expect I would have received the doner kebab I so craved. Instead, a rather different and traditional northwestern Turkish dish was brought to the table. It was doner meat, all right, but it was carved into large flaps and slathered in fresh yoghurt and tomato sauce. It was resting on yoghurt-soaked cubes of flatbread next to a mound of rice strewn with vermicelli. It was mutton Iskander. It was great. And I was able to eat it with a knife and fork, so not a single drop of warm grease ran down my hand and into my sleeve.
Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, 04 343 4585. Average price of a meal for two: Dh100-150. email@example.com