Sertaç Dirik: What The Man Behind London’s Restaurant-Of-The-Moment Did Next
“I’ve had a crazy start to my day today,” London chef Sertaç Dirik announces, arriving full of energy at Allpress Coffee in Dalston, East London. “I woke up at 4am this morning, just decided to get up and get going, and it feels really great!”
Dirik is one half of the brother duo behind East London’s well-loved Turkish restaurant Mangal II. Their father, Ali Dirik, moved to London from Turkey in 1987 and within four years opened the first Mangal restaurant in Dalston. In 1994, Mangal II emerged as an improved version of this first ocakbaşı (a grill restaurant with an open fire pit in the middle) and quickly became a local favourite, with people travelling across London to get a table.
When the pandemic hit, like the rest of the hospitality industry, the business faced challenges. Dirik’s brother Ferhat – who was managing it at the time – called Dirik back from Copenhagen, where he was working at 108, the sister restaurant to the globally renowned, three-Michelin-star restaurant Noma. At 23 years old, he returned to take on the challenge of running (and saving) his family’s beloved restaurant alongside his brother. Today, Mangal II is thriving and universally praised by critics and customers alike.
This success also marked the right moment for Dirik to make the tough decision to bid farewell and explore his own path. “At this point, the restaurant is perfect and doesn’t need to change. I don’t want to ruin a good thing, but I still have a need and a hunger to be creative,” he says.
Since making the decision to leave Mangal II in October this year, the young chef has been living life to the fullest. “I’ve not taken a proper holiday until now since I was 14, which was when I started working properly in Mangal,” he says. With the eyes of London’s restaurant scene firmly set on his next moves, Dirik is ensuring he takes his time in deciding on his next venture.
At 27 years old, he exudes energy and charisma – not to mention being named London’s Hottest Chef 2023 by Time Out magazine. As he shares stories, his passion for food and the restaurant world is clear. Despite Dirik and his family’s evident success, he remains incredibly humble. “I absolutely love my job and I feel so lucky I can say that,” he says. “I had huge imposter syndrome when I first started, we got big quickly and I didn’t feel like I was worthy – everything was so new to me. I didn’t feel like I had enough time to learn. Where we are today still feels surreal.”
Dirik says he has a million ideas for what he might do next, but is keeping quiet until a venue is secured. Two things are for sure though: he would like to remain in his treasured East London, and secondly, it will be stripped back and kept simple: “I’ve found the more I’ve travelled and eaten and gone back home to Turkey, the more I’ve realised that it is the simple things that work. I think this approach is really lacking in London.”
Aside from cooking, the chef’s second love is music. Sitting in a Black Sabbath T-shirt, he reminisces over his time studying at Leeds Arts University and his early aspirations of being a musician. “I had to drop out after three months,” he says, laughing. “I was so frazzled, having worked in a restaurant since the age of 14, that I couldn’t hack normal hours.” He has since redirected his creative energies toward food, declaring, “Food is my art now.” However, he’s confident that his passion for the likes of ’70s rock, ’90s punk and jazz, as well as his love of sharing music with those around him, will continue to be a wellspring of inspiration when creating the feel of his own place.
Dirik also epitomises a new wave of chefs dedicated to fostering healthy and supportive working environments in hospitality. Having experienced the pressures of what he refers to as “dog-eat-dog kitchens”, he is headstrong in creating a distinct ethos for his own establishment. “It’s not going to be a successful business if the staff are knackered, underpaid and everyone is treated like sh*t,” he says. “Running restaurants is 1% about food and 99% about people. It is a f*cking stressful environment, so if I understand how to cope with the stress, I will also know how to help my team cope with it.”
With a clear vision, rooted passion and boundless creativity, Sertaç Dirik is all set to shake things up. We just have to sit back and wait, as it’s a matter of time before we get to see him “put a new spin on things”.
Sertaç Dirik’s Top Spots For A London Night Out
- For A Quiet Pint Of Guinness… “The Army and Navy or The Auld Shillelagh. These two are great to chill in if you want to read a book by yourself.”
- For A Relaxed Bite To Eat… “Planque, Perilla, Midland Grand, Leo’s or Lahore Kebab House. For just a great relaxed bite, all of these are f*cking awesome. Lahore Kebab House is absolutely incredible; we do staff dinners here whenever we can. It closes at 1am, the lamb chops are insane and the bhajis are unlike any other bhaji I’ve ever had in my life! It is just amazing.”
- For Late-Night Drinks… “Seed Library by Mr Lyan, who was voted number one bartender in the world. He’s a proper Londoner and an absolute f*cking legend – it is an incredible bar. Or High Water – our local bar to Mangal II. We pop there after service a lot. I would totally recommend this place to anyone, the people who run it are great.”
Pia Brynteson is Digital Editor at Service95