Oil Boom in EC1!
From far and wide they come, seekers of the golden elixir – what the New York Magazine called “England’s best” olive oil. The target of their pilgrimage however, is not the pantry at Ottolenghi or the Food Hall at John Lewis but a small electrical supplies shop in Clerkenwell. The proprietor of the shop is Mehmet Murat, a Londoner of Turkish Cypriot descent and the extra virgin olive oil he sells alongside fluorescent tubes and lighting sockets has been acclaimed by some of the best known names in British cuisine. No lesser lights than Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver count among the numerous celebrity fans of his produce. The accolades don’t stop there - his Murat Du Carta extra virgin olive oil came first in a Guardian test of the three best olive oils on the market (beating off competition costing three times the price) and he has also been featured in the Observer
(which hailed Embassy Electricals as the best place in the world to buy your olive oil), The Times, Hello Magazine and even Gulf Life (in-flight magazine of Gulf Airways).
Top marks from the Guardian
The proof of the oil is in the tasting and, when I visited, Mehmet was only too happy to let me sample the produce. First up was the Murat Du Carta. Now you don’t just knock this stuff back down your gullet. As instructed by Mehmet I carefully coated my palate with the oil before swallowing a sample and it went down perfectly – a beautifully rich oil with a peppery after-taste. Mehmet then mixed the oil with a dash or two of pomegranate molasses (also from his farm) to create a vinaigrette-type mixture that makes your taste buds shriek with delight. A word to the wise here - this molasses consists mostly of pure pomegranate juice (mixed with a pinch of salt and citric acid) – unlike the commercially available products which consist largely of glucose and will turn your salad dressing into a syrupy gloop.
Let the tasting begin
Next came the Chateau Carman. This is made from olives grown on the family’s farm in Turkey and is infused with lemons (also from the family farm) to give a subtle citrus finish to the taste. Next followed marinated capers (which they forage for in the hillsides of Cyprus), which were succulent and piquant with a flavour reminiscent of fine asparagus. The coup de grace for us though was a sublime black truffle infused olive oil – just dip some freshly baked bread into it and you will experience a little taste of paradise.
As well as the olive oils you will find a range of other produce from Mehmet’s farms. These include chili flakes, sweet paprika, olives, caper shoots, candied orange peel, candied baby walnuts and preserved lemons. On a good year the family’s lemon groves can produce one hundred tons of lemons. Ensuring that the lemons are watered sufficiently to ripen properly is no mean feat. It turns out that watering the crop is a major logistical exercise involving coordinating the release of water from a hilltop reservoir and then channeling it to the family’s fields through a system of sluice gates. The same level of care and attention goes into preparing the sweet paprika, which is washed, cut, de-seeded, sun dried, milled to a powder, and soaked in olive oil and salt for four days. For such a concentration of hand-prepared, natural goodness the price of £3 per tub is an absolute steal.
Not just oil - some of the other delicacies on sale.
In addition to the home-grown produce they also stock a number of Turkish delicacies and specialities producded by other suppliers, including piccalilli, carob molasses, tahini, samphire and even frankincense. This must also be the only electrical store in the country where there is a shelf bulging with fresh bunches of sage and oregano. If you want to explore some of these flavours but don’t know your sumac from your hawthorn jelly then don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Both Mehmet and his son Murat are a mine of information on Turkish cuisine. In fact after you have listened to Mehmet rattle off one mouth-watering recipe after another it will probably come as no surprise to hear that he also used to run his own restaurant (Compton’s Bar and Bistro – just down the road from the current premises). If you want to go to the source of all this fine produce, you can – Mehmet also has apartments for rent in his secluded villa at Chateau Carman
One visitor to the shop was more interested in Carta the tom cat than the Murat du Carta
So what is the story behind Embassy Electricals? Well, it starts with Mehmet’s father back in the village of Lourijina in Cyprus. He was the local barber (which, back in the day, also meant doubling up as the dentist) but he also had a sideline in supplying donkeys and mules to Dr Fazil Kucuk
(leader of the Turkish Cypriots). He used the commission earned from these sales to buy patches of arable land, planting olive and lemon groves and building up the family’s farm holding. He eventually moved to England but other members of the family kept the farm business running. Mehmet was born in Cyprus but arrived in London as a child in 1955. Having trained as an electrician he went on to open the shop in Clerkenwell in 1980, serving the many electrical contractors working the local office blocks.
Reminders of the family
Mehmet was brought up on the olive oil sent over from the family farm back in Cyprus and so was blissfully unaware of the acidic imposter which passes for olive oil in Britain’s supermarket shelves. His eyes were only opened when he received some ‘premium’ oil as a gift - some years ago. In 2001 he inherited the family farm and later began selling the olive oil in his shop as a sideline. Since the publication of the New York magazine interest in the product has snowballed, with orders flowing in from around the world (when we visited Mehmet was despatching a case of oil to a customer in Alabama) and the business is the subject of ever-increasing media attention.
and a customer not in search of olive oil - just some plain old light fittings for a local business
So why does Mehmet’s oil taste so good? The secret is a commitment to ensuring quality and purity every step of the way. They pick the olives when they are green, turning purple - this is the point at which they contain the maximum level of anti-oxidants - and take them to the press within 24 hours. The oil is also pure extra virgin. It is not blended with any other oils and it is made from the first cold pressing of the olives – ensuring the highest quality. Additionally, Mehmet supervises the whole process from tree to bottle to make sure that no impurities can contaminate the oil at any point in the process. This includes ensuring that the presses are thoroughly washed down and all traces of other harvests are removed before his olives are pressed. The olives are then shipped to the UK and every single bottled is filled by hand by Mehmet himself.
Every bottle filled by Mehmet himself
Mehmet's son Murat
Sadly there is a cloud on the horizon for the olive oil pipeline at Embassy Electricals. This comes in the shape of recently introduced EU legislation on the production and distribution of olive oil. The laws come in the wake of a number of well documented recent scandals
where inferior and adulterated product has been passed off as extra virgin. As Mehmet has mentioned in his blog, some of this stuff is pomace – which is traditionally used as lamp fuel and is barely fit for human consumption. Unfortunately the legislation catches every producer, big and small, in its net. The raft of new requirements relating to documentation, auditing, certification and distribution will place a disproportionate financial burden on small ethical suppliers. This is also the same heavy-handed legislation you may have read about in the press, which dictates that restaurants can no longer serve olive oil in cruets or carafes. Instead they must offer it in non-resealable containers – the same way you might be served ketchup in a sachet at a fast food restaurant. This law applies even if you have a restaurant with your own olive grove in the back garden.
Once current stocks are exhausted it will no longer be legal for Mehmet to bottle his oil by hand. Instead he faces the prospect of having to contract the work to a bottling plant. This is bad news all around as it entails additional expense as well as potential loss of control over the production process. Mehmet is philosophical about the challenges that lie ahead though and is determined to find a way around this particular regulatory roadblock. Personally, I think that not even these overheated EU regulations will be able to short-circuit Embassy Electrical’s olive oil mission.
The place where all the magic happens
And of course they are still a specialist supplier of electricals to local businesses