It’s always a treat to try meals from foreign shores. James Driver-Fisher didn’t have to go far to taste some exotic dishes full of flavour...
Having never been to Turkey the chance to sample some of the nation’s dishes from the comfort of a restaurant just up the road really appealed to us as a family – so we thought we’d give Istanbul a visit.
The trip also coincided with my daughter, Annabelle’s, second birthday and, luckily, as there are very few dishes, foods and flavours she doesn’t like, we thought it would be nice for her to try something a bit different.
It was a Sunday afternoon, 5pm to be exact, so we thought we might have the run of the place to ourselves and although we were the second family in it was soon filling up.
The decor was very welcoming, with the open plan-style seating making it a very inclusive restaurant, with no one hidden round corners or sandwiched close together.
The atmosphere always seems better when there’s an open kitchen too and the chefs were busy cooking up a storm.
The smell of barbecue-style cooking drifting throughout the restaurant was enough to get the tastebuds going but the fact we were already hungry meant we were soon ready to order.
Pictures hung from each wall depicting Turkish scenes and the music gently playing through the speakers was also local to the country, which gave the whole restaurant a very welcoming and authentic feeling.
But at the same time it was not too over the top and was the kind of place you could relax in a pair of jeans with family and friends over a few drinks while also feeling just as at home dressing up a bit, perhaps to go on a date.
The clienetele is bound to be different on Friday and Saturday night but as a family, with a young daughter, we were made to feel very welcome.
With an Efes and a Turkish red wine ordered, both of which were very nice, we chose our starters.
All the sharing platters looked very appealing, including the mix cold meze plater for two or more, with hummus, tarama, cacik, pancar salata, saksuka and sarma.
In the end we opted for two very different starters, with my wife, Kelly, going for one of her favourites, cacik or tzatziki, which really is simplicity itself and always tastes good. The mixture of homemade yoghurt, cucumber, dry mint, dill, garlic and olive oil tasted really delicious, not too sour and not too overbearing.
My choice was the mitite kofte, minced meat balls cooked in wine with tomato sauce. It was delicious and it all came with a bowl of flat breads to share.
We all dug in together, Annabelle included, and the combination of both – the sour cool dip of the tzatziki alongside the rich, warming sauce of the meat balls, oozing with garlic and tomatoes and a range of spices – was really nice.
The generous portions of breads also ensured there was plenty for everyone – and my daughter enjoyed both dishes too and it set up the main meals perfectly.
The range of starters to choose from was huge, so anyone who visits Istanbul could return on numerous occasions, trying something completely different each time.
For instance there’s pancar salata peynirli, which contains pickled beetroot, coriander, garlic, olive oil, feta cheese and mint, or saksuka, smoked in aubergine with parsley, mix peppers, onions and tomatoes.
Grilled garlic sausages, known as sucuk, also jumped out at me, and for something a bit different I noted the arnavut cigeri, pan fried lamb liver with raw, red onions, herbs and parsley. I’ve never been a fan of liver but if I was ever going to be swayed I’m sure cooking it Turkish-style might be the way forward.
Annabelle was armed with a colouring set for our visit and although there were no facilities for children as such, she was made to feel very welcome by the staff who were very accommodating and very kind while she played and occasionally ‘escaped’ from the table to explore.
When it was time to order the mains, selecting a single meal each was even more of a challenge.
As mentioned previously, having never sampled authentic Turkish food before I had no idea what to expect really – and I’m not one for looking at a menu online before trying out a restaurant. It’s nice to have some surprises in life.
But perhaps I should have because it seemed like I was staring at the menu for hours without being able to commit to a meal.
There were just too many options to choose from. Any of the shish or kofte dishes would have been good enough for me, especially hearing the meat sizzle and the smells drift over the restaurant from the open kitchen.
Marinated tender lamb chops, known as pirzola, were hard to turn down and that was before you even contemplated the Istanbul House Specials.
These included a skewered lamb cooked with onions, red peppers and tomatoes, topped with a herby butter and smoke flavoured aubergines, alongside two sharing platters with all the meat you could eat.
There was also a range of oven dishes, slow cooked for ultimate flavour, which caught my wife’s eye and a few saute dishes to try, which consisted of cubed meat cooked in a variety of different ways. Sea bass, sea bream, salmon and king prawn dishes were available for fish lovers along with steaks, pastas and at least five different vegetarian dishes. Knowing a few vegetarians I’m sure having that many dishes to choose from would make a nice change. But a decision had to be made and in the end we went for kaburga, lamb ribs marinated with herbs, and kleftiko, a lamb shank mixed with peppers, baby carrots and baby potatoes, all cooked in a clay oven.
The children’s menu also contained six dishes and we decided to try the chicken shish for my daughter, which came with salad and chips.
The first thing we all noticed was the portion size, which were healthy to say the least. Mine came with about six or seven ribs, some of which were pretty much pure meat.
They tasted great with just a subtle flavouring allowing the charcoal grill to do its magic but producing that freshly flame-grilled taste.
Kelly really enjoyed her meal too and I can vouch for the flavour as I managed to steal a few mouthfuls. The entire lamb shank just fell off the bone, while the sauce and accompanying vegetables were also very nicely cooked.
Mine was perhaps a little dry for my liking – not a criticism of the meal because it came exactly as you would expect – but I asked for a side order of yoghurt just to add a bit more moisture. Both our meals came with a side order of rice and mine with a salad, which combined beautifully to create a wonderful meal.
Annabelle also enjoyed her shish, which was just chicken simply cooked and freshly served, and not like your usual chip shop kebab, so we knew it was healthy.
After the generous portions we could only manage to share a vanilla ice cream between all three of us. We both had one more drink each – another beer and a Cosmopolitan cocktail – so when the bill came to just over £47 for the lot, we were even more impressed.
We happened to go on an evening when a 10 per cent discount was on offer, which along with four Turkish Delights presented with the bill, was a nice way to end the evening and my daughter’s birthday.
We would all highly recommend giving Istanbul a try, especially if you fancy giving something a little different a go.
By James Driver-Fisher