If I am honest, there are times when I sit down to write this column with a certain amount of dread. Reviewing restaurants that run the full gamut of dreadful all the way through to depressingly dull, is really not much fun. Some establishments take criticism on the chin, apologising for bad service/food and asking for another chance to redeem themselves (well, that happened once!) Others are frankly furious, and when that happens, I often go back to make sure I wasn’t being unfairly harsh. So far, I have not had cause to recant my original view. In fact, I sometimes wonder why our well-intentioned and obviously brilliant advice is not implemented!
So it is with great pleasure that I write to report on a newly opened restaurant for which I, together with the other party of diners who joined me, have almost nothing but praise.
The Istanbul is on King George Road where the Carriage Halt used to be. As its name suggests, this is a Turkish restaurant, but unlike the last one we reviewed with a Turkish name, this IS Turkish and the owners and chefs actually come from Istanbul. We were a highly critical bunch of diners. Two of us had just come back from a wonderful holiday in Turkey. Another has worked there and has the added expertise of having lived down the road from one of the best Turkish restaurants in London (The Mangal in Hackney, if you are ever in the neighbourhood). Others too were not entirely inexperienced in the delights of Turkish cuisine, having spent many an epicurean evening on the Bosphorus, the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, and other corners of that diverse and interesting country. We were prepared to be brutal!
The starter menu is as you would expect to find – a selection of soups, meze, salads and hot starters. We chose four dishes from the tray of eight meze on offer. They were delicious – babaganuş, creamed olive-oily aubergine with that smokey flavour that comes with charring the aubergine; ezme – translated as “spicy tomato dip” but which is so much more than that, being finely diced grilled tomatoes and peppers with onion, garlic and olive oil; humus which was for our taste a little lacking in enough garlic but tasty nonetheless; and another aubergine salad dish patlican salatasi which was exactly as we all remembered eating and loving it in Turkey. These were served with ample baskets of home-made pide bread. The portions are generous and the prices resonable – $4 per meze dish, while other starters were from $4–$7.
The mains are a wide selection of beef, lamb, and chicken kebab dishes. Vegetarians should not complain though, as there are so many good vegetarian starters to be eaten as main courses. We each had something different and all tasted everything – the joy of dining with friends. Iskender – succulent dőner with a rich tomato sauce and yoghurt served on pide. Adana kebab spicy minced meat cooked on long skewers, chicken shish, lamb Adana, kofte, and a new one to all of us Daruzziyafe kofte. I know of a restaurant called Daruzziyafe in Turkey – maybe it is their speciality, a delicious lamb and beef kofte wrapped in the finest layer of filo pastry.
Just in case you are thinking this might be advertorial, let me assure you it isn’t! I had visited the Istanbul a couple of weeks ago for a quick lunch but we had too small a food selection to write a review. Our criticisms are small but – here goes. Each of the dishes is served with a small plain salad of grated carrot and lettuce, a small side dish of pilav rice, more pide bread – and chips, which were cold. While everyone thoroughly enjoyed the extremely good kebabs, this was far too much starch for all of us. It also made for a rather messy and cluttered presentation. We suggest either rice or chips and perhaps a little more salad. Also, it was all served on cold plates and so the food was not as warm as it should have been. But apart from these suggestions we all agreed that our dinner was authentic and hugely enjoyable. We were unable to manage desert – but the Turkish coffee was a perfect end to our dinner.
The service was efficient and unobtrusive. For example, when we complained about the volume of the music, it was immediately turned down. Another aspect of the service I really appreciated was the absence of that irritating habit of collecting plates as each person finishes as though the washer-upper wants to go home or they have run out of plates. The table was cleared after we had all finished, as is right and proper.
There is a choice of seating – interior dining rooms with two tables in each, on the verandah or in the garden. It has been suggested to me that we should mention whether our restaurants are wheel-chair friendly – this one is.
Each of us said we were looking forward to going again – soon. I have no hesitation in recommending Istanbul.
Average: $25pp for 2 courses, drinks, coffee
Istanbul: 117 King George Road, Avondale
304347, 0775 711 358
Sunday: Lunch only