An Introduction to Turkish Cuisine – Ishtar, Bloomsbury, London:
There are many parts of the World where my understanding of the local food is sadly lacking. Although I’ve visited Turkey once, it was on a Schools Cruise, when I was in my teens and my memories are limited and blurred by time. I DO remember the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. An overwhelming experience. My companion for lunch at Ishtar, the lovely Sonia from twoadultstwochildren, had taken her own children there recently and from her description, their reaction mirrored my own from some thirty years ago, I suspect nothing much has changed there.
Lunch at Ishtar was the result of a lucky tweet to the Turkish Tourist Board that won me a meal for two at a Turkish restaurant in London; I remembered Sonia talking with such passion about her visit to Turkey and thought it would be a great opportunity to catch up besides having a more informed companion to dine with. It was a challenge just to chose one from the list of excellent restaurants sent to me by the Turkish Tourist Board, but we both agreed that Ishtar was a good choice and Soni was delighted to find that they served halal meat, so she could eat from the full menu!
The restaurant website explains
Ishtar was the ancient “Sumero-Babylonian” goddess of fertility, love and light and this is reflected in our food. We would like to welcome you with great ambience. Ishtar serves modern and traditional turkish food.
We offer a good choice of freshly prepared seasonal food. You should expect warm, friendly service. We promise we will do all we can to make your meal enjoyable and memorable for you.
The week before Christmas it was busy with office parties, but we were welcomed and helped through the menu (and encouraged to order MORE food!). Initial reactions were excellent. The cold meze (which we were going to miss, because we both wanted a warm starter) were delicious. There was Hummus of course but that was the only meze dish I recognised. The first aubergine dish, Patlican Ezme, was wonderfully creamy and smokey, the second, Patlican Soslu, rich with tomato. Ispanak Tarator and Kisir were both lighter and fresh with yoghurt and tomato dressings.
All this served with wonderful soft flatbreads.
Of course we did still have our hot starters to come. Borek were fingers of crispy filo filled with feta and and spinach. This type of food can be overwhelming and heavy but, here everything was perfectly cooked light and beautifully balanced.
Sucuk and Hellim, grilled beef garlic sausage and halloumi cheese was another winning dish – it’s easy to get a rubbery texture with grilled halloumi, but this was melting and tender, complemented by the spicy sausage.
We’d fully intended sharing the mixed grill between us as a main course. But, our charming waitress persuaded us that we needed to try Meyveli Kuzu which is a lamb dish not unlike a tagine; poached lamb with apricots and pears cooked in their own juice and served with cous cous. And I’m very glad we did – a sublimely tender dish of meat with that wonderful sticky sweetness that comes from slow cooking
The mixed grill was really quite delicious too and remarkable for the lack of superfluous grease. I was fully expecting to feel as if I’d eaten too much, bloated and uncomfortable at this stage, but the quality of the ingredients and careful cooking made this meal unexpectedly light. Ishtar has a downstairs kitchen and an open grill area in the main upstairs dining room. And this plate of grilled meat was perfectly tender and beautifully cooked with just a hint of smokiness teasing out the spices of the marinades, testament to the skill of the chefs in the kitchen.
Our main courses were, however, probably not genuinely light enough to warrant dessert, but we soldiered on in the interests of research.
I don’t suppose this dish of sweet shredded filo, filled with mozzerella and glazed with a sugar syrup, topped with pistachios and vanilla ice-cream would have done anything for my attempts at dieting, but it was definitely worth the moment on the lips.
All in, a meal that was unexpectedly excellent. We don’t hear much about Turkish food in London and although I’ve eaten at Sofra and always enjoy the experience, the menu there is quite cosmopolitan and perhaps a better advertisement for Mediterranean food in general than specifically Turkish dishes. So, this was an enlightening experience that I am sure I will repeat. Prices are reasonable with a lunch and early evening menu from £11.95 and a full blown set feast for £27.50 per person. Dishes from the a la carte are around £6 for starters and £14-£16 for main courses.
10/12 Crawford Street
London W1U 6AZ