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Dinner at Ishtar – a Glimpse of Traditional Turkish Cuisine in London:
A year or so ago I was asked to visit Istanbul on a world foods trip. Although it was only a whistlestop 24-hour trip, it gave me a real insight into Turkish cuisine and a real appetite for more. So I was delighted to be invited back to Ishtar, a Turkish restaurant that is so good it’s a favourite for the team working at the Turkish Tourist Board! In fact, the last time I was at Ishtar it was because I’d won a competition run by the Tourist Board to try a Turkish meal in London. Of the list of possible Turkish restaurants, when I said I wanted to try authentic Turkish food, Ishtar was the clear recommendation.
I was delighted to be invited back to review. Located just off Marylebone High Street at the Baker Street end, Ishtar has an open kitchen over two floors and seating over both levels. The ground floor is cosy, with jewel-coloured velvet chairs and an intimate feel while downstairs there’s space for parties of all sizes.
We settled down to pick our food but were quickly guided ‘off menu’ with the offer of a mixed cold meze platter. I’m a big fan of this style of eating – you get the opportunity to try lots of things from the menu without having to pick a favourite and without overeating. We learnt that although this isn’t on the menu, if a guest is keen to try a mixture it’s quickly offered. We enjoyed a lovely grainy and soft Hummus, Kisir made with finely chopped mixed bell peppers, spring onion and cracked wheat, Patlican Soslu – sauteed aubergine in tomato sauce, Patlican Ezmesi – a smokey aubergine dip made by charring aubergines before cooking them and pureeing the mixture with garlic, yoghurt and tahini and Cacik (Turkish Tzatziki). All delicious, my favourite was the Patlican Ezmesi – I love that silky, smokey aubergine mixture and haven’t yet managed to get anywhere close to it at home!
We also had a large bowl of Tabbouleh, a dish which isn’t strictly Turkish but which I really enjoy and have managed to convince myself is healthy enough to offset any dietary travesties! I’d recommend this mix of bulgar, mint, parsley, olive oil and lemon for anyone who needs a quick pick me up. It’s classic Mediterranean and Lev.ntine dining – and very refreshing
Hot mezze came in the form of some pretty borek fingers filled with spinach and feta wrapped in the lightest crispest filo served with a sweet chilli dip
And a dish of halloumi and Turkish sausage, Sukuk and Hellim. Although this purports to be grilled and is part of a Mediterranean cuisine, it’s a somewhat decadent dish of melting cheese and tasty beef sausages. Delicious.
It was over the main courses that things started to fall apart. I think we may just have over ordered.
My companion picked the Meyveli Kuzu – Poached lamb cubes with prunes and apricots cooked in their own juice served with bulgar. A pretty, fragrant and aromatic dish that made us both want to dive in!
Meanwhile, rather ambitiously, having seen the open charcoal grill, I’d ordered Karisik Izgara – a kind of mixture of charcoal grilled meats served with rice. Everything was delicious, especially the spicy kofta. But there was no way I could eat even half of what was on the plate.
In the interests of research, we shared a delicious warm dessert, Kunefe which is made from spun filo pastry strands filled with mozzarella cheese, syrup and cracked pistachio and topped with vanilla ice cream. OK, something of an indulgence, but a good cup of coffee did help!
Ishtar is one of those places I’d happily go back to with friends. With starters and meze around £5 a serving and with main courses ranging from just over £10 up to just over £20 if you want a steak, it’s reasonably priced for food that will leave you feeling sated and content. The atmosphere in this classy Turkish restaurant is relaxed and the service is excellent.
For me it’s still a toss-up between the slow-cooked melting stews and casseroles and the smokey grills from the charcoal barbecue – so do go along with friends so you can share. And enjoy the atmosphere in this Marylebone eatery, where, as the countertop sign says – they are all stars.
10-12 Crawford Street,
Marylebone, London W1U 6AZ