Written by Nick Searle-Donoso
Proclaiming itself as Durham’s newest Turkish restaurant, my expectations for ‘Turkish Kitchen: Meze and Grill’ were high despite its rather generic name. Seduced by the 4.8-star rating on Google, with reviews promising ‘authentic Turkish food’ and a ‘lovely Turkish atmosphere’, I was certainly hoping to be transported to Istanbul.
Except, of course, that is not quite the experience you get from Turkish Kitchen. The atmosphere in the restaurant is calm. There are no clamouring waiters, spinning metal platters on their fingertips.
There is no scent of lightly burning spices or char-grilling meat. It is certainly not, one can imagine, like eating at a restaurant in Istanbul. Indeed, though the menu is a mainly Turkish affair, there are a few pan-European anomalies (like calamari and fried brie with cranberry sauce) thrown in for good measure.
But despite this, Turkish Kitchen retains an air of authenticity; an aroma of self-confidence. Its décor is modern, with its faux-galvanized metal walls; its swirling blood orange neon lights, and its baskets of shrubbery hanging overhead. A menu with an intimidatingly large selection of options promises unheard-of Turkish delicacies.
We ordered the meze sharing platter, which advertised a cornucopia of fried vegetables, dips, and bread. The platter came laden with tasty morsels, such as cacik (tzatziki but better, according to the waiter); hummus; fried aubergine, which was deliciously slippery in garlicky olive oil; kisir, a vibrant and textured dip of cracked wheat, tomatoes, peppers, celery, parsley, fresh mint, and walnut; sucuk, a garlicky, spicy sausage; muska boregi, a crispy pastry parcel filled with creamy feta and spinach; and mucver, deep-fried courgette fritters.
Unfortunately, there were also a couple of less tasty morsels: stuffed vine leaves, which consisted of dry rice wrapped in a slightly acrid parcel of houseplant; halloumi, which was slightly dry and rubbery; and falafel, which were like small rocks and dry as a desert inside. If you don’t like vine leaves, then here’s a tip: tell the waiter you really, really, really dislike vine leaves, and the chef will replace them with another dish, probably something much more delicious like the smoky and creamy baba ganoush. For dessert, we went for the baklava, which comes luxuriously soaked in a delicious syrup and decadently topped with pistachio crumbs and zig-zags of chocolate sauce.
When he delivers the food, the waiter is curt. He speaks directly and bluntly. But he warms up when we ask whether the complimentary Turkish delight is homemade. ‘My father makes it every morning’, he says, with his face lifting into a nostalgic smile. Asked whether the delicious chocolate cake is also homemade, he laughs again, this time shaking his head.
Turkish Kitchen is an expensive option. The main dishes cost roughly £12-15 and the meze sharing platter is around £24. But it is certainly worth it, if not just to indulge in homemade baklava and Turkish Delight.