Restaurant review: Turkey Street Food in Belfast
2 Ventry Street, Belfast. Tel: 028 9031 5978
Thanks to the affordability of foreign travel provided by the likes of the much-lamented Thomas Cook tour operator, the plain people of Ulster have, in recent decades, enjoyed new food experiences. Derided for decades by many nut job xenophobes (there are still a few about) as "foreign muck", the simple and delicious dishes of France, Spain and Italy converted thousands of us to paté, paella and pasta.
And then we started to discover that lesser known foodie destinations such as Belgium, Holland, Germany and Denmark also had fabulous culinary and wine larders which grew our curiosity even more. Now, Turkey is firmly ensconced as a favourite destination of Irish people and in recent years, the food of that country has started to make itself known here.
While our exposure to this has been limited to lamb kebabs, a tiny new bistro, Turkey Street Food, tucked out of sight in Ventry lane which links the Dublin Road to Great Victoria Street, is churning out super high-class mezes and grills, just as good as those the adviser and I have been raving about following our own travels to the Turquoise Coast and to Istanbul.
Turkey Street Food is not only as good as the best we've had during our Anatolias adventures, chef patron Alper Cildir uses local components and ingredients to make sure it's as fresh as it is well prepared.
Take the aubergines used for his patlican salatasi salad for instance, which is lush, bursting with flavour and beautifully creamy and dense. His other mezze includes the classics such as haydari featuring strained yoghurt, feta cheese, mint, garlic and olive oil, pancar salatasi in which beetroot and garlic in yoghurt appear as a beautifully pink cloud, mercimek kofte, little fried balls of red lentils, bulgur, tomato paste, spices, lemon juice, onions, parsley, scallions olive oil, mint and "secret ingredients". The hot chilli ezme (like a finely chopped spiced tomato salad) and kidney bean salad are as joyful as they were this summer.
The tiny restaurant which seats about a dozen appears smaller than the kitchen. This is probably because so much space is needed to create the "locanta" or canteen menu. (Dozens of vegetarian mezes to choose from, a little grab and go box of four will cost you £4. With a flatbread sourced in Cork, this is not just delicious but smugly healthy too.
Speciality soups are also here and the brave hearted will leap straight into a bowl of Iskembe corbasi tripe soup for £3.
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But it's the mixed grill platter (easily enough for two people if you're also having mezes) where Alper's talents peak. The adana, mixed lamb with hot spices on a skewer, has a hint of harissa and chilli, not enough to put your colleagues off from coming too close to you back in the office, but powerful enough to bring a smile to your face.
The lamb chop, marinated chicken and beef chunks have all been marinated and are packed with flavours and firm textures. Accompanying this is a mound of Turkish rice featuring the sheriye orzo, but the king of good carbs here is the bulgur wheat, unctuous, rich, and luxurious.
The menu is effectively the classic Turkish culinary canon. Of course, Turkey is a vast sub-continent and the culinary traditions of the north Black Sea coast vary dramatically from that of the west or the Turquoise coast on the south with its Greek influences. This tiny bistro serves the dishes you will recognise from some of those favourite little places you visited on holidays right down to the baclava, the kebabs and those fabulous mezes.
Turkey Street Food is ultimately a takeaway but the little dining area could be very cosy indeed if Alper would keep the front door closed and dicky the place up with some mood-enhancements - a few pictures of Antalya or Istanbul, some of those beautiful Turkish textiles perhaps - to match the food.
Mixed meze platter..............................£4
Mixed grill platter..............................£15