It’s refreshing to see a new restaurant open in the city centre that looks beyond Italy for its food inspiration. But would this eatery prove a Turkish delight or a Turkish disaster?
Last time I visited this site it was yet another Italian restaurant, a stone’s throw from numerous others.
In that incarnation it was Chianti, previously Eately, but the fact those guises didn’t bring anything new to the area may be the reason they bit the dust.
Efes, which opened three months ago, seems to have the recipe for success by serving up a flavour of authentic Turkish fare.
It’s run by the same people as Chianti - and aside from the addition of Turkish flags and lamps - it’s still recognisable from its time as the Italian. It makes for an informal, fuss-free atmosphere, in keeping with the ethos of the food and is reminiscent of the relaxed vibe of Roma, which is under the same ownership.
However, in stripping the menu of its Italian monopoly, the owners have drawn from their Turkish heritage.
It’s bye bye carbonara and Parma ham and hello houmous, falafel and kofte.
Over the centuries, Turkey’s been a melting pot of cultures and that’s reflected in its food which fuses flavours from the Mediterranean, Middle East and beyond.
There’s plenty of meat to get your teeth stuck into with whole sections devoted to barbecue lamb and chicken, cooked traditionally over wood charcoal. Vegetarians needn’t miss out though with animal-friendly Turkish staples such as moussaka (£8.95) and falafel (£8.95).
Starters-wise, there’s a good choice of authentic treats to tickle your tastebuds, such as muska boregi, which are deep fried filo pastry triangles with feta cheese (£3.95); spicy sausage sucuk (£3.95) and lahmacun flat bread topped with mince (£4.95).
I chose a classic from this corner of the world: halloumi, or hellim, to give it its Turkish name.
English restaurants often skimp on this salty Cypriot cheese, but here you get five huge slabs of the stuff for £3.95. It’s served on a bed of salad, though, after being fried, the cheese was delicious enough and didn’t require the extra slick of olive oil. Across the table, my friends were a bit thrown by their falafel choice (£3.95) which arrived in croquette-style tubes, as opposed to the more usual deep-fried balls of chickpea. Though there was plenty of it, it was on the bland side. No complaints about the side order of houmous. You’re presented with a giant mound of the creamy dip, with a basket of warm bread for dunking.
The mains more than made up for the falafel.
We all chose from the barbecue section, which puts the nearby kebab shops to shame with its take on shish meat. My chicken version (£10.50) was a masterclass in succulence, tender chunk after chunk of it, served with a finely diced, onion-heavy moreish Mediterranean salad, rice or chips and a chilli dip.
It’s quite a meat feast to wade through, but the staff don’t rush you along. Service is friendly, helpful and our waiter was passionate about extolling the virtues of the authentic menu. We found space to share one of the puddings he recommended. I’ve never tried kunefe before, but its layers of wafer-light pastry soaked in syrup were simply divine.
For those wondering about the restaurant’s name, it is indeed named after the famous Turkish tipple, which is served on draught and bottled.
Not only will it whet your appetite for more far flung foods, Efes will wet your whistle too.