I ’d never really thought about a tortoise’s ears before visiting this place.
On the wall, there’s a copy of a painting, The Tortoise Trainer by Osman Hamdi Bey (the original, painted in 1906, hangs in the Pera Museum in Istanbul). It shows an elderly man attempting to train a stubborn group of reptiles with the help of a ney flute.
Though it was a political and social commentary of its time, there’s a universal message that change can be difficult and requires patience. That’s because, amongst other things, tortoises don’t have proper lug holes and can’t hear very well – only at very low frequencies.
With a great sense of smell, they could easily sniff out the salad/kebab bar at his place, however I’m not sure what they’d make of the faux brick glitter speckled walls, but as they’re cold blooded, at least they wouldn’t feel the chill in this large space (the toilets were especially freezing).
We chose a couple of Hot Starters to warm up, including the hamsi (£4.75), which were a shoal of whole anchovies, each mummified in good crunchy breadcrumbs, and served with a wedge of lemon, a cool cacik dip and loads of lettuce. Not bad, but the savoury sigara boregi (£4.75) – four crisp parcels of gently spiced minced lamb – were our favourites.
From the Cold Starters selection, we were satisfied by the five neat dolma (£4.75), with rice, aubergine and pepper, all swaddled in vine leaves, while, a bowlful of baba ghanoush (£4.75) was a clean and chunky version of this aubergine paste, with a decent amount of smokiness.
Since I can’t get enough when it comes to eggplant (even after the news that, apparently, Gwyneth Paltrow poisoned dinner guests when she served her signature parmigiana dish raw), I went for the aubergine dolma (£9.85), which was also available as a pepper version.
Sadly, I got the peppers instead and had to console myself with the fact this dish would be coming with chips. However, when these didn’t appear, there was an awkward back and forward with the waitress about whether fries came with this dish (me, “they do”; her, “they don’t”).
"They do a nice syrupy baklava here, and it’s also worth trying their kunefe"
Anyway, on the way out, I checked, and they are included with this dish. My precious chips.
Never mind, the pair of roasted red peppers were OK, if underseasoned. They were stuffed with a wet and walnutty rice, aubergine and red pepper mixture – with more plain rice, tomato-ey couscous, a bugle sized roasted green chilli pepper and some chopped salad leaves.
Our lamb shawarma iskender (£12.95) was similarly meh. The shavings of fatty meat and tiles of fried bread were saturated in a plain tomato sauce and the plateful also featured a dollop of yoghurt and some plain rice. We’d ordered this because we were intrigued by the “deep fried butter” ingredient, but we can’t report a sighting. Oh, and there was another snake-sized whole chilli.
The Ada delight (£14.50) was slightly more successful. It consisted of a piece of slightly overcooked sea bass ladled with a catch of tightly coiled prawns and a saffron tinged cream sauce, plus five skin-on roast potatoes, a school dinner style pile of peas and carrot cubes, and another non-venomous peppery serpent.
They do a nice syrupy baklava (£4.50) here, and it’s also worth trying their kunefe (£4.50) – a Turkish baked dessert with shredded wheat and sweet sticky, stringy, cheese, topped with finely chopped pistachios and more sap-like sugary gloop.
Not bad overall, though starters and puddings win. However, main courses are a bit plain and homely, which probably works if you’re Turkish and after some comfort grub, not so much if you’re not.
Still, at a couple of months old, it’s early days for this restaurant. We must give them time to get established, tortoise style.