With a cultural theatre evening at Shakespeare’s Globe in London planned, it was only natural that my night out with my sister included a delicious dinner to boot. With the performance kicking off at 6.30pm, our restaurant criteria was that it had to be open during the afternoon as we were planning a late lunch / early dinner scenario at 3.00pm and it also had to be near a train station so that we could simply hop across to catch a train into central London after our meal. With a hankering to try new Turkish joint Kervansaray for a while now, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out the famed charcoal grill, as it is a mere stone’s throw from Gidea Park station, offers takeaway food and a sit in restaurant, as well as being open from 11am until late. Ticking all the immediate boxes, we headed down on a Sunday afternoon to see what it was like.
There is nothing shy or retiring about Kervansaray – the wooden tables and chairs spill out on to the wide pavements invitingly, thoughtful awning protecting diners from the late afternoon sunshine, carefully planted greenery giving a taste of the exotic in the middle of the urban. Bright red letters sprawled on a beige background smack of something special and a bit out there, especially when compared to the dour funeral parlour or bog standard chippie surrounding it. The smell of grilled meats cooking is also irresistible, with an almost cartoonish cloud of scent beckoning you inside.
The interior also aims to deliver a Turkish atmosphere and theme to your doorstep, with elaborate desert mural scenes in a 3D painting style sketched out across the walls, complete with trademark camels and rolling sandy dunes. Old fashioned burnished golden ceiling lights add a hint of drama to the plain white ceiling, with rectangular dark wooden tables and matching chairs slotted in along the entire stretch of the narrow and long restaurant. Right opposite the front entrance is the takeaway section, a classic clear glass fronted chiller display showcasing an array of kebabs marinating happily, the neon menu radiating a sunset orange. Behind the display is the open kitchen area, the chefs busily hustling between grills.
Luckily, we were given a table right next to the front window, so we had quite a lot of space and privacy compared with some of the larger tables further in the restaurant. After scouring the wine menu, we settled on a South African Chenin Blanc offering that promised us hints of tropical fruits and a decent medium body. Sweet yet flavourful, it hit the nail on the head, avoiding that stiff dryness that can cause problematic with white wines. As our bottle was chilling on our table, we were brought a plate of green and black olives, accompanied by cocktail stick spears, a bread basket appearing soon afterwards, with deliciously grilled flatbread style slices piled high in a woven basket.
Perusing the starters, we decided to go for one of the sharing options, settling on the cold mixed mezze selection for £9. It arrived at the table on a large, square white plate, divided up like a noughts and crosses grid with lines of chunky cucumber separating the segments. The mezze included dips such as traditional humus, tarama which is a pink fishy dip, cacik which is a garlic and cucumber yoghurt sauce, soslu which is aubergines in a tomato sauce, stuffed vine leaves, spinach with yoghurt and garlic and kisir which was a bit like a tomato and vegetable cous cous. Not only did the starter look divine, but it was great fun to eat as well. The waitress brought us over a second basket of bread to aid our dipping, although the cucumber divides were also useful for this. More olives as well as shards of raw carrot also acted as yummy decoration.
The great thing about this mezze was that all the flavours worked impeccably well together, providing a contrast of tastes, flavours and textures that were all different yet complimented each other nicely. The chickpea based humus was grainy and creamy, while the yoghurt based dips were wonderfully refreshing, especially after a mouthful of the vaguely slimy tomato aubergines or the rice filled vine leaves. We literally demolished the plate, using every inch of our bread to mop up every speck of remaining dips and sauces, savouring the lovely tastes that were full of garlic, tomato and yoghurt. The dips were the ideal texture as well – no one like a runny dip, but these were luxuriously thick and easy to scoop using your bread. Always a decent plus point!
An overload of bread and enthusiastic eating may have had us feeling full already, but we couldn’t wait to tuck in to the main event – our main courses. I opted for the indecisive person’s choice, the mixed kebab which generous offered lamb shish, chicken shish and kofte kebab. Jess decided on the grilled chicken beyti, wanting to try something a little bit different. For £12, I was amazed at the quantity of food I received. It looked like I had a whole lamb shish kebab, an entire chicken shish kebab and a large sausage style kebab of the kofte. And boy was it good. The meat was juicy, succulent and tender, melting in the mouth with natural, wholesome decadence. Served with a side salad, a bed of boiled rice and another secret slab of bread tucked under your meat, the portion size was very generous and definitely did the job of filling you up to brim, especially since there was no doubt in our minds that we would dare leave such fantastic food lingering on our plates.
The lamb shish pieces were my favourite, the meat ripping eagerly under my fork, although the perky chunks of chicken were also super tasty, especially when smeared with the garlic mayonnaise style dip we were provided with. We were also given a sweet chilli dip however this was a tad too spicy for my liking and I couldn’t really have too much of it. The kofte kebab was also divine with delicate background notes of mint and herbs tucked in amongst the minced up meat. I really can’t emphasise enough how fabulously wonderful this meat was – the staff at Kervansaray clearly know what they are doing, as it was an absolutely divine meal. I cleared my plate with gusto.
Too stuffed to contemplate dessert (plus we fancied hitting Costa for a coffee cooler and cake), we asked for the bill and made our way, however I already am longing to go back. On the whole, Turkish food is pretty simplistic really, consisting of mainly grilled meat and some easy side salad, however quality produce and excellent execution make all the difference, which is why Kervansaray stands out from the crowd. The meat is clearly decent quality and cooked to perfection, with plenty of thought going in to the combination of starters as well. Despite not ordering dessert, we were presented with a small plate of coconut covered Turkish delights, which were incredibly lovely with a light solid yellow jelly, the main flavour being the fresh sweetness of the desiccated coconut covering. A lovely finishing perk. Very reasonably priced, big portion sizes and a mouth-watering menu – what more could you ask for?