After a more hectic than usual week in the office, colleague and close friend Vick and I decided that to celebrate Friday, we needed good food, good wine, and lots of it. Being an Ipswich local, Vick recommended nearby haunt Mahzen, an art deco styled Turkish restaurant directly opposite the waterfront. With a classy exterior boasting a deep blue front with a backlit stencil screen effect, I was looking forward to seeing what Mahzen had to offer, and whether it would live up to Vick’s high praises from previous visits.
As soon as we entered, the succulent smell of barbequed meats instantly hit my nostrils, making my mouth water almost instantly. The kitchen is completely open to the restaurant floor, with only a clear screen between the open charcoal barbeque and the diners. Décor wise, I was really impressed by the obvious and oozing sophistication, with the venue clearly trying to create a comfortable and relaxing atmosphere yet ensure it still carried a degree of opulence. The muted brick effect walls were in calming, neutral shades, square alcoves with picturesque blue backdrop lighting held silver and copper metalwork pieces, even including the letters of the restaurant name. Large, scrolled and gilded mirrors hung regally, whilst the camel coloured lamp shades dripped down low to provide a dimmer atmospheric lighting effect, perfect for a chilled out evening.
The square, dark wooden tables were nicely presented, with small white plates set for starters and wine glasses just asking to be filled. Nectar and honey shaded mosaic style tea light holders held miniature candles to add yet another layer on to the varying lighting effects, which I really liked since it was so different to other eateries and formed such a nice ambience. Nice and spacious, the restaurant was empty when we arrived at around 6.40pm ish, and with first impressions seriously ticking my boxes, I couldn’t wait to get stuck into the menu. Sneaking into a table for four at the back of the restaurant, we promptly ordered a bottle of the house pinot grio, and began pouring over the potential food choices.
The wine was really light and pale in colour, with a vague tang of taste, but not bitter or dry which was nice. The menu was a real classic Turkish affair, offering a really wide mix of both hot and cold mezze to start. There was also an array of both meat based and vegetarian options, with so many of the dishes catching my eye. Although a lot of the dishes contain the same core ingredients, with rather a lot of aubergine, tomato and onion in pretty much most of the dishes, there was a slight slant in each one that made it different. Unable to decide on just one starter, Vick and I opted for the failsafe pick a few and share mantra. We chose an aubergine pate, served with bread, which was a chargrilled cross over between flat bread and pitta. We also chose grilled halloumi cheese, with four, thick ovals that were a really deep golden brown. They were a bit over-grilled for my liking and I wasn’t expecting them to come up so dark in colour, however I really enjoyed the salty flavour of the cheese and the thick texture, although it was a tad drier than expected. Our third and final starter was cigars of filo pastry topped with grated and melting cheddar. The crisp and golden pastry encased beautifully oozing feta cheese, which was perfectly soft and an ideal juxtaposition to the crisp casing. The pate was a lot looser in texture than I was anticipating, like a slightly more runny hummus. It also had a really delicious warmth of garlic, pepped up with a zing of lemon and a swirl of olive oil. Really tasty when smothered on the fantastic bread. All in all, I really enjoyed our selection of starters and it definitely got me in mind for my main course.
Perusing the options for my mains, I really struggled to decide what to have, as it all sounded so delicious! I opted for one of the specials, which was basically a lamb shish drenched in a rich tomato and butter sauce, topped with specks and swirls of yoghurt. The meat and sauce combo sat atop a mat of diced bread, the same type as featured in our starter, and was served with a dome of orange, small grained rice and a nice, fresh salad. The portion size was brilliant, filling a large, white rectangular plate, mainly with the succulent meat, which there seemed loads more of compared to the rice and salad. Being a meat lover, this suited me down to a tee, especially since the meat was delicious. It was completely melt in your mouth, beautifully tender, and this worked so well with the buttery, tomato sauce that luxuriously coated each cube and dripped wonderfully down to be soaked up by the bread, creating little nuggets of contrasting textures. The yoghurt on top created a sharp, fresh slice of taste that cut through the dense tomato and gave an added highlight. Lamb is also lovely with this style of sauce and these guys really knew how to execute the dish to perfection.
There was nothing over difficult or fussy about the dish – it was just meat cooked very well, and served in a typical Turkish fashion, with a medium consistency sauce that packed bags of husky flavours. The rice was boiled soft and was tasty, the salad again, nice and simple with just onions, tomatoes and cucumbers snuggled down among the lettuce leaves. Despite looking like a dish you can easily plough through, it is definitely more filling than you may anticipate, maybe because of the bulk of meat to veg, or maybe because of the heavy sauce and extra dose of bread, but nevertheless I managed to clean my plate, leaving not a speck left. It was Turkish food at its best.
After letting our main course go down, I had to follow up on Vick’s recommendation of the traditional dessert baklava, a syrupy and nutty pastry with shreds of filo pastry squashed together to form a gooey yet crunchy morsel. Teamed with vanilla specked ice cream, this was a lovely dessert. We were given three fat fingers of baklava each, served with a single scoop of the impossibly silky and creamy ice cream, which cut nicely through the dense block of honeycomb flavoured pastry. The filo provided a light crisp crunch, while the pistachio paste added a fantastic salty flavour as well as its trademark green hue. With hints of honey, caramel and general stickiness, it was the perfect conclusion to the meal and another tick in the box.
Wanting to finish with coffees, we seemed to wait an age to flag down some of the waiting staff, and then we managed to wait for at least half an hour before we could get a different waiter’s attention to say that our latte and cappuccino had been forgotten – to make amends we were given the coffees on the house, the waiter in question immediately coming to our table to personally apologise, which I must admit is rare. The coffees were really nice so can’t complain about anything other than the wait. The busier the restaurant got, the more flustered the staff appeared and the less able they seemed to cope with delivering food and taking orders in a timely fashion. The prices on the whole were fair as well, and generally what you would expect to pay, so ideal for a midweek treat. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Mahzen and I would definitely return.