When date night rolled around, my husband and I thought we would try somewhere different for a change. Since we both really enjoy Turkish food, we sniffed out local restaurant Lefke, based in Upminster – so out of our usual Romford / Hornchurch / Lakeside remit. Although finding somewhere nearby to park left us in a bit of pickle, we were both looking forward to chowing down on some classic kebabs.
With our pick of the tables, we opted for one right near the back of the restaurant, near the open charcoal grill in the kitchen where the food was all prepared and cooked. With a decided nip in the air, we decided this would be the warmest spot! Lefke is a relatively small restaurant with rectangular dark wooden tables of varying sizes pushed to the walls, a couple of which that seated two diners placed in the centre to further utilise space. For me, the most eye catching element of the décor were these fantastic stained glass and metalwork lanterns, all featuring different patterns and shapes, hung across the entire ceiling. Emitting eerie patterns and a spectrum of colours across the otherwise plain white ceiling gave a great atmospheric feel which transported you away from the dreary British winter and instead had you envisioning grand Turkish tents. With white walls and a dark wood floor, Lefke was simply furnished, however the magic of the ceiling more than made up for any plainness below.
After being handed a drinks menu and a main menu, we set about mulling over our choices. I quickly asked for a glass of the house rose to drink, however I was rather disappointed by the wine menu. Only the house wines (red, white and rose) as well as one other red wine were available by the glass, everything else had to be by the bottle. This limited me quite a lot since my other half doesn’t drink wine. We then seemed to wait an age for our drinks, yet when I finally slurped my rose, it tasted watered down and hardly had any flavour. Needless to say, for my next drink, I ordered a gin and tonic which certainly hit the spot.
Flicking through the menu, all of your Turkish classics were present and correct, from the hot and cold mezze selection for starters, a range of kebabs for mains and finally baklava for dessert. I would say the menu wasn’t hugely extensive, however it had just the right amount of choice with a good mix of flavours and meats to suit every craving that came in through the door. There was also the option to have steak, ribs, lamb chops or fish dishes as well as a couple of vegetarian meals too, although the star of the show is undoubtedly always going to be the kebab.
While making our choices, we were brought over a woven bread basket, filled with super soft slices of lush white bread, the crusts scattered with sesame seeds. Also presented with a dish of creamy mint sauce and a spicier tomato alternative, the Turkish equivalent to a bread board was simply lovely. The bread was so squidgy, it was irresistible when dunked into the ramekins of sauce. The mint sauce was refreshing and zingy, while the other dip had a hot, spicy vibe to it, with a pungent kick.
For my starters, I chose the halloumi cheese – something I don’t really eat at home yet always enjoy. I have to confess that this was the best halloumi I have eaten. I was given three large rounds of the char grilled cheese – definitely the thickest slices I have ever eaten. It had a great springy texture to it that was also surprisingly meaty, the flavour that wonderful mix of sheer saltiness, cheesy goodness and the slight BBQ accents from the grilling. Placed atop a bed of vinegar dressed onions, this was actually a great pairing that I thought really enhanced the flavour, as the sharp twang of the dressing cut through any potential stodge of the cheese. Big thumbs up for the starter.
Moving on to my main course, I had chosen a combination kebab. Being the indecisive bean that I am, any kind of combo is generally a safer bet. I decided to go all out lamb, picking the lamb shish and lamb kofte, which would be served with rice and salad. The portion size was great, served on a long, rectangular white plate, balancing a dome of fluffy white rice on one corner. The shish kebab and the kofte were probably a little under the length of the plate, so a generous size for the meat. Half the plate was taken up by my cubes of lamb while the other was a positive rainbow of salad, a colourful cascade of veggies. The lamb shish was done very simply – I didn’t really taste a marinade as such but to be honest, it didn’t need it. The meat was so impeccably tender and flavoursome that I was relieved it wasn’t burdened down by spices – in this example, Lefke have gone for quality ingredients to showcase and it works a treat. The meat was so soft, it was divine. The kofte was also tasty, the minced lamb subtly flavoured with spices, however once again it wasn’t overbearing in any way, so you could really enjoy the different texture of the crumbled mince and the tones of spices without finding anything too hot to eat.
The rice was threaded with some kind of bean or noodle which was a nice added touch. The salad included some more of those tasty vinegar dressed onions as well as a pile of grated, raw carrot, chopped up purple cabbage, a selection of mixed leaves as well as cubed tomatoes and cucumbers, which acted as a prop for a wayward wedge of lemon. You were also given half a grilled tomato and a green chilli too, which had lovely sweetness to match its fiery spice! Everything on the plate worked in perfect conjunction with each other – the juicy meat paired with the crunchy veg – to create an explosion of textures and tastes that really ticked my boxes. Thoroughly lovely!
Despite overloading on bread and being on the whole, rather stuffed, I couldn’t dare leave without munching on some baklava – it had been ages since I last ate some and I was really keen to get stuck into the syrupy, pastry based dessert. Served with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, I was rather shocked by the minute size of the baklava – two rather small and sorry looking cubes – however the taste still had plenty to it. The flaky pastry was dry and crisp on top of the syrupy soft and sticky base layer, the green thread of pistachio tying the whole dessert in nicely. Plus, the presentation was lovely with a generous dusting of cocoa powder, heart shapes drawn in the corners. It was a thoughtful extra touch.
Using our Taste Card to get us a two for one deal on our food, our meal ended up coming to £40, which isn’t too bad at all considering I had three courses and two alcoholic drinks. Dan had two courses and one soft drink and we both consumed far too much bread. Without the Taste Card, we reckon the price would have risen to about £60, which for Turkish food, seems rather a lot to me. The waitress who served us was really lovely and considerate, although at times I found the service rather slow. If you can find somewhere to park, I would recommend you give Lefke a visit though – I thoroughly enjoyed my meal.