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4-36 Houndsditch, London EC3A 7DB, Tel: 020 7626 2222

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      25.06.2009 08:09
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      Turkish cuisine in City of London

      Mention to anyone that you eat out in central London on a regular basis, and you usually get one of two reactions. You'll either be regarded as having more money than sense, or as someone who just has more money.

      Yes and why is it, when the meal already costs more, London restaurants also see fit to charge a very cheeky 12.5% service? They were already going to get a bigger tip based on the higher prices even at 10%.

      What these doubters don't know is that despite an almost monthly sojourn "up town" from darkest west London, thanks to a website called www.toptable.co.uk, we never pay for more than half-price food. Yes, wine and extras are still at full price, but from a "wallet-damage-limitation" point of view, it makes a huge difference, bringing "posh" dining back to local prices.

      Sometimes there are constraints, like sitting down before 7 pm, or Sundays only. This really depends on why the restaurant wants to put bums on seats.

      In the case of the Kazan (Turkish) Restaurant at 34-36 Houndsditch, EC3, I suspect it's because Saturday night in this part of the City of London is practically dead (and likely to get "deader" as the current financial gloom drags on). It also helps that being fairly new to the local scene they are also trying to build up a clientele of regulars. They do have their original venture in the Victoria area too.

      After a short walk around the corner from the Bishopsgate exit of Liverpool Street Station (British Rail and Underground), first impressions are favourable with a neat appearance to the place although they couldn't spell "Healthy" (Healty) on their daily specials board on the pavement. You are politely greeted at the door by waiting staff behind their rostrum from which they confirm your booking, if you have one, and shown to your table.

      Table settings are smart with real linen napkins done up with ribbons (sounds naff but it wasn't). Décor is "modern palatial" with much use made of crystal glass lighting. Again, if this sounds gaudy, in context it isn't, given that hint of the east that Turkey promises, as it straddles both Europe and Asia. In three corners of the floor area, a circular bench and table was set into an alcove, which would be a good venue for a sizeable party, say half a dozen.

      Some people reviewing this place found the background music a bit....well not exactly background, but on the first night we were there, volume levels were fine. However, the "turkisised" versions of Vivaldi and his ilk were a novelty at first, but after a while I began to get a flashback to the 80s when seemingly every restaurant had a copy of Grover Washington's "Winelight" or a Rondo Veneziana album playing in a loop. A second visit did indeed show up the high volumes experienced by previous diners. I don't think restaurant owners appreciate sometimes how something that seems quite soft when the place is full, is pretty loud when half-emptied of all that sound-deadening "bio-mass" a.k.a. customers!

      Service was good without being pushy, although I do get a little annoyed by the constant attention to keeping my wine glass full, but that's just me. Of course, I could always drink it more slowly - wow I only just thought of that!

      Initial perusal of the menu shows that a very liberal view of what could be termed "Turkish" has been used, for instance Albanian Liver; what's that all about? Of course if you take the broader "Ottoman Empire" view, rather than a modern-day Turkish view, then including the odd Balkan dish is to be expected.

      I like Turkish food, both when there, and over here. Turkey is a very fortunate country food wise, since its combination of a Mediterranean and a more northern climate give it access to almost a full range of raw materials and self sufficiency in most of them, possibly with the exception of bananas (still sourced courtesy of one Mr. Bob Dole and family), and its cuisine reflects a lot of this - the diversity, not the bananas!

      All the usual eastern Mediterranean favourite mezze dishes are there, including hummus, tarama and stuffed vine leaves. There are however, some very interesting sounding alternatives.

      My advice to those not sure how hungry they are is to forego a starter. We got olives and hummus every time they brought bread anyway. On our first visit, we even got a complimentary bowl of soup.

      Along with the grilled meats that we have come to associate with Turkey, there is a wide range of more homely dishes, casseroles and stews for example. The lamb shank on mashed potato sounded and looked great too.

      My starter on our second visit was skewered mussels in batter. What an unusual taste combination but delicious nonetheless. Ruth went for the Borek (pastries) filled with feta cheese and spinach. Again, this was very tasty.

      Faced with a huge main course choice, I caved in and ordered the "Kazan Special" at the top of the menu, which is somewhat similar to a dish called Adana Kebab elsewhere, being a layered selection of grilled chicken and kofta kebab, placed atop a pita bread which soaks up juices beautifully. The whole thing is laced with a spicy tomato sauce and topped with delicious thick yogurt. Hot pitas baked alongside the meat, and therefore bursting with savoury flavour were also supplied. Under normal circumstances, this dish is priced at £14.95, but bear in mind that it cost me half of that.

      We opted to "stick with Turkish" for our choice of wine, a red called Yakut by Kavaklidere, which was robust and old enough to be "out on its own".

      They don't try to palm you off with expensive water here, and are perfectly happy to make sure that your glass of iced tap water is kept "bottomless". This one of my first tests in my "Am I coming back?" ratings and Kazan passes it with flying colours.

      We couldn't really see our way to a dessert, so we opted for mint tea/Turkish coffee. This was accompanied by a very generous helping of loukum (Turkish delight with pistachio - only the real deal this time, not Frys!) and we could even have had more, merely by mentioning that it was delicious!

      All in all, both our visits cost around £46 for two, including what I think is still a slightly cheeky 12.5% service.

      Waiting staff are not only very friendly, but funny and cosmopolitan. One waiter was Moroccan, and we were able to compare transport notes with him as he lived near us!

      The waitress, who rather sweetly recognised us from our first visit a month before, was French. It's the little details like this that give this place the feel of a visit to an old friend even when you've only been there twice.

      Going back? You bet, but not at full menu prices. There are too many other places vying for my affections at half price.

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