“ Type: Turkish / Address: 8-10 Arcade Road / Littlehampton / West Sussex / N17 5AP / England / Tel: 01903 722055 „
The Silk Road Restaurant in Littlehampton (West Sussex) offers a vast range of Turkish dishes with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences. I'd never eaten in a Turkish restaurant before so I was rather keen to try it, and the restaurant came highly recommended by both my brother and my parents, all of whom had enjoyed many a good meal at The Silk Road. On this occasion there were nine of us in the party, spanning three generations, all gathered to celebrate my mother's birthday.
~~~ TURKISH CUISINE ~~~
I wasn't sure what to expect from Turkish food, I suspected it would be rather like Greek food (which I do know and love), but with their own twists and additions. Turkish food is basically a hybrid of recipes taken from Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Balkans. In a nutshell, it takes its influences from both the East and West. Kebabs, bread and milk based products (especially yoghurt) form the pillars of Turkish cooking. Meze is as popular in Turkey as it is in Greece and the Middle East. Meze is basically a series of appetizers served either hot or cold - a bit like Spanish tapas or French hors d'oeuvres. Typical Turkish meze are things like olives, breads, cheeses, Humous and Falafel - to name but a few. There are literally loads of them. For meat based dishes lamb, chicken and beef feature heavily, with a distinct lack of pork - after all Turkey is a largely Islamic country. Many Turkish dishes are built around their hot climate so cooling, bland ingredients like yogurt, tomatoes, cucumber and mint feature heavily in many dishes. Spices such as black pepper, oregano, garlic, paprika and parsley are a common theme throughout too. Turkish food is surprisingly versatile and has something for everyone.
~~~ THE MENU AT THE SILK ROAD ~~~
Considering that the venue is not all that big (75 covers at the most), the menu on offer is massive and simply brimming with choice. This always worries me when I eat out. A large menu can often indicate copious freezer space in the kitchen, as it's too hard to keep that many different dishes fresh in the available fridge space. Added to which, if a chef has to cook 55 different dishes then he's not going to have as much skill, expertise and time available than if he only has 10 different main courses on offer. However, I need not have worried for despite the large array of choices, everything we did eat was beautifully prepared and simply delicious.
The menu is well laid out with the main courses divided into sub-sections called Mains, Kebabs, Seafood or Vegetarian. Starters are sub-divided into either Hot or Cold Mezes/Starters. Obviously I'm not going to list all the dishes in this review, but if you're interested the full menu can be viewed at http://www.thesilkroadrestaurant.net
~~~ DÉCOR & AMBIANCE ~~~
I must say that the outside of the restaurant did not look particularly promising; it looked a little tatty, and the multi-coloured tiling appeared garish. From the outside, it looks like one of those restaurants that has seen better days. Happily, I can say that first impressions were wrong and don't let the outside put you off venturing inside The Silk Road.
Inside, the restaurant is simply an Aladdin's cave of delights. The décor is sumptuous and exotic. Rich purples, deep reds and dusky pinks feature heavily, with little twinkling lights winking at you from various different alcoves. Strings of beads and exotic Persian carpets abound. The bar area was more like an exotic courtesan's boudoir rather than somewhere to sup half a lager. Piles of cushions abound and twinkling beads adorn the walls and ceilings. The toilets were no less disappointing - done out in a rich red and black lacquer effect décor. The tiled walls were adorned with a raised jewel like frieze and the attention to detail amazing. At the back of the restaurant is a clever trompe d'oeil wall painting of a cobbled market place, and it really does look as if you can step out the restaurant into a sunny market place setting. All of this was most unusual and unexpected in Littlehampton; downtown Littlehampton is more renowned for its recent supermarket stabbing and seen-better-days seaside ambiance.
~~~ STARTERS ~~~
As I wrote earlier, starters at The Silk Road are divided into either hot or cold dishes. There are about 25 different choices on offer (ranging in price from £3.60 to just under £6.00). Many of the cold starters on offer are salad type dishes such as Tabbouleh (a dish originating from Egypt comprising of bulgur wheat, parsley, mint, lemon, onion and tomato), Kisir (mixed nuts, herbs, bulgur wheat and spices), Humous (a creamy paste of chickpeas, tahini and garlic) or Cacik (a bit like Greek Tzatiki in that this dish is also yoghurt, cucumber, mint and garlic). Other choices on offer were Patatas Salatasi (Turkish potato salad), Sardine Pâté or Melon served with Feta cheese.
Hot dishes that sounded rather tempting included Halloumi Caramel (grilled goats cheese topped with beef tomatoes and caramelized onions, and one of my favourites Drunken Calamari (deep fried squid rings in beer batter).
Our party was undecided as to whether we would be able to manage both starters and main courses, so we spoke to the owner and she suggested that we have a selection of cold vegetarian meze dishes and some baskets of bread. This sounded like a very nice idea, as it would take the edge of our appetite but not spoil our main courses. After ordering, we had a short wait of about fifteen minutes and then the starters arrived, beautifully presented in three long silver-coloured metal dishes accompanied by two baskets of Turkish flat bread. Our party of nine had been seated on a T-shaped table so the three long dishes fitted perfectly along the length and width of the table, and everyone could easily dig in to what was on offer....and what a feast it was! I really couldn't have asked for a better introduction to Turkish cuisine; each dish was as flavoursome as the next, and all surprisingly complimentary of each other.
Each silver dish was laid out identically with a selection of about 9 or 10 different meze dishes, all of which were delicious and easily forked onto the flat bread served with it. The meze dishes on offer were Patatas Salatasi, pickled red cabbage, Tabbouleh, Kisir, Humous, Cacik, Manca (freshly chopped spinach in garlic), Imam Bayildi (delicious smoked aubergine with small chopped salad items), Felafel (deep fried chickpeas and broad beans shaped into balls), Halloumi (grilled goats cheese) and Cheese Borkek (triangles of feta cheese in filo pastry). With the exception of the Humous (which I've never been too keen on), all the meze dishes were delicious, with particular emphasis on the nutty and crunchy Kisir and the grilled Hallmomi, which was creamy and rich. The breads and the mixed meze were also accompanied by small dishes of olives. I found the olives a little too salty for my palate but everyone else seemed to enjoy them immensely.
~~~ MAIN COURSES ~~~
The main courses on offer were extensive and rather bewildering. Choices range from around the £8.00 mark up to just under £14.00. The menu was sub-divided into sub-sections called Mains, Kebabs, Seafood or Vegetarian. The Mains section offered choices of either lamb or chicken, and I was very tempted by the Pirzola (char-grilled lamb chops served with oregano and yoghurt dip), as I am very partial to lamb cutlets. However, I was swiftly enticed away by the Kebabs section of the menu. Here there is a choice of seven different kebab recipes made from lamb, chicken, salmon or simply vegetables. The main courses conclude with a Seafood section and a range of vegetarian dishes.
There was a fairly long gap between the removal of the starter paraphernalia and the arrival of our main courses - I'd say at least half an hour. This was not a problem for us as a large group, as we had plenty to catch up on and much news to exchange. Although the delay could have been due to the size of our party, the restaurant was not particularly busy that evening so I'm not sure why the mains were a little slow in coming.
However, once more it was worth the wait. Four of our party partook of a lamb dish called Hunkar Begendi (also known as Sultan's Delight), which is stewed lamb with oregano, aubergine and cheese sauce. Some of them had their lamb served on the bone and others simply had sliced meat - but all pronounced it delicious.
My aunt and I both choose the Silk Road Mixed Kebab which is a grilled selection of lamb and chicken shish (chunks of marinated meat), a lamb cutlet and Kofte (minced lamb, onion and mixed peppers moulded into a meatball shape). It was a truly massive portion of different meats sitting on a bed of basmati rice and garnished with a few vegetables. You couldn't fault either the lamb or the chicken, both of which were suffused with lovely oregano and garlic flavours and melted in the mouth.
My nephew and my dad choose the Chicken Shish which was chunks of chicken marinated in garlic, oregano, paprika and vodka. My sister-in-law choose the Chicken Iskender (strips of chicken breast char-grilled with garlic and sweet peppers and served with a rich tomato sauce, paprika and yoghurt). They all pronounced their choices as delicious and the empty plates played testimony to this at the end of the meal.
All the dishes came served with a small selection of vegetables (in this case carrot and raw broccoli for some strange reason), cucumber yoghurt and basmati rice. I must say that in everyone's case, the portions were more than generous. The meat in all the dishes far out-weighed the rice and vegetables.
~~~ DESSERTS ~~~
I'm afraid that the restaurant really let itself down in this department, despite the fact that hardly any of us had room for a dessert anyway. This was just as well really, as the dessert card consisted of only four items and two of those were not available as they had run out of them on Valentine's Night. As we were dining two nights after Valentine's Day I didn't think this was much of an excuse, as two days is plenty of time to restock your fridge or create some new sweets.
From memory the dessert card consisted of some kind of chocolate mouse, a fruit flavoured concoction, baklava and one other. My nephew and my uncle both choose a portion of baklava each, which did look nice when it arrived. For those of you who have never tried it, baklava is a rich pastry (made of layers of phyllo dough) filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. Personally I find it wincingly sweet, but the pistachio ice-cream it came served with tempted the sugariness down a little bit.
All in all, I thought that the lack of dessert choice on offer was a disappointing conclusion to our meal. After all we had booked and they knew we were coming so there was no excuse for not having a larger array of puddings on offer.
~~~ SERVICE ~~~
On the evening in question, the restaurant was about 40% full, but it was a Tuesday evening just after Valentines Day. We were the only large party; all the other diners were either in couples or groups of four.
We were served throughout the evening by the owner of the restaurant (Teresa Haskell), and she was extremely friendly and very efficient. She was on hand to recommend and suggest things from the menu, and she obviously really knew her stuff menu wise.
The bill came to a rather reasonable £155.00 (£17.00 per person), which I thought not at all bad for starters and main courses for nine, four bottles of wine, several drinks and a couple of desserts. However, my father did manage to wrangle a 25% discount on the food, as The Silk Road is included in the list of venues included in The Gourmet Society, of which he is a member. Service is not included in the bill and is left at the discretion of the diner.
~~~ RECOMMENDATION ~~~
The Silk Road gets a resounding four and half stars from me (it might be mean of me, but the lack of desserts on offer causes them to lose half a star). All the dishes we sampled were simply delicious, beautifully presented and well portioned. The service was exemplary throughout the evening - unobtrusive yet knowledgeable and helpful when required. The ambiance and décor were totally in keeping with the food and drink. All in all, The Silk Road is a bit of a "find" if you're a fan of Turkish cuisine. Highly recommended...... and as they say in Turkey - Afiyet Olsun...enjoy your meal!
~~~ OTHER STUFF ~~~
The Silk Road is open every day (except Mondays) from 12.00 noon until last orders at approximately 10.00pm (this is later at the weekends). The venue seats up to 75 people (with good access for the elderly/infirm) and has a fully licensed bar. Parking is in the street outside, so you may have to drive around the block a few times to find a suitable spot.
The restaurant holds regular live events such as belly dancing or jazz / Latin evenings. More details on the dates of these events can be found on their website. Evidently they also hold regular belly dancing classes if you're keen on learning a new skill :o)
The Silk Road Restaurant
8-10 Arcade Road
The Silk Road is a glorious mix of deliciously authentic Mediterranean cuisine, matched only by the intoxicating and colourful decor and the fabulous, unique programme of live entertainment. Rubies, sapphires, gold and silver are the backdrop for your taste experience set amongst Turkish carpets and copper tables. We have been regular customers of the Silk Road almost since its opening ten years ago and have never yet experienced a disappointing evening. The front of house and kitchen teams, as well as many of the entertainers have all been there for a very long time, together with the family who run the restaurant and set the atmosphere.
The Silk Road has acquired an enviable reputation in Littlehampton which is a small seaside town in West Sussex and, together with a small number of other unique restaurants and businesses, have managed to work towards setting Littlehampton very favourably apart from neighbouring towns. For a restaurant to be stable in the current state of the economy is a rare and wonderful thing and very deserving of patronage.