“ 11 South End Road / London / NW3 2PT / Tel: 020 7794 5498 / „
Hampstead has long been one of my favourite places in London, but because of the high cost of renting in the area, I have to rely on the occasional trip rather than living there. It also happens to be the location of the Royal Free hospital, which I have the misfortune to have to visit rather frequently. Going to this restaurant was a reward for one such visit, and I have visited once more since.
The restaurant is located very close to one of the entrances to Hampstead Heath and is just opposite the Silver Link train station. For those travelling by tube, it isn't quite so convenient. The nearest tube station is Belsize Park on the Northern Line - walking from the station to the restaurant should take about 10-15 minutes.
Address: 11 South End Road
London NW3 2PT
Telephone: 020 7794 5498
From the outside, there is nothing particularly eye-catching about the entrance to the restaurant; in fact, I passed it several times before realising that it was not just another coffee shop. In the summer (and yes, that means now, despite the rain!), there are places to sit outside and there are french door style windows that open directly into the restaurant. In the winter, these are kept closed and another door is used as the entrance.
Once inside, it is not hard to believe that you are in Turkey or Cyprus or somewhere like that. A great deal of attention has been paid to the furnishings, which look very casual, although were probably very expensive. Padded benches covered in a stripey material run along two sides of the wall, meaning that there is plenty of room for both people and belongings. The room is decorated by lamps, picutres, pots and pans and other implements that look very Turkish to me (although I haven't actually been to Turkey). Coupled with Turkish looking (and speaking) staff and traditional Turkish music, it is really easy to drift away and imagine being on holiday - it really is a very pleasant room.
Both times that I have been to the restaurant, the service has been excellent. There are usually two young girls serving; both are friendly and pleasant, without being too 'in your face'. The owner/manager has been there both times too and has always come over to ask us if we enjoyed the food. Our food and drinks were served promptly, but not so fast that I thought the food was probably microwaved.
When we asked for the bill, it was brought to us promptly, accompanied by two sticky pieces of delicious Turkish Delight.
Food and drink
The menu apparently consists of traditional Anatolian cuisine. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but the food is simple, but well-cooked. As starters, we have tried the home-made hummus, chorizo sausage fried in a tomato sauce and a type of cheese - I would guess it was goat's cheese, although I am not completely sure. All were tasty and enjoyable - particularly the chorizo sausage, which was excellent with bread to soak up the tomato sauce. The portion of cheese was rather small, but the hummus and chorizo sausage were plentiful.
It is a Turkish restaurant and as such, kebabs are the order of the day. The first time we went, we tried the shish kebab, served with rice and salad, which was beautifully cooked. The meat was just right - not overdone and not at all chewy. The boiled rice and salad were perhaps a little boring, but then they were just accompaniments. We also tried grilled chicken, also accompanied by rice and salad. The chicken was very flavoursome - perfect for anyone on a diet.
The second time we went, I tried one of the chef's specials, which was lamb layered in aubergine, tomato and pepper. The lamb was once again beautifully cooked. There was rather too much aubergine and not enough tomato and pepper for my liking, but it was very nicely presented and tasted wonderful. The ubiquitous rice and salad were there as well. My partner had meat balls in a tomato and pepper sauce with potatos (yes, the rice and salad was there too), which were tasty, if a little plain.
As well as a variety of kebabs, there were also fish dishes, moussaka, Turkish stew and a range of vegetarian dishes. There was a wide variety of wines and spirits - there is a small bar in the restaurant. We stuck to beer, of which they only had two sorts, both bottled, but that was fine for us. A range of coffees was available, although we didn't try any.We didn't have any dessert and to be honest, I didn't notice any desserts on the menu, although I'm sure they were some.
The toilets could do with decorating, but were adequate. There were skylights in the ladies toilets at least, which made it perhaps all too obvious how much they needed decorating, but at least I could see what I was doing!
There are no steps to the entrance of the restaurant or inside, so wheelchair access would be easy.
Starters were in the region of £4; main courses were £8-9. We paid £42 for two starters, two main courses and four beers - this included service charge, so I though it was reasonable, although not cheap.
Overall, I do recommend this restaurant. The food is not anything out of the ordinary, but the dishes they serve are always well-prepared. I do think they could think up some more original accompaniments for the dishes though. For the area, the prices are not too bad, although with wine, it could start to get quite expensive. Atmosphere-wise, this restaurant scores full marks. Recommended.
Zara serve a variety of traditional Turkish dishes including kebabs.