By Georgina Oatts
Tucked away inauspiciously up a creaking set of stairs, only the beady-eyed may have noticed their unobtrusive sign peeking out from behind The Body Shop. Don’t panic, Treats hasn’t been replaced. Turn around and reorientate yourself, Treats remains firmly intact a few doors down. Better though, in my mind, is this gentle, quietly confident Turkish Restaurant and Grill, Akarsu.
Those who have been lucky enough to stumble upon this new gem will be familiar with the kitsch décor and faintly bizarre touch the small restaurant has. Greeted with wallpaper that sparkles like your bathroom floor after a slightly heavy-handed glitter session and paintings, on which glimmer electric lights, it is a pleasure to enter the dining room, a pleasure only intensified by such welcoming smiles and a genuine enthusiasm from the staff to share their cuisine. Turkish lights hang low and create a red glow across the room reminiscent of the sunset you might be watching from the spice souk.
Stepping into this void off the high street you soon feel that Bill Bryson is a distant memory. You might want to wait before fully switching those brain cells off though as you have the extensive menu to work through before you can fully relax. I am always one to shy away from a large menu believing a few dishes done really well counts for much more than a huge range of mediocre dishes. The menu at Akarsu though gives the sense that this is still the case; they do one thing really well. Not deviating from their Turkish roots the large range of items do not fall far from the tree and many of them are small mezze plates anyway meaning a singular order can encompass a vast proportion of the choices.
So order lots and share. There really is no other way to avoid the serious food envy that will otherwise take charge. Fill your table with an assortment of their delights and sit back and absorb the Turkish muffles coming from the kitchen and the soft music that lulls you, subconsciously, back to the Turkish beach.
The food speaks for itself helped gently by the chefs’ generosity with the olive oil. Thick and creamy tzatziki spiked with vibrant red chili powder. Garlic infused lamb mince blanketed in pastry with lashings of labneh to dunk into. Not-so-delicate but oh-so-comforting fingers of falafel with true chickpea-tasting hummus. Broad beans laced with lemon, chili and olive oil. Aubergines filled with rich, stewed Mediterranean vegetables jewelled with blackcurrants providing the occasional burst of sweetness. Chicken baked in a rich tomato sauce that matches the individual terracotta pots in which they are cooked and served. And there was certainly no skimping in the kitchen when stuffing the filo parcels with feta, which oozes out and satisfyingly fills your mouth as you bite into them.
If you are a more worthy person than I and still have room after your mezze feast for pudding make sure to ask for the menu. We left unassumingly having heard no mention of the pudding menu and discovered, on the way out, the option of semolina dough balls soaked in golden syrup. This is something I really would have liked to have been made aware of. Like I said, there was very little room left in my stomach but I always like the option! And there is a second compartment for pudding anyway, everyone knows that.
As the nights suddenly close in on us, and summer seems a far away dream we can now rest assured that there is a mecca of Turkey (with a 10% student discount) awaiting us just around the corner.
Photograph: Georgina Oatts