Saturday, April 4, 2009

Topkapi: kapi - perhaps, top - definitely not

rdering sets can be a hit-or-miss experience. If you luck out, you get to taste the chef's fortes. If you get the short end of the stick, you end up with generic gunk churned out to stuff undiscerning tourists' faces.

I could not figure out what kind of deal I landed with my full set (£23.50) at Topkapi, a Turkish restaurant on High Street Marylebone. It seemed to be the chef's finest because my party, who all ordered à la carte, were working on something similar. On the other hand, I just couldn't work up any excitement over what I had on my plate.

First I had a selection of mezze. Cold: an aubergine salad, chopped pickles, tzatziki, hommous, a cod roe salad and a bean salad. Hot starters (temperature hot, not spicy hot) cam on one plate: half a sausage, a filo pastry, a few shavings of shawarma, a deep-fried calamari ring and a kibbeh. On top of that, Olga kindly gave me a piece of her baked portobello mushroom. A generous but uninspiring collection of little dishes I now had before me. None was downright thumbs-down but they all lacked that delightful fresh herbiness I expect from good Turkish cuisine. All in all, the yoohoo factor of Soviet canned tuna.

My main course was mixed grill. When I was ordering it, the fantabulous Pasha mix in Amsterdam's fine Babylon Alaturka still stood fresh in my mind. Alas, this too didn't live up to expectations. Same shawarma shavings from my starter featured prominently. A strange chunk of unidentifiable meat (I just hope I was not initiated into dog-eating that night!) was chewy and nearly tasteless. It reminded me of overdone ostrich but I dared not to ask. Then there was a small piece of chicken breast, so pink from sauce on the outside that I first took it for salmon. The first bite of the single lamb chop exploded with so much fat that I thought it was a pork chop. "Oh no, it can't be, this is a Turkish place!" The sides consisted of rather lame and greasy fried rice, the classic tomato-cucumber-lettuce mix and a scoop of finely sliced pickled red cabbage (ahem!). To give credit where it is due, the volume was enough to feed a good tired soldier and pieces of grilled bellpepper were scrumptious.

We shared a bottle of red Beaujolais Villages. I was the youngest at the table so I did not protest - the Asian in me is alive and kicking. The vin de merde turned out as horrible as usual, another proof that the Dukes of Burgundy had a very good reason to ban it from their dominions to preserve the reputation of Burgundian wines.

As it always goes, I was still half way with my main when everyone else was already toothpicking. I took my dessert (two pieces of mass-produced baklava from your Turkish corner shop) in a doggie bag. An evening of tea-drinking and conversation at Natasha and Pete's place that ensued redeemed somewhat the shabby meal (
£130 for 5).

Pro's: Friendly service. Open fireplace.
Con's: Gives Turkish cuisine a bad name.
In a nutshell: Grade C version of Ottomanic gastronomy.

Topkapi Restaurant, 25 Marylebone High Street London W1U 4PH

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