Thursday, 9 April 2009

Istanbul Iskembecisi

Courgette, egg, feta cheese, flour, dill, parsley, mint mixed & deep fried, served with kisir

Arnavut Cigeri-
Albanian style liver served hot with onion salad

How does one start a review of this place? Well I couldn’t make my mind up as I was totally spoilt for choice by the following prefatorial paragraphs-

1. Be brave, not so very though, for it’s only İşkembe. That’s Turkish for tripe and it’s the tripe soup that this place is ‘infamous’ for (MsMarmitelover and I were debating recently on the profundity of this word; I mean does
it have to be derogatory most of the time? Well certainly not in this case, here it’s purely complimentary beyond reason). Let’s be honest if forced into a predicament of having to choose between tripe or the male reproductive glands of a goat type animal; Simon says the moo-moo stomach anytime!

2. Friendliness and efficiency are two things we all expect from the waiting staff. To have both sincerity and the grasp (of the dining room going-ons) thrown in as well can only be heaven sent. The lady who ran the place today left me with an indelible impression; she was bloody brilliant.

3. Peeps, this place is not (possibly yet) sanctioned by the collective o
f foodie bloggers! Four out of five times that would mean if it’s not good enough for them then likewise for you, however the remaining 1 out of 5 means they’ve inadvertently missed out on a gem. Most foodies and their followers would head to nearby Mangal Ocakbasi Restaurant instead (very good as well) without blinking an eyelid at the other Turkish eateries (not entirely blameless, as most of them look seedy and hardly inviting). A healthy consolation can be gained from the lack of the bloggers' approval; there's less chance of the place being over-hyped up with complacency to follow.

I first came to Istanbul Iskembecisi nearly a year ago. This was due to the mention of tripe soup in Charles Campion’s review for the Evening Stan
dard written years ago. It’s also worth noting that Istanbul Iskembecisi won an award for the Best Bargain Meal from Time Out eleven years ago! Somehow and somewhat it lost its way over the years, the food is still brilliant but it simply suffered from a lack of simple PR and the tripe tag didn’t help either.
Based in the Turkish district of Stoke Newington, Istanbul Iskembecisi offers genuine Turkish fayre and if however you’re looking for Doner Kebab or Chips in Pitta, this is not the right place for you. It was pointed out to me that there are two types of Turkish restaurants- first there’s the more familiar ocakbaşı or grill room, where the display and cooking of the meats are conducted at the front of the restaurant and secondly there’s the Ottoman. The latter is what Istanbul Iskembecisi identifies with, historically it’s supposed to mean grand dining fit for the emperors, but these days in 21st century North London it’s simply a Turkish restaurant without the stink of the barbie clinging to your clothes when you leave.
The dining room as you can see looks a little forlorn. Although grim, I can settle down without much fuss but otherwise lovebirds might have an issue. I reckon, budget allowing, if Istanbul Iskembecisi were to apply a bit of drab chic like Fernandez & Wells to the room, that kind of contemporary compliance can only be beneficial in the long run.
Came here today with Mr Cheapskate; two-course set lunch for seven pounds. It was pre-agreed that he wasn’t going to pay for more than that as he was saving up for a piano.
Warm and fresh bread.
Cheapskate’s starter of Muska Boregi- Pastries filled with fetta cheese & parsley. Four of these! Generous or what?
I tried one and it was rather delectable. In a way I felt that it was lucky that I chose not to start with this dish, cheese can be too filling in no time.
Iskembe (Tripe Soup). Charles Campion described it as an ultra-bland soup that is horrid. It’s meant to be bland, it’s an s-i-y (season it yourself) soup. Salt, vinegar, lemon juice, pepper and chilli flakes are included with this humble bowl of soup.
I find the ritual of seasoning your own soup fun, it only eggs the appetite on.

The finely chopped tripe pieces were easy on the palate, and it was in no way horrid as reported by Campion.

If anything it tasted less offally than the piggy chitterlings that I had at St.John. Copious addition of chilli flakes would start to ignite comparisons to the Sichuanese favourite of Fire-exploded beef tripe. Please Sir, can I have some more?Cheapskate’s Chicken Shish. Looks pretty standard but that’s only skin-deep. The chicken pieces were beautifully tender and properly marinated.
Cheapskate to say the least was surprised, he expected the chicken to be dried out and tasteless. He was impressed with the serving as part of a seven quid set.
You can tell if a restaurant is good by their fresh chilli sauce. This was superb!
I tried to go off-piste with the choices of mains available from the set lunch. This is the Turkish traditional dish of Islim Kebab. Large lamb cubes wrapped with fried aubergine, green peppers and tomato sauce.
The meat was terrifically soft and mated well with the melting aubergine slices. I loved that spicy sauce. Again what a portion, and the quality of the cooking for the price is astounding.
I was invited (or did I invite myself, can’t remember now!) to the kitchen to witness the presence of a real charcoal grill, this is as good if not better than any Ocakbasi restaurants you’ve been to.
It was hot in here and smell of cooking meats is intense; now you can begin to understand why Ali the chef/boss prefers you to enjoy your meal not in here but the dining room. Three cheers for Ali!
While I was in the kitchen, Cheapskate was gorging on his desert of semolina cake. I didn’t get to taste it but he assured me it was quite delicious. This piece of cake was gratis.
My Turkish coffee being prepared.
There’s a thick layer of sludgy grounds at the bottom of the cup that's left behind.
Erm, acquired (treacly and tarry) I would say, plus super strong and appropriately rustic (thanks Steve) tasting. I’m beginning to think that our Turkish friends think that espressos are for wusses.

Oh the name of the wonderful waitress is Canan (pronounced Jar-Naan). She makes all the desserts in the restaurant and she also made me the ‘strong-willed’ coffee. If you come here you might well be lucky to have her serve you. She’s like a friend.

The a la carte menu is extensive, including mezes, grilled meats and an impressive selection of vegetarian mains. I’m coming back here to try this menu out. Please don’t take this review as an ode to tripe, it’s not, we’re talking about a seriously good Turkish restaurant here. A wholehearted recommendation.

NB Iskembecisi means tripe joint or shop…I think that’s right.
They stay open until 5am everyday!

9 Stoke Newington Road
London, N16 8BH

July 2008


thora said...

Great post. I like Turkish coffee a lot, one of the things they "tought" the Austrians and Czechs while occupying parts of these countries.

thora said...

Actually I meant "taught" of course.

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