Hello Döner Fans! I hope this finds you well. On a sunny day this week, Dr Döner was back in Edinburgh again. Had he gone for the Festival? Was he there to soak up cutting-edge theatre and stand-up comedy? No, he was not. He was there to sample a new Turkish restaurant called Cafe Pera, which has recently opened on Elm Row. And he was in for a treat!
Pera, as we all know, is the historical name for a formerly European mercantile quarter of Istanbul, now known as Beyoğlu, on the Western side of the city. It was renowned for its nightlife and illicit delights and, to an extent, still is. The delights at Edinburgh’s Cafe Pera were thankfully very licit, and my companions and I were lured in by the array of delicious meze on display in the front window. Keen to try everything, we ordered the mixed meze platter to share, and I followed this with the Pera mixed grill.
The meze platter offered a vast selection of tasty morsels, both familiar and unfamiliar. It boasted cacık (tzatziki), turşu (pickled vegetables), various creamed and spicy vegetable and nut pastes, and a basket of freshly baked pide (bread). It was a generous platter, and the flavours were good. Our appetites were well whetted for the grilled kebabs that were to follow. And we were served by an absolute gent named Savaş, who diligently checked on us throughout the course of our meal to ensure that everything was satisfactory. He brought us our main course and we tucked in.
The mixed grill consisted of chicken şiş (cubed, skewered meat), lamb şiş, and lamb köfte (skewered mince) nestled on a bed of bulgur with a small portion of çoban salatası (shepherd’s salad), which is tomato, cucumber, onion, chilli pepper and parsley. The meat was tender and juicy. The chicken in particular was done to perfection, and nicely spiced. Best of all was the lamb köfte, however, whose mix of herbs gave it a full and rich flavour. In all, it was magnificent.
Unfortunately, Dr Döner had pigged out on the meze. Yes, he had stuffed himself beyond the point of redemption. It was a study in gluttony. The result was that, when the kebab arrived, he was unable to finish it all by himself, and was forced to leave a piece of lamb şiş and half a piece of chicken. If anyone thought that this faux pas would go unremarked, they were wrong. Savaş looked anxious as he lifted my plate and asked why I hadn’t finished. I gushed that it had been delicious but that I was too full and had had to leave a small portion of it. He went away. But then he came back. Words had been had in the kitchen, and he wanted to know if the meat had not been good. I offered my most profuse flattery, saying that it had all been excellent, but that I had eaten far too much of the equally delicious meze to stuff in any more. He looked relieved. The crisis had been averted.
When it came to order coffees, my cover was finally blown. I asked Savaş for a Türk kahvesi (Turkish coffee) and asked for it orta şekerli (medium sweet). His eyes lit up. He asked me in Turkish where I had learned these words. And then the whole tale came out. I regaled him with my time in Istanbul, and he beamed as he replied that he was from Istanbul himself, from Üsküdar on the Eastern shore. To prove our new camaraderie, he brought me my coffee in a special cup, not the one he gives the tourists! And the coffee was perfect, everything was perfect. When the time came to pay the bill, he brought us a dish of Turkish delight.
‘What is name?’ he asked cheerfully, proffering the dish.
I told him my name.
‘No,’ he said, pointing to the Turkish delight. ‘What is name of this?’
‘Oh…’ I said, red-faced. ‘It’s called lokum.’
‘Yes!’ he beamed. ‘Turkish delight is lokum!’
When we left, Savaş shook my hand for so long that I thought he wouldn’t let go, and invited us to come back later for raki. And that, Döner Fans, proves once more the undeniable friendliness of the Turkish people. They are some of the world’s best hosts: conscientious and welcoming to a fault. We departed, promising to return once again, satisfied with our food and with the service, having enjoyed a very good, and very hospitable, afternoon. Cafe Pera gets the Dr Döner seal of approval!
Service: 5/5 (impeccable)
Atmosphere: 5/5 (very nice, with Turkish lamps and art deco photography)
Price: 5/5 (very good)
Taste: 5/5 (delicious)
To Recap: What Have We Learned?
“cacık” [ja-jick] (Turkish tzatziki)
“turşu” [toor-shoo] (pickled vegetables)
“pide” [pee-day] (flat bread)
“şiş” [sheesh] (cubed, skewered meat)
“köfte” [köf-teh] (mince, either in meatball-form or on a skewer)
“çoban salatası” [cho-ban sa-la-ta-suh] (shepherd’s salad)
“Türk kahvesi” [toork kah-fe-see] (Turkish coffee)
“orta şekerli” [or-ta sheck-er-lee] (medium sweet)
“lokum” [low-come] (Turkish delight)
Photography courtesy of Ms. I. McQueen