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Café Istanbul

Joe Stretch and Jeremy Paxman dine together, one of them writes a review

Published on August 4th 2008.

Café Istanbul

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. So said Leonard Cohen when I went to see him at the Opera House a couple of months ago. I remember that night very clearly, but not for Cohen’s performance. I remember it because I found myself sitting slap bang next to Jeremy Paxman and, consequently, I found that I was unable to concentrate as Cohen doled out his haunted insights.

I’m guessing JP’s going through some 'personal shit' at the moment, because the food at Café Istanbul should have had him dancing on the table, loudly dictating love letters to Johns, Humphries and Snow, suggesting that they all hook up, book a room and bind themselves in leather

All I could think about was Paxman. His salmon pink shirt. His lovely chinos. I wanted to scream. Strangely, I wanted to cup his balls. I wanted to say ‘there-there’ to him and stroke his greying bouffant and say, Jeremy, you’ve done well, you’re part of broadcasting history, you’re one who deserves his fame. But in the end I said nothing. During the interval I gave him a smile that he would have construed as, at best, deeply disturbing.

I mention all this because as I’m shown to my table tonight at Café Istanbul who should I spot sitting at the adjacent table but…Clint Boon! Only joking. It wasn’t the benevolent and malting Boon but, would you believe it, Jeremy Paxman. Again. Twice in as many months. We’re practically best friends. Only tonight he cuts a sadder figure. His friends call him “JP” in voices that swoon with privilege. He looks tired and I don’t want to cup his balls. I often find it strange when I meet someone famous and my first emotion is sympathy. They can look so pathetic, the famous, surrounded my normal plates and cutlery, their faces withered by reality’s harsh and simple treatment. Tonight Paxman looked sombre.

I’m guessing JP’s going through some 'personal shit' at the moment, because the food at Café Istanbul should have had him dancing on the table, loudly dictating love letters to Johns, Humphries and Snow, suggesting that they all hook up, book a room and bind themselves in leather before interviewing each other in the dark while feather-tickling each other. It really is cracking. And great value, too.

I opted for a mezze starter (£6.90) which contained numerous (I was about to write Turkish Delights. Jesus Christ) miniature Mediterranean treats. Tatziki. Feta parcels. Calamari. The feta was the best I’ve ever tasted. My main course was chicken stuffed with spinach and feta in an orange sauce (£12.90). I know it sounds a bit 80s but it was subtle and generous and I would have gladly feather-tickled Paxman’s brooding BBC balls for the privilege of eating it.

It’s a slick place, Café Istanbul. Great, no nonsense staff. Cool, unobtrusive décor. Wide range of wonderful (if not exclusively Turkish) food at fair prices. If you like Mediterranean cuisine then you can’t go wrong here. I suggest you give it a go.

One of the best things about Café Istanbul for me is its location. I love Bridge Street. Situated just off Deansgate it has an effortless cosmopolitan air. The shops all seem fairly specialist and there are few chain stores. I can imagine Ryan Giggs buying an i-Pod on Bridge Street. Or Gary Neville buying a really, really nice vacuum cleaner.

It’s so great relaxing and eating in a part of Manchester that isn’t riding the crest of some much-publicised wave of urban regeneration or economic boom. It has a sense of permanence and consistency which is relaxing in itself, as opposed to the current desperate, over-hyped and fleeting chaos of, say, Thomas Street in the Northern Quarter.

Nor is Bridge Street, or Café Istanbul, swamped with tricky haircutted nit-wits with overpriced skin-tones, diamonds in their arses and looks in their eyes that scream ‘I snort lifestyle off the toilet seat with a fifty idiot notes.’ The people I dined with tonight, Paxman aside, all seemed mature, relatively refined and understated. I really felt relaxed and, to be honest, I normally feel about as relaxed as a neo-nazi on Newsnight. I felt a million miles from the “task” of Mancunian socialising. I just sat at a table and ate good food in a well-lit room with what seemed like a good bunch of people. I had sorbet (£3.50) for pudding.

I suppose if you want to nit pick, you might say that Café Istanbul is a tad too slick. The food came very quickly which always pisses me off a little. And, as I hinted at earlier, nothing about the place reminds you of down-town Istanbul exactly. But it’s a good restaurant. The chefs know it. The waitresses know it and even Paxman knows it. They should just be careful to keep it from becoming too fast-paced and perfect. It’s like Leonard says, There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

Joe Stretch is a Manchester based novelist and musician. His acclaimed first novel Friction (Vintage, £7.99) was published earlier this year, his next, Wild Life, comes out in early 2009. Around the same time his band (We are) Performance release an album provisionally called Unconsoled.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 7.5/10 Food
3.5/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: Cafe Istanbul

79/81 Bridge Street
M3 2RH

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38 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Jonathan Schofield - EditorAugust 4th 2008.

Steady on old chap, calm down. We took the picture down pending new pictures because you were correct with what you'd said: although I disagree with the exact description you chose to proffer. Still we could send you a copy of the picture if you wish.

Sir A MacdonaldAugust 4th 2008.

Jeremy loves Turkish food because he likes to get a good grilling as much as he likes to give one.....er....geddit.

robert crossAugust 4th 2008.

I am surprised if Steve has sold Sams and Mr Toms , he loves the pubs .

AnonymousAugust 4th 2008.

Sam's chop house sold WOW !!!!!!!!!!!

YWCAugust 4th 2008.

Cafe Istanbul is one of my favourite places to eat in Manchester and we go there often. Food and service is consistently good unlike the ghostly emptiness that is Lusso a few doors down. We had the blandest unseasoned seafood risotto ever there and we're it not for a birthday celebration and causing a scene, three of the party would have sent it back.

Jonathan Schofield - editorAugust 4th 2008.

You're right, we'll get down and take some better ones. His friend took them on her camera phone.

AnonymousAugust 4th 2008.

Just heard Steve Pilling has sold Sams and Mr Toms chop house , amazing news . Anybody got more news ?

W. ShakespeareAugust 4th 2008.

It's the writing that matters, the way with words.....and he does say that Cafe Istanbul is good which we all can agree with, if we;ve been

Nicola SerangiAugust 4th 2008.

I agree about the writing. In fact this is why this site can be so good. The different writers make it seem fresh. I don't always need exact descriptions of the food in forensic detail, I just want to get a feel for the place and be assurred that its worth (or not) a visit. I've never been to Cafe Istanbul I will go now. Not least because it seems you get a free Paxman with every course.

Nicholas WitchellAugust 4th 2008.

I was stalking the Duke of Edinburgh

Ice MaidenAugust 4th 2008.

Excellent food, ambience and service, but very disappointed in the 'Asda value ice cream' - dressing it up with a fresh strawberry and a sprig of mint was a feeble attempt to disguise it as something better. Why let yourself down at the last hurdle?

Serial foodieAugust 4th 2008.

Hang on Hang on, what Paxman was in Luso Wednesday Night? dont think so cos i wasin there and i didnt see him and was there from 7.30ish onwards? Please explain? another missed photo/autograph opportunity damn!Will give cafe Istanbul a try next time i think.....word of mouth always the best advert....

ancoats girlAugust 4th 2008.

They have a range of very reasonably priced lunch deals - great for a quick meal in swish surroundings.

Regen08August 4th 2008.

I always feel a bit sorry for Luso when I pass which always looks quiet in comparison to Cafe Istanbul just up the road. Mind you, I always think Luso looks cold and lacking intimacy from the outside. Can anyone that has been confirm if it feels like this once inside? Asides from the food, how do the two restaurants compare in feel and atmosphere?

Huw EdwardsAugust 4th 2008.

Slipshod as usual. That was a different friend Jeremy was on the next table. And in the far corner was Natasha Kaplinsky. Gordon Burns was in the other corner.

EditorialAugust 4th 2008.

We've added the prices now.

Gavin EslerAugust 4th 2008.

Paxman this and bloody Paxman that. Work-shy show off. It's me that puts the hard graft in week after week whilst he swans around the North's finest eateries having his nads cupped by the great and the good. Its enough to make my blood boil, it really is.

fredAugust 4th 2008.

I have just been told Sams has been sold to the Restaurant Group , they made Steve an offer he could not refuse . Dunno about Mr Toms and the new place in Leeds . Standards have been going down for months , Steve got distracted by going to Leeds . Lets hope they dont change too much

Jeremy VineAugust 4th 2008.

So his friend "Jeremy Paxman" is actually a "her" with a camera phone?

EmilyAugust 4th 2008.

Can we see the prices please? Pretty please?

johnthebriefAugust 4th 2008.

I went two nights ago, food excellent as always, no soggy pitta bread in sight but the mixed chargrill was more than even a glutton like me could cope with. A very nice bottle of Salice Salentino, and all in £54 for two. Bargain.

johnthebriefAugust 4th 2008.

Last time I take you there for dinner then Iris ;-)

I have seen The Future...August 4th 2008.

That wanker editor took his spunk picture down

ScottAugust 4th 2008.

I have been going to the Cafe as I know it for more than 15 years(and am now only 30). It is my absolute favourite restaurant for ambience(day or night) and a guaranteed quality meal. Congrats to Sacit and the team long may it continue

I have seen The FutureAugust 4th 2008.

That Joe Stretch may well be able to write, but he can't take piccies to save his life. What the F*ck is he eating? It looks like spunk to me. How much is it by the way? I have seen The Future, Brother; it is murder. especially if we have to eat that stuff. I want the stuff that tases nice.

AnonymousAugust 4th 2008.

Anybody know what's occured with "Harpers"??, it's had closed for refurb sign on the door for weeks but nothing going on inside, and the license sign above the door has now gone

AnonymousAugust 4th 2008.

Paxo must love Bridge Street as much as Joe Stretch - I sat next to him and his companions in Luso, two doors up from Istanbul, on Wednesday night. Agree about Bridge Street, long may it survive as a little bit of Manchester that is not over-run by chains - shame about Starbucks and Sainsburys at either end of the street

Moira StewartAugust 4th 2008.

I see I have been ostracised yet again. You bastards.

Prince of WalesAugust 4th 2008.

I can't stand that Witchell man!! Cafe Istanbul however, rocks my world. Fabulous place. In 10 years or more i have never had a bad meal, or anything where i could have said, 'that wasn't terribly good'. It is super slick, long may it continue!

AnonymousAugust 4th 2008.

Ice Maiden, glad you were only disappointed by the ice cream. Last time I went here, every dish was frozen including the 'fresh' sword fish. The quality of the meat here leaves a lot to be desired, all the same with a bit of yoghurt on the top. They have not up-dated the menu for years and it shows.

Know-It-Nearly-AllAugust 4th 2008.

As Corporal Jones used to say: "Don't panic! Don't panic!" I've got an idea that Mr Thomas's is a Punch lease and Sam's is an old Whitbread lease. I wouldn't really expect The Restaurant Group to operate out of someone else's premises. Mind you, these are difficult and different times...

CatAugust 4th 2008.

Luso may be quiet when you pass on occasions but I had to book three weeks in advance and I've never been when it's not been full at the weekends or very busy during the week. Cafe Istanbul to me, always looks far too bright and I caters very much for the Turkish market. I have to say the food is pretty bog-standard - Luso is warm, welcomimg and serves excellent food - you can sit there all night without fear of being moved on for the next customers. As for the food, there's no comparison. Cafe Istanbul does what it does and has done it for years but it's nothing spectacular, I've had to question the quality of their produce on more than one occasion. Luso on the other hand; food's fab, service is great and atmosphere is warm and cozy. It's all about quality not quantity

AnonymousAugust 4th 2008.

Oh Danny Boy - is that how the song goes?

JennAugust 4th 2008.

@I have seen the future...'It looks like spunk to me' Get to the docs mate!

shyirisAugust 4th 2008.

I did not like it here, yeah it was OK but for the price I would have expected more! No music in the background, no ambience, decor is not just minimal, it is plain and boring. Food was nothing to write home about, just a glorified kebab shop really I thought. Sorry

Fiona BruceAugust 4th 2008.

I snogged that Gordon Burns under the table near the kitchen. I didn't like it I thought it was...a bit old for me.

Quality Y frontsAugust 4th 2008.

I have always found the setting, starters and beer brilliant - my main course (irrespective of description) is always a lot of meat on a soggy pitta with some yoghurt. Perhaps I choose badly.

geraldAugust 4th 2008.

Robert , I can confirm that Sams and Toms have been sold by Steve Pilling . Ring them , like I did and was told that awful news . To be truthful , standards have been slipping . What a shame

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