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Cafe Istanbul Reviewed

Helen Ramsbottom gets a buzz from Turkey but doesn't like being pressurised by waiters

Published on August 1st 2011.


Cafe Istanbul Reviewed

WITH my back to a window on Bridge Street, I could easily have forgotten I was in Manchester city centre. Cafe Istanbul, a restaurant not a cafe, transports you to Turkey with its bright, brash bazaar-like interior. Everything about it is as welcoming as open arms. 

It was more likely the disturbing trend for ‘over service’ I’ve observed across lots of places. This involves about thirty thousand separate waiters and waitresses milling around the table asking over and over whether you want drinks, desserts and so on.

This was encouraging, especially as we’d chanced our arm rocking up on Saturday night prime time at 7.45pm without reservation to find friendly, enthusiastic staff, keen to kindly squeeze us in to an already busy and buzzing restaurant. Sometimes too friendly.

The place was established over 30 years ago and remains under the same ownership. So what's the secret?

Immediately on being seated, we were presented with the menu and a superbly spicy salsa with some pitta bread. It could have put hairs on our chest. Delicious.

But first drinks. A good variety of wines on offer and reasonably priced too. Some bottles could easily have another £10 on the ticket just around the corner in other operators. We opted for a Monte Real Rioja Reserva - a good choice, rich, lush and great value at £23.50.

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The restaurant has a big menu with food choices almost slipping off the edge. We decided on the staple humus (£4.50) to start. It was a good homemade chick-pea delight; a cut above any you’d find off the shelf. Creamy, thick and topped with a cheeky sesame seed paste,  it was brimming with flavour. 

Feta cheese triangles (£4.90) came served as a trio although my dinner buddy had whipped one away before I had chance to turn my camera on. Done poorly these can be a grease-steeped brick, but these didn’t disappoint. Delicately fried pastry clung to the thick, herby filling. 

Billed as Istanbul prawns (£6.40) the next dish arrived looking not too dissimilar to a pizza in a bowl. It was, in fact, an oven-baked shrimp stew topped with gruyere cheese. Our fishy friends were found underneath bathing in a tomato sauce, with peppers and onions. Different to anything I’d tasted before, but while I enjoyed the variety on the palate it wasn’t ticking my companion’s boxes.

Onto the mains and hunger was no longer on the horizon. Nowhere to be seen in fact. Word of warning, it’s very easy - no matter how experienced a diner - to get fully loaded on starters and oodles of pitta bread.

We moved on to kofte for my companion, titled Istanbul Lamb (£12.90). It was an honest, hearty dish - pictured above. From a visual perspective very plain and simple with basic vegetables and rice on the side but that is deceptive. These were meatballs that can stand up on their own without sauce and succeed with flavour from skilled seasoning. 

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The spinach and feta chicken (£13.90) had caught my eye. This was a breast stuffed with the aforementioned ingredients and accompanied by an orange sauce. It sounded a bit weird but I decided to give it a whirl. 

It was a bit weird.

The citrus addition was at odds with the rest of the wholly savoury full flavours. It wasn’t even required to give moisture to the dish as the poultry was served piping hot and succulent. I couldn’t fault the cooking, just the juice was surplus to requirements. 

We didn’t finish our plates. This was only down to quantity rather than any indication of quality. 

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Too stuffed for sweet stuff, a friend had recommended the Baklava but we skipped straight onto that typically Turkish tradition, Irish coffee. We had to wait half an hour for these to arrive, amidst various waiting staff asking if we’d like to order dessert. Maybe it was a strategic wait.

It was more likely the disturbing trend for ‘over service’ I’ve observed across the city. This involves about thirty thousand separate waiters and waitresses milling around the table asking over and over whether you want drinks, desserts and so on. This is irritating rather than ingratiating.

Cafe Istanbul isn’t fine dining, nor does it claim to be. But it does provide quality mid-range food in a very pleasant environment.  Give it a try but pace yourself.

You can follow Helen Ramsbottom on Twitter here @helenrambo

Cafe Istanbul

 79/81 Bridge Street, City centre, M3 2RH, 0161 833 9942

Rating: 15/20
Food: 7/10
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 4/5

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away.

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

AnonymousAugust 2nd 2011.

My favourite restaurant in Manchester.

I highly recommend the Lamb stuffed vine leaves and Swordfish skewers mmm

HultonAugust 2nd 2011.

We love this restaurant, living in Turkey half the year helps!! We've never had an issue with over-zealous waiting staff though, I guess it may depend on how busy restaurants are and the staff trying to make themselves look busy or hurry customers out the doors!

Maggie MilnerAugust 2nd 2011.

the fish platter (for 2 people) is always fantastic here - we love it!!

Angela DunnAugust 3rd 2011.

I was horrified at the picture of the lamb kofte as it had a hair on the plate! Then I realised it was on my computer screen. Phew.

NorthernGeezerAugust 8th 2011.

A case of quantity over quality here unfortunatly.
I'm a big carnivore and even i couldnt finish wot i started, that might have been cos of the extra mastication required.

Karen PrendergastDecember 17th 2013.

Great menu with lots of choice. We shared the mixed mezze for starters for a great variety of tastes. Mains of lamb in apricot and kofte were delicious and cooked to perfection. Friendly and helpful staff. Great value. One to return to. Thank you.

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