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Topkapi review

Jonathan Schofield appreciates an ancient Turkish restaurant and breaks every review rule by not using the words ‘Turkish delight’

Written by . Published on January 6th 2011.

Topkapi review

When I was in my mid-twenties I travelled the complete length of Turkey and ended so far east I stuck my toes in the soft waters of Lake Van. The landscape was magnificent but so was the food, especially the street and cafe nosh. Used to fierce Pakistani curries made for a Rochdale audience, the rich and subtle sauces in the mild Turkish lamb dishes, the cucumber, tomatoes, aubergines, and the clever cooking combinations in both meat and veg were a pleasant and appetising surprise.

“It’s a least 35 years old, for sure,” said the friendly but tough waitress who was also at least 35 years old. “My second-cousin’s brother-in-law’s nephew’s niece on my father’s side got married thirty years ago and I know for definite that the restaurant’s older than that.”

The week after I returned I went to The Gallery, a live-music club on Peter Street. For some reason I missed the gig. I was supposed to see James I think, these were the Madchester years after all. Instead a mate and I sat in a pokey but happy little restaurant, adjacent to the club, called The Topkapi Palace. It felt like I was back in Turkey.

We ended the night in The Venue on Whitworth Street West which wasn’t like Turkey at all. More like the u-bend in a French farmer’s rickety outhouse. A blocked u-bend after a fierce Pakistani curry made for a Rochdale audience.

The Gallery disappeared when the Great Northern Square was created and Bar 38 in all its magnificent and vulgar folly sailed in. Surprisingly the Topkapi survived, launching itself down Deansgate the length of a couple of Olympic long jumps.

And it still survives or rather ossifies: neither the menu nor the interior has changed much over the intervening years. The decor in particular is comfortably familiar. It's the sort of place that someone designing a TV set for a cheesy Turkish/near Eastern restaurant for a crap soap opera would dismiss as being just a bit too cheesy.

There’s a tiled floor, bits of thin wooden fixtures and fittings, prints of old Turkish scenes, an old scimitar and a single wooden large fork on the wall which looks very impractical.

Also mounted on the wall is an aerial view of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the former home of the Ottoman Caliphs, and from where the restaurant takes it name. The real Palace has more than five centuries behind it, so how old is the Manc version?

“It’s a least 35 years old, for sure,” said the friendly but tough waitress who was also at least 35 years old. “My second-cousin’s brother-in-law’s nephew’s niece's uncle on my father’s side got married thirty years ago and I know for definite that the restaurant’s older than that.”

That sort of familial homeliness at Topkapi is why I’ve been back a couple of times recently, especially since the Confidential office has moved to Spinningfields. But I also come back for the food which is as unpretentiously good as it was back in 1990 and still great value.

On the last visit I chewed on a cold starter of tabule (£3.75) a winning blend of cracked wheat with tomato, peppers, parsley and cucumber, and the much more interesting muska borek (£3.95). This came in the form of three gently crunchy fried filo pastry triangles packed with soft cheese, spinach and parsley. Excellent. A sliced pitta bread with a couple of dips was fun too, especially with the hot tomato sauce.

The main course was the bykoz kebab eti (£11.50) which came with more salad of the exact same nature as the salad on the starter.

A word about that salad before I describe the dish. This is the typical sort of un-garnished salad that comes with a lot of food from the Near East and the Subcontinent. I love it. I love looking at it lying on my plate and then waving as it makes its way back to the kitchen. Frankly give me one salad on a side plate with some olive oil and that's enough, not all this bulking out, dull, flim-flam.

Anyway back to the main event which was a cracker: lamb in big chunks, with aubergine, onions and peppers all, according to the menu, baked in the oven. The result was a juicy, saucy dish of flesh and spice and veg and the weirdly, but delicious, soft sweet goo-flesh of the egg-plant. I find there is something enticingly meat-like about the latter although that’s maybe a visual thing. Hands up anybody else who reckons that in their uncooked purple glory aubergines resemble inner organs?

With a Turkish Efes beer (bland but thirst-quenching) the bill was just a little over £20.

Other dishes I’ve tried have included the sucuk (£4.50), a fat spicy sausage, the sultanin beytisi (£11.50), lean lamb fillets and the firin kebab (£11.50), knuckle of lamb with spuds.

Funny place the Topkapi but I enjoy it. For God’s sake don’t travel from twenty miles just for dinner here, but if you’re down Deansgate way then definitely try this first for a cheerful meal before any of the Peter Street bars - or even give it a whirl ahead of Wagamama’s on Hardman Street. The Topkapi Palace may be a little tired in its decor and its menu might be on hold, but it provides value for money and decent scran.

All reviews are impartial and paid for by Manchester Confidential. If they are scored they are NEVER advertorial. 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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9 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

DidsburyGirlNovember 2nd 2009.

Came back from Turkey in September and I am paying Topkapi a visit if only to gorge myself on the filo cheese parcels. I had them every night when we were there...hmmmmmmmm

Donald PestoNovember 2nd 2009.

£12 for a Vegetable Mousaka. Mmmmmmm.....

Prestwich ChapNovember 2nd 2009.

They used to do a pretty decent lunchtime deal when I used to work in the city. A couple of pints at the BP then a meal here was a regular friday lunch outing.

Review ReaderNovember 2nd 2009.

Very fair and accurate review. Man Con is probably the only place in the universe, other than on a Lonely Planet, where you can read an unbiased review too. More power to your keyboard, JS.

EJNovember 2nd 2009.

Best kebab in Manchester, the shish or kofte kebabs were a regular 3am staple, and now I've moved down south I miss them... Now where's that takeaway menu...

tblzebraNovember 2nd 2009.

Why is there a link to mughli.com? EDITORIAL: Thanks anagram person, what would we do without you?

lilybrownNovember 2nd 2009.

More photographs of the food please next time....

NorthernGeezerNovember 2nd 2009.

I had a hankering for grilled meat on Saturday night, couldnt get in the Armenian Tavern or Topkapi, they were both packed out at 8.00.

SteveNovember 2nd 2009.

Used to love it when it was on Peter street, through the saloon doors, sat at the bar with a shish kebab and a load of piclkled chillis...heaven! Much prefer Aladdin and Petra (similar dishes, but not Turkish i know) now.

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