Delight to the west of Istanbul

Beyoglu, 72
Belsize Lane, Belsize Village, London, NW3 5BJ 020 7435 7733 Open
Monday to Friday, 12-3pm for lunch and 6pm-midnight for dinner. Open
Saturday & Sunday, 12pm-11.30pm.

Went to the Hampstead
Theatre to see a strangely arresting, if one-dimensional play about
apples and waited a long time for something to happen. I had booked a
table for dinner after the show at what the 2004 edition of the Good
Food Guide recommended in that vicinity: The Gate. “So good we hardly
noticed there was no meat.”

Critics don’t write often enough
about vegetarian places, so here we go. The Gate, when I rang them, had
taken my name, did not ask for a contact number; sure sign there was no
great demand for their tables, but I rather enjoy being the only
customer in a restaurant.

There are two things you should know
about The Gate, which is at 72, Belsize Lane: one is that it is no
longer there and the other that the building stands among all the
Belsizes that abound London NW3, and is very difficult to find; you
pass Belsize Park Gardens, Belsize Road, Square, Mews, Street and when
you finally discover Lane, only one house in 15 displays a number. No
72 is not called The Gate, but “Beyoglu”, which is Turkish for ‘son of
sir’, also the name of the West End of Istanbul. Fortunately it is
still a restaurant.

There is a ground floor and a downstairs.
Beyoglu (the ‘g’ is muted) was three quarters full, furnished
regardless of taste, lit with a view to fuel economy and has the
nicest, kindest, most caring staff who sat us down and gave us some
rather large, over-salted green olives; also menus and proper-sized
glasses of red house wine, which was all right – possibly Bulgarian.

What
does one eat in a Turkish restaurant? We ate it: stuffed vine leaves,
tarama, yoghurt spiked with chopped cucumber, and I asked for kleftiko
without garlic for my main course (Greta Garbo in a 1940s film called
Ninotchka played a spy who was to meet an agent in a café, was to
identify herself by asking for a coffee without cream. The waiter,
played by Mischa Auer, said: “We do not have cream, would you like a
coffee without milk?”).

Kleftikos, the waiter explained, are marinated in garlic… but they could do me lamb in a sauce.

My
wife ordered prawns – and these came in a heavy terracotta dish that
retained its heat for a good half hour; they were huge, succulent,
handsomely prepared in a spicy liquor and topped with a generous layer
of melted Emmental-tasting cheese; with it came well-cooked rice. It
was a dish that one could not fault, which would cause one to go back
often, recommend it to friends, write about it in trade magazines and
persuade one to forgive Ataturk’s native land for trying to make us eat
Turkish Delight.

The clientele is Hampstead with East European
overtones: artists with beards and sandals and accompanying nymphettes,
women who wave their hands when they speak, girls with studs in their
eyebrows playing complicated games on their mobile telephones.

The
portions are very generous and the staff, both male and female though
exclusively Turkish, do their jobs with such pleasure that I think we
should perhaps hurry Turkey’s entry into the European Union and forgive
them their sickly delight. Two of these came with the bill; this was
extremely reasonable – something like £36 before the tip. Go soon,
order prawns and seriously consider putting old Good Food Guides in the
bin, unless there is an Oxfam shop nearby.

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