Saray Mangal

January 21, 2014

We both sighed as my friend told me about seeing the queues outside the newly opened Frankie and Benny’s at Leicester’s Highcross. Fortunately, we could quickly forget about that because we were going somewhere far more pleasurable.

In contrast to the huge rambling collection of American-type food substance on offer at FB,  Saray Mangal has a small, focused menu that distils the appeal of the Turkish ocakbasi –  the extraordinary aromas and tastes of spiced meats grilled over flames. Similar venues have popped up around Narborough Road (I’ve already praised Sultan)  but this is on Highfields Street, just five minutes from my home and it’s lovely. It’s in the premises of what was the cheap and cheerful L’Aperitivo, and shares some of the good natured bonhomie of that restaurant with the advantage of better food.

Sure it’s not sophisticated, but it is very tasty food by smiling people in a buzzing atmosphere. There were nine of us on Saturday night and the place was packed, mainly with large groups of young women in headscarves having a great time. Our waitress apologised for having to shout a bit to get herself heard, but every order came quickly and correctly and served with good grace.  We started by sharing a couple of the family meze selection – small, but fresh and punchy plates of aubergine salad, cacik (Anatolian herby yoghurt), hummus, stuffed vine leaves, olives, springy bread…you know the kind of thing. Then, arriving when ready, our main courses – basically variations of chicken or lamb, minced or cubed, spiced and flame grilled, and served up with rice and salad or a creamy yoghurt sauce.   Just delightful, and both courses and a soft drink for less than a burger at F&B.

If you want a real slice of Leicester life in 2014, as opposed to a dodgy recreation of a marketing meeting’s version of 50’s Americana, and you want some food that is genuine and wholesome – get yourself down there.



March 15, 2013

“Fancy trying that new Turkish place on Narborough Road?” asks Cockney Rob.   “Looks like the places in Dalston”.

Being a South Londoner by extraction the food cultures of the East End are a bit of a mystery to me, but Cockney Rob knows and enjoys his food and something tells me the Turkish restaurants in Dalston are good ones. So yes, I did fancy trying.

The North end of Narborough Road is a fascinating place which seems to pulse with every new shift in the complex ethnic and cultural jigsaw of our city.  In recent years it’s been Eastern Europeans who have made the running. In recent months it seems the Turkish community has reached lift-off, and now in the space of a few yards we’ve got a first class cafe which I’ve lauded here several times, in the shape of Yesim, and now two proper grill restaurants – Istanbul and Sultan.


Yogurtlu adana kofte - with dangerous chilli

Yogurtlu adana kofte – with dangerous chilli

We tried Sultan, by the Hinckley Rd junction, next to what sadly is probably best known as “the bomb site”.  Approaching it the signs were good – it was busy and bright and there was the most wonderful smoky, barbecue grill aroma wafting into the street. If it hadn’t have been for the bitter March weather you could have been walking by the Bosphurus not the Soar [not really, obviously, but you take my point].   It’s not licensed but the sweetly fragrant Turkish tea we’re offered sets a mood. There’s a satisfying buzz around the place  – a couple of big groups, some families, some couples and it’s the kind of kaleidoscopically diverse clientele that would give Nick Griffin nightmares (that’s if he can sleep at night).  Me,  Cockney Rob and ermm, let’s call him Countesthorpe Mikey, get stuck into a selection of six meze – and they are all rather wonderful. Beautifully dressed sharp and tangy feta cheese and a sweetly delicious aubergine and pepper stew were my highlights, but there was also really well-made hummous, dolmades, cacik and potato salad.  The warm sesame bread was so good we ordered more.

chargrilled onions

chargrilled onions

The mains are mainly kebabs – nothing too fancy here, grilled and spiced meats with rice – or chips – and a nice fresh, colourful, crunchy salad.  Mikey had skewers of garlicky minced chicken beyti, I had the lamb beyti, and Rob the yoghurtlu adana kofte.  The later came on chunks of bread which were delicously soggy with yoghurt and sauce, which for us was a shame because we’d earlier over-indulged with bread.  We also had a side of really great chargilled onions in a slightly sweet and sour dressing.

I’ve  had several friends return from visits to Istanbul recently and all have enthused about the friendliness of the Turks and the welcome and service here was lovely  – informal but friendly and attentive.  It’s not fine dining, but it is good quality, enjoyable food served in a quite stylish room to what seemed an enthusiastic clientele and at perfectly reasonable prices.

Good to know that when the tourists from Dalston arrive to see our King from the Car Park, they’ll be able to eat as well as at home.

Beer, coffee, Ice

February 16, 2011

Ready to go - Leicester Beer Festival

A couple of quick parish notices.  Firstly it’s time to dust off your Bellowhead T-shirt again for the 2011 Leicester Beer Festival. It takes place at  the Charotar Patidar Samaj, just behind St Margarets Church on the edge of the city centre, from Wednesday 9 to Saturday 12 March. It’s a very sociable event and will this year feature some 220 beers, around a third of which come from within a radius of 25 miles, 35 ciders and perries and food including curries, pork pies and stilton cobs. Entrance at various times is  either free, £2.50 or £3.50 and you’ll need to buy an official festival glass which can either be kept as a souvenir or returned for a refund. Full details available here.

Second, after a couple of recent visits I’ll give a further recommendation to the Yesim patisserie on Leicester’s Narborough Road. It’s a comfortable, comforting kind of place, where old fellers drop by for a game of backgammon, but you’ll also see business people and a wide range of the local community enjoying the delicious sweet and savoury Turkish pastries and excellent coffee. Service is delightful. Pictured right with some of their produce are Melek and Elif who kindly helped us out with a little photoshoot for GFLR.

Finally, those of who frequent Farmshops maybe interested in the launch of a new loyalty card  that offers cash rewards for shopping in independent farmshops around the country.  The Ice card works in a similar way to the Nectar card and the like, earning points  by spending with selected  retailers that can be then used for money off further purchases. It’s all geared around low carbon and sustainable business practice and as well as farm shops it can be used with various ecofriendly energy suppliers, clothes manufacturers and so on.  There’s no Leicestershire farmshops signed up to the scheme yet  but it only launched last month and I understand at least one major local farmshop is currently in discussion. More details here.

Yesim Patisserie

February 14, 2010

I get asked a lot for recommendations, so I really appreciate getting recommendations in return.  The Yesim Patisserie at 29  Narborough Rd was one such and I had a very pleasant lunch there yesterday, an excellent curtain-raiser to City’s 5-1 annihilation of  Scunthorpe. It’s in a undeniably scruffy part of town but once inside this is a smart and cosy venue.

It’s a Turkish cafe and bakery, with breads displayed invitingly along with a range of homemade sweet and savoury pastries.  There’s more room than you’d  think from the outside and the atmosphere is warm  – a keyboard is on display invitingly for those inclined to play.  Staff are charming too.  I had a fantastic strong and sweet Turkish coffee, while the pastries were light, delicate and very tasty indeed  – spinach-stuffed borek  (below right) and lahmacun, ultra-thin pizza-like dough with a smear of spicy lamb mixture (below left).  Friends  Mike and Jessica had a selection cheese pastries and russian salad, and we finished up with a selection of lokum/turkish delight, featuring a particularly lovely walnut variety, and some utterly gorgeous baklava, bursting with pistachios and dripping in honey.  Could have carried on eating this all day.  

Zesty House

December 22, 2009

Twice over the last  of couple of days I’ve had some lovely food courtesy of this simple Turkish cafe on Queen’s Road in Clarendon Park,  Leicester. With four formica tables it would be easy to mistake for a bog standard greasy spoon and, while burgers and pizza are on the menu, so is some seriously tasty meze. Last night a group of us shared some lahmacun –  flat bread with minced beef and a sprightly little salad, lively hummus, wonderfully tender and  flavoursome fried aubergines with tomato sauce, mousakka, iskander kebab – cubes of lamb and home-made bread ,with a youghurty sauce and a fresh greek salad with feisty feta.  Only the slightly stodgy kadayif pastry desert was less than excellent. Cafe food then, not fine dining but none the worse for that.  I’d had a chance to try more of their when they catered for a christmas party for around 30 of us at the weekend (see below) – it was simple food but fresh and with bold flavours.

This is a friendly, family run place that appears to be doing well by the solid virtues of good value and good food. I ‘ll definitely be going back regularly. I don’t  think they run to a website but you can see their menu here, courtesy of the Everymenu website run by my friend Alex (there you go Alex, said I’d find a way to give you a plug): Zesty House

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