Zencefil – A vegetarian oasis

3***
I’m not a vegetarian but I do often act like one so I’m almost as appreciative of a vegetarian restaurant as a real meat avoider.  I very rarely cook meat at home and go for weeks without really noticing I haven’t had any.  Despite Turkish food being a very meat orientated cuisine, I don’t think vegetarians do too badly on the whole as mezes are largely vegetable based and often don’t leave room for a main course. That might be why Zencefil doesn’t try as hard as it could.

Zencefil is the least incense burning of Istanbul’s vegetarian restaurants. It goes for a  a rustic country/airily modern kitchen feel. Painted wooden chairs and woodwork with a tiled floor and high ceilings in relaxing shades of green and turquoise, somehow blend with what could be nauseating orange walls. lt’s green without being too politically green, in other words.

The specials menu on the black board is seasonal which meant that it featured fennel when I visited the second time (this is a major find in Istanbul, for some unfathomable reason even though it grows in Cyprus). I opted for the Aegean stew (a bean, fennel, artichoke and onion dish), as well as for the aubergine börek.

Salads were offered as a side dish rather than as a main course, which struck me as a surprising missed opportunity fora vegetarian place even though it’s common in Turkish restaurants. But the mixed salad was more interesting than expected and had yoghurt-dressed carrots and some kind of mustardy sauce with the courgettes.

I want to be excited about Zencefil but something’s missing for me. This was my second visit and yet I’m struggling to remember what I had last time
as it left very  little impression. Our meal was nice and there were some nice touches like home-made corn bread and herb butter (butter to go with bread – a rare treat) but I’ve used the word “nice” twice in one sentence and that’s the essence of the problem. The peach dessert  was also nice with its (creamy vanilla and maybe nutmeg sauce.

Wine drinkers may fare well here as there is a good range including three kinds of fruit wines, although at a not so nice price tag per bottle. Service was a bit on the grudging side.

Another more recent visit flagged up Zencefil’s weaknesses more clearly.  Vegetable lasagne that would have had any ltalian running in tears to his mother. There was no real cheese, no real tomato sauce, just a veganly anemic white sauce and chopped tomato offering. There’s no need for lasagne to be this boring and tasteless just because meat is missing.

The lemon meringue pie returned to true Zencefil form.

Nice but not special.

Kurabiye Sokak, 8 Beyoğlu

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