Meyhanes – Mahzen, Çiçek Pasajı

4 ****

Imagine your living room but packed with people clapping along to folk music, tray after tray of food being brought to your table and an endless supply of raki. The essence of a good meyhane is making the diner feel totally at home but with the atmosphere cranked up to full power.

Of the three main meyhane districts, Nevizade, Asmalı Mescit and Çiçek Pasajı, the latter is the most elegant, housed under a glass ceilinged passage with restaurants leading off the cobbled street. Mahzen (Cicek Pasaji, 4/6) has a cellar feel, with tables hidden  in nooks and crannies under the brick arches and what may well be the contents of someone’s basement hanging on the walls.

We chose a cosy alcove in front of a graffitied guitar and next to a stuffed stag’s head, far enough away from the fasıl band to be able to appreciate the music. This is key in a meyhane – some of the really small places that seem cute and authentic when you’re seated, soon have you wolfing down your mezes in an effort to escape somewhere you can eat in peace. Not so the locals though, who seem to lap it up, swaying mesmerised by their requested tune being blasted into their ears from 10 cm away. Personally, I’m tipping them so the musicians leave my table but maybe, maybe, maybe, if they were playing Clementine or Oh Susannah, I’d be less of a killjoy.

A pictorial menu advertised a variety of fish dishes and the mezes were brought round on a tray – a kind of live menu where you pick as many as you want. Which is usually about twice as many as you can comfortably eat. We had haydarı (yoghurt, dill and garlic), fava (broad bean puree) white cheese and zeytinyağlı yaprak sarma (stuffed vine leaves). A meze sized dish of butter on ice, that I mistook for yellow cheese, also came. Why anyone would want their butter rock hard and unspreadable is beyond me, but I can only put it down to the fact that butter with bread is not that common in restaurants here and they just haven’t quite got the knack of it yet. Huge points for the bread which was lightly toasted, meaning that I ate far more than I should have considering I had also ordered a fish main.

Hamsi tava (fried anchovies) was not on the menu but was ordered without a problem and was hot and fresh. Just like the half naked bellydancer that appeared somewhere around this time. Another mystery to me is how accepted this is within the confines of dining whereas, even at the beach, my boyfriend thinks my bikini is too small and you rarely see a flash of cleavage in the street. Yet here, wives laugh along as the bellydancer accepts tips via her bra.

We had a half bottle of white wine, opting for the “wine” as opposed to the slightly more expensive “quality wine” also offered. Service was attentive and the two of us ate for a total of under 50TL.

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