5 *****

Cezayir, queen of French Sokak (Hayriye Cad, Galatasaray), reigns from a restored school building that has kept its high ceilinged corridors and respectable, institutional feel until you get to the toilets which are decorated to make you feel like you’re on acid. In winter, you come for the food alone, which is no bad thing. The menu is one of the few in Istanbul than really tries to do something a bit different instead of the samey sameness of most of the restaurants at this level. In summer, you get the double – the creative food and the great garden space; part bar, part restaurant, part hang out.

Thankfully the curried banana dessert of last year had slunk, shamefacedly off the menu and the experimental-ness has become more tamed but no less intriguing, making it hard to narrow choices down; cherries in the purslane and yoghurt salad, apple with the rocket and goat’s cheese, salmon smoked with rose petals. The Cezayir börek, straws filled with dried fruit paste and served in a shot glass of rosehip sauce and halloumi wrapped in vine leaves with sun dried tomato pesto also shone in our selection; thoughtfully presented and well executed. Mains were a little more conservative, but the steak was medium rare and tender; the mushroom and pasta with greens was robustly flavorful; the tandoori chicken may have brushed with curry powder once but was more Indian themed than Indian tasting. Excitement at getting fresh fennel in my pasta was a bit overwhelmed by the surprise mussels that hadn’t been translated onto the English section of the menu, but was good, if you like salty sea insects.

The chocolate soufflé was worth the wait as it was baked to order, preceded by a pure chocolate waft as it came to the table. A simple, but uncommon in Istanbul, dessert of ice-cream doused in one of a choice of liquors was expensive enough to make you think it would be easier to do at home rather than part with the cash, but ten points for the inspiration.

Cezayir has a bar and dance floor but not one that intruded onto the dining area even when the ‘dancer’ arrived – a white PVC thigh booted, cat masked girl wriggling around with a circle of people watching her. I hope she was a stripper as it would have made her presence less ridiculously superfluous. An attempt to add a touch of class with risibly tacky entertainment, that had, up to that point, been achieved by the food and setting.

To read the story behind this review, go here.


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