It is situated on a busy road and opened in the harshest of winters, but Lokanta is a ray of Mediterranean sunshine on a plate, says Amanda Wragg.
A handful of years ago I was browsing round the David Mellor cutlery factory in Hathersage trying to find something I could afford. If I ever do Supermarket Sweep, this is the place I want to fill my trolley. I’m counting on the fact that when I finally become the kind of person who has matching knives and forks I’ve got the means to purchase. Despite falling in love with Mellor’s Pride Ivory set, I came away with pretty much the cheapest thing in the shop, a guide to Sheffield written by a bunch of designers, a beautiful booklet called Our Favourite Places, which has since been my bible. These guys know the city inside out – if you’re looking for a great vintage shop, the best cafe or a hint to where the hidden gems might be, this is for you.
One of those gems is Bragazzis, a brilliant little caff on Abbeydale Road, home to vintage Italian memorabilia, random furniture and friendly staff serving up the best flat white this side of Florence. We grab a quick lunch here before moving on – the sandwiches are great too, made with bread from the peerless Forge Bakery a few yards up. Can I point you to the pastrami and roast tomato on rosemary ciabatta?
It’s not that Sheffield’s short of restaurants; chuck a brick on London or Eccy Road and you’ll hit a decent place to eat – but keen to find somewhere slightly off the radar I consulted the bible and up popped Lokanta. We were feeling a bit giddy after an afternoon watching Ronnie O’Sullivan at the snooker (or maybe that was just me) so the mood was high when we fetched up.
Sheffielder Ruth Gunay and her Turkish husband Faruk ran a beachfront bar and restaurant in Kemer for six years before landing in Broomhill so there was very little adjustment to be made in the weather department. Nope, hardly any. To add insult to injury, they opened Lokanta in the depths of a cruel winter and snow was a foot deep on the pavement. They were undeterred; walking in, it feels, well, if not exactly like the Mediterranean, very pleasant – airy, roomy and comfortable.
Ice cold Efes beers arrive pronto along with warm homemade bread and a deeply flavoured, blood red salsa for dipping. There’s a good-looking early bird offer with a mix of meze and items from the grill menu, but meze is the way to go to get the broadest experience of Turkish cuisine, and they bring to the table a blizzard of dishes, starting with octopus cooked in red wine (served at room temperature, stunning); kabak mücver – fabulously light, deep fried balls of courgette, feta and dill with cucumber yogurt spiked with mint; and bite-size filo pastry parcels stuffed with mushroom, leek and feta (sebzeli börek) which disappear in an instant. The standout dish is lightly fried, paper thin slices of smoky aubergine with charred, silky red pepper and a slick of sharp garlic yogurt. It’s the sort of food you fall into, greedily, as if you haven’t eaten for days.
Faruk’s home city of Ankara inspires Anatolian-style main courses and oven baked dishes; Turkish food isn’t all kebabs and koftes, though they are here of course. Lamb dominates and the shish is exemplary – the meat is tender, moist and vivid with tangy, lemony sumac.
Chicken features too – paired here with grilled halloumi and served, as most dishes are, with rice. I don’t know what the secret to Turkish rice is, but it’s outstanding – buttery and rich with the perfect bite, almost like pudding rice but without the stickiness. There’s plenty here to please non-meat eaters too, with borek and fritters, falafel, stuffed vine leaves and peppers and something called Turkish Wedding Soup, made with lentils.
Desserts aren’t an afterthought. Despite being full to bursting, who can resist baklava sundae? It’s a glorious mash-up of ice cream, shards of super-sweet pastry and cream shot through with crumbled nuts. It’s amazing – but it takes second billing to pekmez firinde.
Tahini is baked with grape molasses and topped with pistachio and Yee Kwan ice cream and it’s sublime. It’s one of those moments when time seems to stand still. Eyes are rolling in the back of sockets and there’s a lot of nodding going on. You might recall Deborah Meaden backing Yee Kwan on Dragon’s Den – the company is based in Sheffield and Kwan produces extraordinary flavours (smoky sesame seed, toasted coconut) and Lokanta’s Turkish Delight ice cream is bespoke.
Lokanta’s cuisine isn’t going to set the world on fire; there’s no obsession with the new and edgy, but that would be to miss the point. The appeal of the cooking lies in its simple honesty, made by people who know their culture inside out; it transports you instantly to that holiday you had in Antalya, sitting round a table with friends, sharing food and laughter. Even as the traffic roars by on Glossop Road.
Lokanta, 480 Glossop Road, Broomhill, Sheffield S10 2QA. 0114 266 6444, lokanta.co.uk; open Tuesday to Thursday, 5-10.30pm; Friday & Saturday, 5-11.30pm; Sunday, 12-9.30pm.