I am always amazed at how often the simple act of making a table reservation by phone can ruin a restaurant visit before even leaving the house. I have been known to hang up and go elsewhere when it seems too much trouble for them to take the booking. Conversely, a cheery, helpful response and we are always off to a good start. If you want an example of a place that knows how to do it right, then ring Konak Meze in Harrogate. Their response to my booking was overwhelmingly bright and breezy. They appeared genuinely appreciative of the booking, so much so I started to worry that they had no customers. I was wrong. On a Tuesday night, the place was packed.
I have a fondness for Turkish food, both the cooking and the eating of, so I came to Konak in trepidation this would not once more be a menu to please British palates. What makes Turkish cuisine great is the abundance of food grown there, and few countries can claim to have the level of self-sufficiency found in Turkey. Freshness and quality of the ingredients are therefore paramount, as is the judicious use of herbs and spices. Turkish cuisine is also steeped in heritage and remains largely unaltered, so I hoped there were no twists of the chef’s ego to face.
A quick search tells me “Konak” means mansion in Turkish, which paradoxically is not what the restaurant on Mount Parade is; it is a lovely double-fronted end terrace house and squeezed into what presumably used to be the two receptions rooms are the dining areas and a bar and space is tight. We are seated just off the main dining room and felt a little out of the throng, but reassured, jokingly, by Fettah Alkoc (who as it turns out is one of the owners and the one who answered the phone) that this is the VIP suite.
Starters are easy, for me with a cold meze plate of hummus, cacik (creamy yoghurt, garlic and mint), yaprak sarma (stuffed vine leaves with rice and herbs), ezme salata (finally chopped tomatoes, peppers, onions, parsley, pomegranate and herbs). There was kisir (cracked wheat mixed with walnuts, tomato, pomegranate sauce and mint), pilaki (beans, carrots, potatoes, tomato and herbs) and saksuka (fried aubergine with tomato sauce and garlic). I loved them all. The plate was not so significant that this was over facing and was easily shared as it comes with soft, warm Turkish pide bread. Fettah told me we were in luck as Tuesday is one of the bread baking days.
I was more than content and knew that I should have stopped there; I was full, but I have a fondness for the quirkily named imam bayildi – meaning the swooning imam, though why he was swooning is lost somewhere in the mists of time but most likely his delight at this delicious aubergine stew. I didn’t swoon; there were a few groans of pleasure, but the richness of the dish and the quantity on the plate (Turkish main dishes are hefty) outfaced me. Plus lurking on the side was rice, and to my utter dismay, English veg to add to an already groaning plate. Why?
Fettah had warned the husband that the chef special of Konak tavuk was sweet. He said it twice, so it came as no surprise that the dish of diced chicken breast slowly cooked with peppers, apricots, sultanas, almonds, lemon juice and cinnamon was almost off the scale of sweetness, even too much for my sweet-toothed other half. His dish also came with rice and veg, oh dear.
With little room left to do any pudding justice, he did manage a baked rice pudding with heavily scented Turkish delight ice cream but struggled to enjoy it – his fault not the dessert.
For Turkish in Yorkshire they nailed it at Konak Meze – let’s forget I ever saw that English veg. For service, they know what they are doing, and efficiency does not take away from their friendliness and the gentle banter. There are wines aplenty including Turkish which married well with the food. The atmosphere is cracking, even the Turkish music is soft enough in the background to blend in and add to the experience. What is not to like – and if you love good Yorkshire portions, you are going to like it too.
Konak Meze, 11-13 Mount Parade, Harrogate, HG1 1BX. 01423 500330. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 12-9.30pm (last orders); Sunday, 12-9pm (last orders). Dinner for two with wine around £60 but there is a good early bird offer as well as set lunch menus.