The culinary scene in Alnwick has taken on a decidedly more international bent in recent years with a number of new additions offering food from around the world.
The town now has a sit-down Chinese restaurant, new and varied Indians and a Thai to go alongside more traditional English fare and the well-established Italians.
There was also a taste of Spain for a time with the relatively short-lived – and much-missed, in my opinion – Tapas Bar.
The latest addition also comes from the Mediterranean region with the opening of Mezze, a Turkish barbecue restaurant, which has taken over the premises formerly occupied by Varanda Indian restaurant.
It opened on Wednesday, January 20, and we went there to eat just six days later and in advance of the venue’s official opening the following night.
When Ephesus, billed as Northumberland’s first authentic Turkish restaurant, opened in Morpeth in February last year, I went along within a couple of days of opening and there were definitely some teething issues, leading to our departure prior to eating and an impromtu visit to the Electrical Wizard, a Wetherspoon’s pub nearby. However, I returned in November last year and awarded it eight-and-a-half out of 10, being impressed by the food and the service.
Anyone who has eaten in Varanda will be familiar with the layout of Mezze as the narrow premises offer little room for a drastic change.
Nonetheless, the restaurant has been revamped and looks good, if not fantastic, and when we entered, all of the tables looked smart and pristine with white tablecloths and napkins.
We were made very welcome by who I later discovered was the owner, who was responsible for much of the service on the night, which was polite, prompt and professional.
We had to ask him to come back as the menu posed us a tricky task as we struggled to narrow down our choices.
There are eight cold and 10 hot starters on offer as well as a mixed platter for each; this can be for one person or two.
Meanwhile, the main dishes – even more numerous – are split into a number of sections; barbecue, main, fish, vegetarian and salads.
Making a choice that didn’t really limit my options, to start, I opted for the cold mixed platter (£7.50 for one, £8.95 for two), which featured humus, ispanak (spinach with garlic and carrot in yoghurt, not dissimilar to tzatziki – cacik in Turkish, which was also on the plate), broad beans and yaprak sarma (stuffed vine leaves), the latter being not quite to my taste, but the rest being delicious.
It was all served with warm bread and chilli sauce, which was great, with the flavour very prominent to start before the heat gradually builds.
Our other starter was the falafel (£3.95) – hot, crisp and tasty and served on generous cushions of humus.
Sticking to the medley theme – useful for a reviewer as you get to taste a wide range of dishes – I then went for the mixed grill (£14.50), a selection of marinated lamb, a lamb cutlet char, chicken shish and adana (minced lamb), the latter two cooked on skewers.
The dish provided a good overview of the mains on offer in the barbecue section with my favourites being the chicken shish and adana as they were the most tender. It was served with rice, a tomato and red onion salad and the aforementioned chilli sauce.
There was plenty to eat, but the portion wasn’t ridiculously large as can occasionally happen with mixed plates.
Lamb was on the cards across the table, but served in a very different manner – tandir kebab (£12.95), tender lamb shoulder, slowly cooked in special sauce and served with rice. I was allowed a taste and the lamb was certainly tender and the sauce rich and delicious.
Ahead of the opening, Dilman Abdullah, the owner who has previously run The Med, in Newcastle, said: “Mezze offers something completely different to the other restaurants in Alnwick. A lot of work has gone into revamping the venue and putting together a great menu, so were really excited to see it all coming together.”
So was he as good as his word? Well, certainly a Turkish restaurant is a first for Alnwick, and relatively uncommon in Northumberland, so it does offer something different. The venue has been redecorated successfully and I was definitely impressed by the choice on the menu, which I believe surpasses that of Ephesus in Morpeth.
The food and service were of a high quality and a new country’s cuisine is always welcome in my book.
OPTIONS TO EAT THROUGHOUT DAY
We ate in the evening from the main menu and found the prices to be reasonable – with plenty on the plates for your money. However, during the day, Mezze offers a lunch menu with a selection of starters and mains at just £7.95 for two courses. The likes of humus and broad beans are among the options to begin followed by the likes of adana, chicken shish or moussaka (with meat of veggie). In terms of drinks, there are wines by the glass (£4.75) or bottle (£13 to £17), beers (bottles of Stella or the Turkish brand Efes – £3), spirits and hot or cold soft drinks.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Patlican ezme (stuffed aubergines)......£3.95
Sucuk (spicy sausage)......£3.95
Hellim (fried goats’ cheese)......£4.50
Mitti kofte (lamb meatballs)......£4.95
Pirzola (lamb cutlets)......£12.95
Kleftiko (lamb shank)......£12.95
Leverk (sea bass)......£12.95
Sutlac (Turkish rice pud)......£3.95
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Use of local food (no mention)......0
Disabled access (steps)......3
Toilet for disabled......No (plus regular toilets are up steps)
Verdict: Tasty Turkish cuisine.
Contact: 01665 603278