After receiving the new Ottolenghi book a couple of months back, and his latest TV show of Mediterranean feasts, i've been lusting after middle eastern and arabic cooking all the time. Everything we've made from the book has been incredible, the latest being a delicious, if not exactly authentic, shakshuka.
The one thing however we can't capture in our little kitchen is the authentic flavour of cooking over charcoal which is essential to so many of the meat and fish dishes. I don't think i'd be the only one to agree with the statement that all meat cooked over charcoal tastes better, has more flavour from a good charred coating and is incredibly succulent. It's the reason *that steak* at Caffe Vivo was so unbelievable.
Of all the restaurants that have been around in Newcastle since I vist moved here just over four years ago, Red Mezze a Turkish restaurant, is one of the few i've been wanting to try for most of that time. As a confused and emotionally distressed first year I would regular walk past, and see a slice, as thin as the Georgian terrace it is housed in, of the culturally interesting life that the city could one day offer me, before descending the grimmy stairs into the under belly of cheap trebles.
Turkish food is people food, not person food. French and English food is like sitting on the tube and avoiding eye contact with anyone and sticking to your designated space, turkish food is like a house part at 2am, when you realise you're not actually sure you know anyone but they're giving you some strange spirit to drink and you think 'whats the worst that could happen....'. It's sociable, open, busy and friendly.
The dishes come out, you share, you chat, you have a drink, then you repeat, trying a bit of everything along the way. We had both the cold and hot mezze. The hot had falafel, a spicy Turkish sausage, hellim (pan fried goats cheese), muska boregi (filo pasty filled with feta and dill), avec boregi (meat pasty parcels with parsley). The cold, which was my preference, had hummus, broad beans, cacik (yoghurt with cucumber and dill) and this incredible kisir that tasted like a middle eastern salsa and was made up of bulgar wheat, peppers, onions tomatoes, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil.
I didn't really survey the menu, the restaurant staff are all very friendly but also very efficient so I picked the mixed grill without really thinking. The waiter did make suggestions which is always good if you're unsure how/what/how many to order. Next time, I'm going to ask for a selection of everything they think makes a good Turkish meal, rather than just a huge plate of lovely meat.
Although this was a beautiful plate of meat; all cooked over a wood charcoal fire in the traditional manner and plated up very simply with a salad and some rice. There was wonderfully tender shish lamb and chicken, adana (mince lamb blended with herbs) that had interesting layers of flavour and spice, then a perfectly cooked lamb cutlet.
If you're ever in the centre of town, looking for an informal, fun and very good value lunch (mixed grill is £12.95) Red Mezze is definitely worth a look in. Take a group and try a bit of everything.
Red Mezze is at 36 Leazes Park Road, NE1 4PG. You can reach them on 0191 261 9646.