The restaurant: Ishtar, 10-12 Crawford St, Marylebone, London W1U 6AZ
Experimental can be irksome. For me, breaking point was being refused a margarita in London Cocktail Club and being served a Breaking Bad-themed drink complete with blue crystals. Something similar applies to food; a twist here, a ‘have they really put those things together?’ can add to the eating experience. Sometimes it’s incredible, and sometimes it’s very wrong. Ishtar’s menu stays well within convention and make no experimental or obscene addition to Turkish cuisine — not too jolty, arms well within the vehicle — and we appreciate this.
With its prime Marylebone location, Ishtar knows it’s upmarket before we get onto the decor and the prices. You can enjoy lamb cubed, braised, minced, grilled, or poached all within the region of £17 with rice, potatoes, salad or flatbread. Swap out the lamb for chicken or vegetables, and you’ll get a feel for the main dishes. Except they do offer salmon and cream cheese (starter), and seafood risotto, for those who book in for Turkish cuisine but don’t actually like Turkish cuisine. Perhaps those who go in for experimental, opt of the risotto and report back.
Ishtar is quiet when we arrive, but it’s likely the snow did scare people off. It livens later what we assume is a local crowd as guests knew there way around their order and the restaurant. The need to spread the dining area over two floors also implies that Ishtar draw in the crowds and sometimes lay host to the occasional party by the basement cocktail bar. The website confirms our theory with a guitarist and belly dancer performing weekly, and the availability to rent out the downstairs for parties. We weren’t fortunate enough to catch the entertainment, but the thought of it served to add to the relaxed feel of the place.
A selection of starters arrive for us, with Turkish flatbread, and a plate of grilled beef sausage and halloumi cheese that the server insisted we try and had strode away before we could say otherwise. “Dip the bread in hummus, top with a piece of sausage, a piece of halloumi,” we ate as directed and saw great wisdom in the union of flavours. The hummus was part of another plate, so I do with curiosity ask if it could be served with the halloumi and beef sausage dish. Borek, the crispy filled pastry, comes in a variety of shapes and fillings, and originally purports to be from Turkey. Ishtar interweave spinach and feta in their crispy cigarette pastries, which we expect to be gooey but is solid like a cannelloni filling, but nonetheless very pleasant. They’re served with sticky sweet chilli sauce that childishly reminds us of Chinese spring rolls with dipping sauce.
With pains taken on presentation, the lamp chops were shacked up against the mash potatoes, served with a trickle of gravy and two orange cherry tomatoes. Tender to slice from the bone, the lamb chops were cooked just right. If it were me, I’d have asked for more jus, but my pal didn’t complain. Served similarly with mash and tomatoes, my grilled chicken breast stuffed with vegetables and covered in chestnut sauce felt delicate. The flavours had be carefully composed, but none of the flavours took centre stage, as though it all fell a bit flat. Everyone knows someone who salts their food before tasting it — it’s a weird habit. You risk overdoing it if the food was perfectly seasoned before you tasted it. It always comes down to personal taste, but for us both mains could have benefitted from seasoning, if only to draw out the underlying flavours, because they were definitely present.
‘Elmali Turta’, the quintessentially British apple crumble, doesn’t stand out on the dessert menu under its Turkish alias. Ice cream and crumble are served in separate bowls — the two shalt not mix, let alone be allowed to melt over the crumbly topping. For me, Ishtar’s ‘most popular dessert’ for those who make it that far, the kunefe. The filo pastry syrup soaked dessert with a warm gooey mozzarella centre, topped with cracked pistachio and ice cream. It’s huge, so big they should tag a note onto the main menu suggesting that you order less if you’re planning on tackling the kunefe to finish. It has everything going on: nutty and creamy, cool and hot, crispy and soft — and that’s what makes it magnificent.
Would we return? Definitely.
To book: call 020 7224 2446 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The look: Dolce & Gabanna Floral print skirt (MatchesFashion), Victoria Beckham wool turtleneck sweater (Net-A-Porter) and Saint Laurent Loulou velvet sandals (MyTheresa) teamed with GUCCI cat eye acetate sunglasses, A.P.C. Atelier de Production leather shoulder bag (Net-A-Porter) and Ellery scully sun earrings (MyTheresa)