Turkish cuisine is great for sharing. Not only does the food itself have a tear and share nature (Turkish bread and dips...) but usually, Turkish restaurants have a busy, cozy and warm atmosphere that encourages bonding over food.
One of my 'to do' lists contains places I prefer to go to with a group. One of them was Caravanserai in West End, which I have heard excellent reviews about. We were going out for dinner last night and I was bent on Turkish food but since it was raining and we didn't know where Caravanserai was, we chose instead to dine at Ottoman Cafe.
Ottoman Cafe is right across from the Three Monkeys so I've passed it a few times and had a peek in. The restaurant looks inviting enough with a front extension room that has high ceilings, wooden windows and a very ethnic decor.
We walked in on a wet Thursday evening surprised at how busy they were. There were free tables available but I honestly thought more people would have opted to stay home.
Ottoman Cafe offers lots of different kinds of dips to go with their Turkish bread. They have a selection of lamb and chicken mains plus some seafood and salad options. There is also the obligatory range of Turkish pides. I was quite interested in their dessert menu which seemed more extensive than most other Mediterranean restaurants but we didn't end up getting any... (we went to Freestyle Tout instead).
We decided that the 'banquet' would be the best (and most mindless) option for us. There are 2 levels of banquet you can choose, with or without dessert and we went for the Divan Banquet which has 14 dips, Turkish bread, non-seafood main meals to share and no dessert.
The dip platter came first and it was huge. All of us quickly grabbed pieces of garlic and herb Turkish bread and tried all the dips enthusiastically. Interestingly, some of the things that Ottoman Cafe calls 'dips' is more like salsa or bean salad.
The dip platter also came with 4 pieces of grilled haloumi cheese - yummy! My favorite was the green dip but I can't tell you which one that was (simply because I don't know; the whole night, we just referred to the dips by color).
One by one, our main dishes followed. I guess I would have preferred if they all came at once but the wait didn't matter that much since we were busy chatting. There were 3 mains and we had fun guessing what meat they were. I am 'pretty' sure there was 1 chicken and 2 lamb dishes. The captions below may not be accurate but I did my best.
All the meat was unbelievably tender and I thought the flavors were lovely. The 2nd two meat dishes tasted really similar though so I would have liked a bit more variety.
Our mains were accompanied by roast pumpkin (sweet, creamy and delicious), rice (stickier than what I'm used to but I quite liked it) and a salsa.
We were initially told there would be 4 mains so after 3, we waited a bit and finally gave up and asked a waitress where the 4th one was. There was a bit of confusion and the chef (I think) came out and asked if we wanted the 4th main. Um... yes?? Of course! It didn't even occur to me that people would pay for the banquet and then miss out on trying a main. The chef clarified that some people were full after 3 and didn't want more... which is a point, I guess, but we all thought it was strange and slightly unprofessional of them to assume we didn't want more.
The last main turned out to be Turkish pizza which we were glad to have (since it was significantly different from the other mains).
On this point, service was friendly but not completely efficient. We had to wait for quite a while for our 2nd serving of Turkish bread, to the point where we thought they'd forgotten about it. Overall, it was nothing unforgivably bad.
I thought the Ottoman Cafe experience was decent. We had a good, filling meal and the meat dishes in particular tasted very good. There were just some service flaws and the food wasn't so stand out that it makes me desperate to go back. To be fair though, I'm still curious about their dessert menu.