Full of eastern promise

Gallipoli Bazaar Upper Street, N1 Tel: 020 7226 5333

AS I prepared to wave goodbye to London after five years, it was with a sense of fondness that I returned for one last supper at Upper Street institution Gallipoli Bazaar.

Three-and-a-half years ago this was among my first ever reviews for these pages, and I was suitably dazzled by the restaurant’s “intoxicating” atmosphere.

“Gallipoli Bazaar is a place to come for good times with good friends, not to talk shop in stuffy business meetings,” I wrote back then. Well, I’m happy to report that this has never been truer.

Outside, Upper Street on a Saturday night is in full flow as stag and hen parties jostle elbows with bespectacled theatre-goers and even trendy pensioners sporting designer fashions.

Yet by the time the birthday girl in a party of 20-odd 20-something revellers crammed in next to us starts dancing on the table an hour into my somewhat frenzied return visit, I found myself hankering after a little intimacy.

Don’t get me wrong, the service remains impeccable and charming throughout our feast (without warning our generous hosts bring us appetite-slaying samples of all 14 starters).

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It’s just hard to avoid the nagging sense that the Gallipoli empire may focusing harder on getting “bums on seats” than the all-round high standards that left me so impressed back in 2007 – understandable given the tough times in the catering trade since then.

With two spin-off restaurants within a 100 metre radius serving identical menus, this third Gallipoli is notable for offering cuisine with a welcome Ottoman and north African influence alongside the Turkish staples.

The busy d�cor remains as authentic as ever, packed with trinkets and curios, and the food is never less than decent without ever reaching truly mind-blowing value-for-money status tonight.

Of those 14 starters it was the stuffed vine leaves, a wonderfully rich Lebanese mousakka and a zingy helping of Kisir (crushed wheat with mint and onions) that lingered longest on the palate.

A mildly uninspiring lamb shank cous cous dish was essentially Sunday lunch with cous cous on the side, but my Tagine Kafta was much better – the tender minced lamb arriving in a deep, rich tomato sauce laced with egg and paprika.

Baklava dessert was sweet and syrupy, and I was relieved to find the Turkish coffee was as mind-alteringly potent as ever.

Only a curmudgeon would begrudge the weekend party vibe as the winter nights draw in, but you might be better off booking midweek to see Gallipoli Bazaar live up to its true potential.

After more than a decade on Upper Street, there’s still plenty of eastern promise on offer here – it would just be a shame to see it diluted by western commercialism. – MATT HUMPHREYS

Mains: from �8.65.

Wine: from �11.95

Children welcome: Yes

Disabled facilities: No