Bold, brash and atmospheric gem
THERE are some restaurants where you stiffly discuss the food in earnest hushed tones, mind your Ps and Qs and mutter appreciatively about the wine while the jazz music tinkles quietly in the background.
CAFE GALLIPOLI BAZAAR
107 Upper Street, N1
(020 7226 5333)
THERE are some restaurants where you stiffly discuss the food in earnest hushed tones, mind your Ps and Qs and mutter appreciatively about the wine while the jazz music tinkles quietly in the background. And then there is Café Gallipoli Bazaar.
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Bold, brash and intensely atmospheric, this hugely welcoming gem confidently marks its territory and holds it own in a location reaching saturation point as far as interesting eats go.
Specialising in traditional Lebanese, Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine, this is the third addition to Gallipoli's Upper Street empire and has the genuine feel of a bustling ancient Ottoman market.
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Although we arrive at a respectable 7.30pm, by the time we've finished our bountiful starters of succulent calamari and Sambousek - mouth-watering minced lamb spring rolls - there's a queue of beautiful people loitering on the pavement.
Somehow genial manager Ercan Ucar and his beaming staff swiftly accommodate the hungry masses without the cosy restaurant feeling cramped or interrupting the unerringly good service.
A main course of Sucuk Kebap - spicy garlic sausages with pitta bread and a "secret recipe" sauce - is particularly recommended while the best baklava I've tasted in London is washed down with a strong coffee for me and a refreshing mint tea for my partner.
The decibels rise as the wine - in our case a striking Merlot - flows and the "bazaar" atmosphere really comes into its own.
The warm red walls are strewn with jewellery, hookahs and various memorabilia and curios - all available to take home at the right price - and those who hold by the old adage of judging a restaurant by their facilities will be won over with their first visit.
Best of all, the intoxicating rhythms of the Turkish folk, pop and dance music really adds to a vibrant and thoroughly charming culinary experience as the hectic city bustle outside the doorstep pales away.
Not everyone's cup of (mint) tea perhaps, but Café Gallipoli Bazaar is a place to come for good times with good friends, not to talk shop in stuffy business meetings. - MATT HUMPHREYS
* Main Courses: £8-£10.
* Wine: from £12
* Babies/children welcome: Yes
* Disabled access: Yes