It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Mrs Kentishtowner knows how to nurture an obsession, and since her return from Istanbul last week, she really hasn’t shut up about meyhanes, Aya Sophia, Beyoglu, the Bosphorus and yalis. And don’t get her started on the antiques district in Cukurcuma.
So it came as no surprise when she announced an apparently deep-rooted intention to explore the Anatolian influences in our manor. But it’s true, she argued, pouring a large glass of raki, you can so quickly become blind to the plethora of cultures on your doorstep.
And with that we found ourselves ensconced in the Ottoman splendour of Highgate Road’s carpet shops. First up was Kasra (99 Highgate Road) where, as the pleasant owner unrolled kilim after kilim, an older man drank tea, silently watching us.
‘Rip-off city,’ announced Mrs Kentishtowner at Seneh Carpets (90 Highgate Road) when asked why she hadn’t made a purchase from one of the little touristy boutiques in Sultanahmet. ‘You’re right,’ he agreed, with a slow smile, ‘we actually supply many of those shops ourselves.’ And before you could clock the expression on her face he was laying out some of his finest offerings at heavily discounted prices. ‘Take them back home to try,’ he said. ‘No obligation. It’s all about trust.’ 10/10 for technique.
But our favourite was The Orientalist, a vast three-room mini-empire which they claim is the largest handmade supplier in Europe, piled up with rugs and carpets of all sizes and ages. Here, most of the decorative kilims were Persian and Afghan, rather than Turkish, and we promptly fell for these two antique numbers – costing a bargain £250 between them. Not bad, eh?
There’s nothing like a barter to sharpen the appetite, and one restorative coffee at the Phoenicia Food Hall later, we hotfooted it to our local Turkish restaurant, Meze Ocakbasi. We’ve mentioned this Queen’s Crescent gem before , but now was the time to do the place justice. With Mrs Kentishtowner gushing as if she had founded Byzantium herself, the friendly female owner soon put her in place with a list of cities she preferred in Turkey. ‘Istanbul,’ she said with a shrug, ‘is just Istanbul.’
Red-faced, we tucked into the food (apologies for no pics but it was gobbled too quickly): a tasty selection of meze (£5.95) included yaprak sarma (vine leaves stuffed), patlican soslu (aubergine with onion, garlic tomato), cacik (cucumber, garlic, creamy yoghurt), hummus and some warm flatbread. For mains we enjoyed the lamb doner (£6) but particularly loved the ‘Chef’s Special’, an Iskender chicken kebab (£6.50), with its Anatolian sauce, yoghurt and melted butter. Even better, they’re BYO and will let you bring a bottle of wine.
So where else can Kentish Town’s First Lady indulge her Turkish obsession? And does anyone know any more about the history behind all those carpet shops on Highgate Road?