Neanderthal as in ‘ape-like’ is one; Philistine is another. These adjectives hang around obstinately as erroneous perceptions formed in a past age. A new candidate for obsolescence might be ‘Continental’ as in Continental cuisine. With the expansion of the European Union eastwards, its ambitions stretching to the Georgian Caucuses and the pending inclusion of Turkey, the concept of Continental being defined by the cuisine of the French and Swiss seems dated.
It may be true that nothing could be better in the fight against religious fundamentalism than Turkey joining the EU, but personally it’s their mezes that really interest me. Turkish cuisine has a long and eclectic history, exchanging influences with Russia, North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Coffee and patisserie were in fact adopted by the French from Turkey. A number of words come to English from the Turkish – yoghurt, baklava, moussaka, shish kebab; not (as many believe) from the Greek.
Back in 1983, Mustafa Candan and Bevan Christie tastefully converted a former warehouse of the old beer factory in Greenpoint into a smart Turkish restaurant called Anatoli. As a schoolboy, after the weekly night in the theatre, our outing would end up here on special occasions. Something about the communion of breaking the long, hot loaves of freshly baked bread was deeply satisfying. I have kept returning for 25 years; no small feat for a restaurant.
The current owner is the amicable Tayfun Aras assisted by a bevy of easy on the eye waiters (a long time respected hallmark of the establishment) exuding Mediterranean charm. He has expanded a second dining room to encourage functions; introduced Turkish Efes Pilsner; now serves nargile (hubbly bubbly) at the bar, and on Saturday nights brings in belly dancers. Recruited to this “ancient and beautiful art” from the Northern suburbs, they come to gyrate for 15 minutes after 8pm. You will notice them as odd customers in long fur coats until all is revealed. The music is incredibly loud for this short floor show which makes it seem interminable to the sensitive of hearing, such as my friend Munchkin. When the undulating flesh lurched towards the table, Munchkin skewered a grilled halloumi cheese (izgara hellim peyniri) in half without looking up.
Dinner starts with the waiter bringing 20 mezes on a large wooden tray. Cold meze are R25, warm and meat meze R30 each. A selection of six to eight of these with a couple of garlic breads (R15.50) makes for a full meal. If you want to keep room for mains then unlike Munchkin avoid the temptation of the baked or deep fried mezes, such as the phyllo pastry parcels filled with feta, parsley and black pepper, the potato sigara böreği (stuffed with rich mashed potatoes, cheddar cheese and flaked chili) or the cevizili mercimek koftesi (a mix of lentil, carrot, cheddar cheese and walnut coated in breadcrumbs).
It is best to select a couple of dips to spread on the bread such as cacik (waiver thin cucumber mixed in yoghurt with garlic and mint), tarama salata (Cod roe with lemon juice and olive oil) and of course indispensable to any Turkish meal is humus (crushed chickpeas) or tahini (a paste of ground sesame seeds). Then add something more substantial, but not too filling, such as kuru kofte (spicy lamb meat balls with walnut sauce) and arnavut cigeri (lamb livers in spicy flour, deep fried with astringent sumac dressed onions).
Anatoli is a great place to take vegetarians, but no patron should skip the succulent biber izgara (red, green and yellow bell peppers grilled, skinned and marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and oregano), the fresh zeytinyagli pirasa (leeks delicately cooked with tomato and olive oil) or the delicious patlican izgara (aubergines grilled on an open fire and mixed with green pepper, olive oil and lemon juice).
After starters the waiter takes patrons, table for table, to the kitchen to select their main courses. Be warned, the portions are large. You are however allowed to mix and to take half portions. I seldom leave without a doggie bag, even though this entails defending it against the car guards on Somerset Road.
Anatoli’s signature dish is sword fish kebab. Though not a particularly Turkish fish, it is marinated in Turkic style with olive oil, lemon juice, bay leaves and large black pepper grounds. I also highly recommend the incik kebabi (R90), a lamb shank slow cooked for at least four hours seasoned with orange juice and coriander seeds, and the yogurtlu kebab (R90), cubed lamb cooked in yoghurt with pepper, garlic and coriander that gives it a distinct character.
To accompany the meal Anatoli has a well stocked bar and an extensive wine list with white wines from a Kanu Chenin at R75 to Glen Carlou Chardonnay at R150 and red wines from a respectable Fleur du Cap Merlot at R105 to Beaumont Ariane at R175.
It takes a formidable appetite to still want dessert. I have never managed to keep room for the zerde (saffron, pinenuts, rice and black currants topped with pistachios) or the kadayif (shredded phyllo pastry baked in the oven with pistachio nuts). But even if you’re bursting, do try the Turkish apricots (R30) stuffed with fresh cream and almonds in syrup.
Tea is served, but coffee is the national drink. The average Turk drinks 10 cups a day.
Anatoli was the first and remains Cape Town’s premier Turkish restaurant.
Anatoli, 24 Napier Street, Green Point, Cape Town. Open Monday to Saturday for dinner (7pm – 11pm). Tel: 021 419 2501. www.anatoli.co.za