Katherine MacAlister ventures down the Cowley Road

IT STRUCK me suddenly, like a blow to the head, where we were.

Because while seated in this brand new Turkish restaurant on Cowley Road, admiring the large open interior already bustling with customers, it all seemed terribly familiar.

I studied it’s positioning – opposite the health centre – and it’s generous proportions and large dining capacity, and wondered what on earth this used to be.

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And then it came to me. Of course. We were sitting in the exact former location of one of the country’s most famous curry houses.

It used to be The Aziz.

And that one realisation said everything there is to say about the endlessly transitioning ebb and flow of the food trends, appetites, expectations and fads that make up the restaurant business in the UK, and certainly here in Oxford.

Because while The Aziz reigned supreme for decades on what was already an exotic, adventurous and eclectic stretch of food heaven, namely Cowley Road, the domination of Indian food is now over.

Yes, every town and village still has a takeaway or curry house, but those wanting to experiment come here, to try Polish or Ethiopian, Persian, Japanese, Czech or Caribbean, tapas or Moroccan. You name it, the Cowley Road has got it. And it is all fuelled by what is going on in the rest of the world politically, as much as trend-following. Those moving here and opening up shop then teach us about their own fare, and so it goes on.

And Antep Kitchen is the perfect example.

It is Turkish, a subtle if seismic shift away from our current obsession with Middle Eastern food then, and more sturdy than my memories of Istanbul’s fragrant cuisine.

Which would explain the endless tables of young men tucking into vast plates of sizzling meat and rice, because the portions are generous, fresh and the meat beautifully marinaded and grilled, right in front of your eyes at the counter framing the window. You can even watch the chefs in action from the pavement outside.

Grilling is what the Turks do so well, their penchant for kebabs well known, although Antep Kitchen is a far cry from the miserable late night van offerings which somehow lure our late night stragglers.

But despite the extensive menu, two things had caught my eye; the funny, puffy buns on the counter and the long, thin pizzas. So when our waiter arrived, and let me just say here all the staff were absolutely charming, we quizzed him.

The puffy buns are the house bread, like inflated crispy thin pittas and served with a plate of humus and a spicy dip. The long thin pidas were a Turkish version of a pizza, an authentic dish in its own right rather than a bastardised Italian rip off or a chicken tikka style British-palate-pleaser.

We ordered, obviously the buns and the pide, but also the hot mezze platter (£12.95),which included calamari, sucuk (grilled Turkish sausage), falafel and halloumi. We threw in some stuffed vine leaves for good measure and got stuck in, the proportions ambitious considering the portion size of the chicken wings, lamb and chicken shish and koftes which kept waltzing past.

What to have next then? Would it be a sacrilege to have something called a pizza in a Turkish restaurant? Or should I stick to something meaty on a stick?

In the end we tried the ciger (lamb’s liver) (£12.50) which was nicely chopped and grilled but still tender and the lamb ribs (£14.50) both of which were served with rice, couscous or salad.

And I succumbed to the freshly baked pide with cheese, mushrooms, onion, tomatoes and peppers. As soon as it arrived I knew I’d made the right choice, the base thinner and less doughy than its Italian cousin, akin to an unsalted and flat leavened bread, ensuring a more concentrated flavour allowing the flavour of the toppings to dominate, and absolutely delicious. Very different. Very recommendable.

The huge plates of liver and ribs, were robust, cheerful, perfectly grilled and marinated. There was no subtlety or care lavished on the food presentation, but the ingredients spoke for themselves.

An accompanying Turkish salad which consisted of tomato, cucumber, onion, parsley, sumac, lettuce and olive oil dressing was simple, unpretentious and cheap at £4.

As you can imagine, pudding by this stage was a no-no, despite the wonderful offerings of rice pudding, filo pastries, syrup and pistachio. We couldn’t budge. Goody bags scooped up an abundance of leftovers to take home, to be enjoyed again when we had more room.

I had half hoped for a square of Turkish Delight to appear along with the bill but sadly none was forthcoming. Perhaps our hosts and chefs were generous enough in expanding our food topography even further.

Another independent triumph.

Antep Kitchen

228-230 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1UH

01865 247555