Zahter is a properly gorgeous restaurant. It’s full of artistic touches, like exposed brick, industrial beams, brass lamps and a blue-tiled, marble-topped chef’s counter that surrounds a central, flickering charcoal oven. When I visited with a friend, all of this chicness and elegance was shown to us but then cruelly snatched away as we were ushered past the main dining area on the ground floor and taken upstairs to a basic-looking mezzanine level. I peered over the glass fence next to our table to look down on the diners below. I longed to be closer to the flames, the smoke and the action.
Putting aside the seating envy, we focused on the torrent of hot and cold mezze plates, adorned with wood-fired Turkish goodies, that quickly arrived at our table. The kofte kibbeh (stuffed meatball) served with toasted pine nuts, tahini and labneh, was a robust, comforting and texturally smart dish, but it was a bit small to justify its hefty £18 price tag. The tomato-and-cucumber salad with walnuts and urfa chilli was remarkably punchy and zingy. And an ovenware dish of charred tiger prawns swimming in a sizzling crimson pool of aleppo pepper garlic butter was begging for a side order of freshly grilled pide bread to mop up all the sauce.
The acidic, sweet and tangy pomegranate sauce was striking, and electrified the charred chicken
Next, we were presented with a plate of greens, and initially thought we had been given the wrong main sharing platter. ‘Where’s the chicken?’ my pal asked, while wading through a bed of dill, parsley, red onions and fresh chillies. After a good few minutes of rummaging with our forks, we struck gold and found soft, silky chicken hiding underneath. The acidic, sweet and tangy pomegranate sauce in the dish was striking, and electrified the charred chicken, while the toum (Lebanese garlic sauce) imparted a bold, creamy kick. A true joy.
As the night progressed, the restaurant went from buzzy to packed-out. Our waiter had too many tables in his section, which meant a bunch of our dishes arrived at once and grew cold before we could eat them, and there was a long wait for dessert. But all was forgiven, as the staff never lost their cool and always delivered with a sense of humour. Our waiter promised he would eat his non-existent hat if the delayed pudding wasn’t up to scratch.
When the baklava finally arrived it was absolutely worth the wait. This wasn’t your regular sickly-sweet, syrup-laden baklava, oh no. This light, flaky, buttery filo oozed syrup with every bite without being too cloying, and was packed with chunks of blitzed pistachio and topped with a perfect quenelle of thick whipped cream that made everything sing. Bliss. My only bugbear was the marbled pedestal plate it was served on: it wobbled dangerously, so we risked spilling the good stuff every time we dug in.
Chef-owner Esra Muslu (ex-Soho House and Ottolenghi) enhances seasonal ingredients with her expert knowledge of Istanbul cuisine and technical grasp of working with fire. You can tell that every explosive dish is made with loads of care, but be prepared to dig deep. Our bill came to £172 with drinks. A tad on the steep side, but Zahter is special and should be reserved for occasions like birthdays and anniversaries... or a YOLO treat-yourself meal.
The vibe A buzzy Turkish hotspot.
The food A powerful hot-and-cold mezze and mighty platter menu. Order the prawns, chicken and baklava if you know what’s good for you.
The drink An interesting selection of wines from Turkey, Lebanon and Morocco. Try the Georgian orange wine
Time Out tip Ask to sit downstairs by the windows, or on the counter in front of the fire to get closer to the action.