Kent has no shortage of decent restaurants, that’s for sure. Having recently revisited my favourite Beckenham restaurant, La Rascasse, for another sublime meal, tonight I found myself in another of my old stomping grounds, Hayes: about to tuck into some of the finest Turkish fare I’ve enjoyed in quite some time.
It’s been a while since I spent a Friday night in this neck of the woods and, reassuringly, not that much has changed – bar the addition of a couple more restaurants. Hayes already plays host to excellent Indian and Chinese restaurants, with a Thai eaterie on the way, and I was interested to see how Tugra would fare in comparison.
As soon as I arrived I knew we were in for a good evening in this family-run restaurant that’s named after the Turkish Ottoman Sultan’s seal of approval (only the best received that accolade, apparently). We were very early and Tugra had only just opened, but we received a genuinely warm welcome. The clocks have gone back and somehow, scarily, November is upon us – but inside the restaurant we felt cosy, and cossetted.
Tugra’s surroundings have been well thought-out; comfy padded sofas and chairs, with Turkish music playing in the background. And I have to give its crockery a special mention; both Marie B. and I commented on how beautiful it was. For me, it’s details like those which make all the difference.
I was pleased to see that Tugra offers both white and red Turkish wines –by the glass, as well as by the bottle. I opted for the Turkish white: the Cankaya, from Kavaklidere. A beautiful deep golden colour, the nose put me in mind of a Riesling – and, interestingly, it tasted like a Riesling, too, exhibiting the oiliness you would expect from that grape. In fact, it’s made from Sultaniye and Emir grape varietals and I was really glad I’d chosen it; it was different from what I’d expected, but in a good way.
As with my wine choice I was keen to try something authentically Turkish. For my starter I plumped, after much deliberation, for that perennial favourite: Stuffed Vine Leaves. I just can’t resist them: somewhere along the way, I’ve persuaded myself that they are good for you (those vine leaves, surely, must count as one of of your five a day?). These ones were excellent: the perfect blend of rice, olive oil, leaves and spices.
Marie, in the meantime, had plumped for the Octopus, a gloriously photogenic blend of marinated octopus leg sliced & pan fried with tomato sauce and spinach. This has never been my favourite fish, but I confess to a slight pang as a glorious scent of garlic wafted towards me. Oh, and did I mention the bread? Fragrant and warm, the complimentary Turkish flatbread proved hard to resist, despite strong competition from our starters.
Needless to say, it didn’t take us long to polish off these particular offerings and we were soon keenly anticipating the next course. This had been a tough choice: Tugra offers plenty of pescetarian and vegetarian options on and I would happily have sampled them all. In the end, I ordered the Vegetarian Meze Platter, figuring that this would be an excellent way of acquainting myself with a sizeable portion of the menu.
This proved to be a very good decision. The Meze comprises Humus, Cacik, Aubergine Soslu, Falafel, Sigara Boregi and Halloumi and I enjoyed each and every one of them, with a special mention to the Sigara Boregi (filo pastry filled with feta cheese, spinach and dried herbs), which melted in the mouth. The generous helpings of home-made humus and cacik provided an excellent opportunity to eat even more of the Turkish flatbread (the less said about that, the better).
Meanwhile, the restaurant was growing busier and busier and the atmosphere, I kid you not, was electric. Families, couples, groups of friends celebrating birthdays: everywhere you looked, everyone was having a great night and taking full advantage of the end of the working week.
While I was tucking into my Meze, Marie was extolling the virtues of her Lamb Shish. She’d experienced just as many difficulties as me in choosing what to have (we’re both big fish fans and had been seriously tempted by the seabass) but, happily, was just as contented as me with her choice: cuts of marinated pieces of lamb, which had been cooked on a charcoal grill and were served with salad and bulgur wheat.
We ate, we drank, we chatted – and, as per usual – we swapped books, both of us being inveterate readers with a mutual love of psychological thrillers and historical fiction (thanks again for Philippa Gregory’s “The Last Tudor”, Marie: I can’t wait to get stuck in). The one thing we weren’t able to do was find room for dessert – we were, quite simply, beaten. I shall have to return to Tugra to sample the sweeter side of the menu – and, perhaps, the Turkish red, its white counterpart having left me with a keen desire to find out more about Turkish wines.
There’s no doubt about it: Tugra is an excellent addition to the Hayes dining scene and if I lived nearer I would be a frequent visitor. For now, I shall have to content myself with occasional outings and hope that, before long, Marie is ready for another book swap.