If you consider Turkish food to be primarily a post-drinking or low-funds option then here’s a place that’ll make you think again. It’s one of Victoria’s most popular restaurants, and booking is advisable.
With a low-key black frontage, you know immediately you’re not in for a pile-it-high, pide-kebab-meze place. Check out the prices, too. Everything is a few quid more than you might expect. But for those who eat Turkish regularly, this might simply be a reminder of how much you’ve underpaid in the past. The flavours of Turkish cuisine more than hold their own when served in the framework of a relatively fancy set-up. But Kazan does a few things that those other places don’t, not least in the wine list.
The décor isn’t exciting but it’s tasteful, with a chocolate-brown hue. A nod has been made towards design-led stylishness, with tear-shaped light shades dangling at different heights from the ceiling. You might not take a date to a typical Turkish ocakbasi, but this would be a suitable choice if you did.
Busy but slick. The buzz of Wilton Road outside leaks in. But then Kazan has become a neighbourhood favourite, so it’s nice that you still get a sense of the comings and goings outside. Plenty of people arrive on spec, and some have to be turned away. When you’ve already got your feet under the table, that spectacle can give you a pleasantly smug feeling. Try and get a table on the ground floor, as the basement space is, understandably, less atmospheric.
There’s a helpfully marked section of starters marked ‘special’ (ranging £6.95-£9.95) that features shell-on king prawns, quail and a racy ‘harem’ salad of cheese, figs and walnut. Alongside these there are the more familiar dishes like arnavut cigeri (fried liver with a sumac and parsley-sprinkled onion salad), zataar chicken wings and börek.
Hot meze (all £5.95) include lamb and pine nut-topped humus, falafel, sis and köfte, plus the more unusual tempura sage and prawns, and vodka-marinated calamari. Cold meze (£4.95) takes in the usual suspects. While a mixed selection (£13.95) isn’t the usual plate-busting mound, each component packs sufficient punch to leave you satisfied.
The section marked ‘Kazan fire grill’ (£12.95-£18.95) sounds rather grand, and isn’t the usual line-up of kebabs. There’s lamb fillet, steaks, poussin and chicken, all simply grilled, served alongside their take on a yoghurt topped kebab – the ‘Kazan special’. Most can be served with rice or chunky chips, though it does seem a little bit of a shame that chips have ousted generous portions of crunchy salad as the side of choice (though some salad is served, too). However, perhaps surprisingly, it’s an oven dish (£11.95-£15.95) that steals the show. Hünkar begendi (£14.95) is fabulous; stewed, spiced lamb on a bed of smoked aubergine mash. Rarely has a ‘bed’ been so inviting. Based on this, the slow cooking outshines the coals, where the ‘Ottoman grill’ (£15.95) mixed kebab selection is fine, but by no means stunning. ‘Kazan’ refers to a cooking pot, after all.
The inventiveness (though hardly ‘Ottoman fusion’ as the restaurant claims) dries up in the veggie section (£11.95-£13.95), which offers just moussaka, the classic Imam bayildi (stuffed and roasted aubergine) and a vegetable and hellimi cheese kebab. Four fish/seafood dishes are markedly more expensive (£17.50-£21.00). The £9.95 meze lunch looks to be good value, as do the £14.95 pre-theatre menus.
The Turkish wine is worth trying, particularly the Çankaya red (£17). There are cocktails too, and a fine non-alcoholic selection that includes what they call Turkish lemonade (£3.95). It's a shame, though, that the beer selection is limited to Efes (£3.25).
The Last Word
The tradition of Turkish cuisine is a noble one, but its cheap-and-cheerful reputation in the UK means that asking diners to pay a little more for their dinner is a brave step. Kazan shows, however, that posh Turkish food is most certainly not a case of dressing mutton as lamb.