As I was sitting in Pivaz, getting myself acquainted with the menu, I was reminded just how predictable my dining habits have become. As you know, I eat out often and I love to try new places, but I naturally gravitate towards certain cuisines – usually some sort of modern European or Asian fare. Those two loose categories alone encompass many styles so we’re definitely not eating the same thing all the time, but I have noticed that there are some cuisines I never ever choose on my own. Turkish is definitely one of them, which explains why half the dishes at Pivaz read like gibberish to me.
In order to decipher the menu, I gave a certain someone the night off from ‘official plus one’ duties and enlisted the help of someone who I knew was a fan of Turkish food. The words borek, sarma and cacik might have meant nothing to me, but when I saw her nod approvingly at the range of dishes on offer, I knew she was the right person for the job. I ordered the wine, she took the lead on the food, and before we had barely caught up on what we did over Christmas, the starters had arrived.
We might have ordered more adventurously if I were any sort of a connoisseur of Turkish food, but this was not an occasion for the obscure, unusual dishes. I wanted the classics and I wanted a bit of everything so a sharing platter seemed logical. Like I said, I was expecting a bit, but what we got was actually a lot. Borek, grilled halloumi, sarma, about four different dips and bread. What good would those dips be without a basket of warm, fluffy Turkish bread? I dove straight in and wasted no time ripping off a chunk and covering them with the intriguing avocado humus, not a hybrid I’d ever had before but would be happy to eat again. My learned friend loved the saksuka, made from eggplant, green and red peppers, and onions, whereas I couldn’t get enough of the sweet and piquant chargrilled red pepper and feta dip.
I find halloumi is a difficult beast to master despite being such a robust cheese. Grilled just the right amount and it’s rich, slightly oozy and quite delicious; go that little bit over and suddenly it’s rubbery, squeaky and quite unpleasant. This one was on the cusp but I was partly to blame for getting sidetracked by the borek and not attending to the halloumi straight away, I should know better! Speaking of the borek, I thought the crisp rolls of filo filled with creamy spinach and cheese were simply delicious. Less appealing were the sarma, vine leaves filled with rice, pine nuts and raisins; we both found the strong cinnamon and general sweetness did not agree with our tastebuds.
After all this, there were still the mains to come and these weren’t shy in size either. We couldn’t resist the Pivaz Special because our waiter’s description of the dish made it sound utterly heavenly. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I loved the gargantuan king prawns, butterflied and cooked to perfection, however I found the white wine and cream sauce which coated the prawns and rice, a touch too heavy. That said, it’s still worthy of the ‘special’ status but Pivaz should take my advice and serve it on a piping hot plate, and you in turn should eat it quickly… don’t try to take lots of (terrible) photos as I did, it will leave your dish cold and claggy.
We also ordered the iskender because ‘any Turkish restaurant worth visiting’ can make a decent iskender. I have no idea whether Pivaz’s version was passable or better by Turkish standards, but it most definitely excelled by mine. Traditionally, this dish consists of thinly sliced lamb and pieces of pita covered with a tomato sauce and yoghurt but this one consisted of lamb mince, as well as cubes of lamb and chicken, which really bulked up the dish. The meat was nice and tender but what I loved most was the slight spiciness of the sauce and the way the pita pieces soaked it up, making them a little chewy. This dish looked a mess but it was so hearty and comforting, I could eat over and over again.
After conquering this mountain of food, we didn’t even contemplate dessert, although I was very tempted by the baklava. Instead, we took advantage of the relaxed atmosphere and continued our chatter a little while longer with a cup of tea until we were able to move again! I still have a lot to learn about Turkish cuisine so more tasting is definitely in order, but this feast at Pivaz has convinced me to change my dining habits to include a few more meals with mezzes and iskenders!
Do you like Turkish cuisine? Do you have some cuisines you naturally gravitate towards?
Thanks to Pivaz in Hackney for my Turkish food education, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!