One always expects something a bit special in Mayfair. Some of the best and most iconic of restaurants can be found in that neighbourhood. There are smart shops selling tailored apparel, and hand-made chocolates are showcased, well, in showcases in smart boutiques of a style previously reserved for jewellers. Yes, this area does have ‘swank’ writ large.
Turkish cuisine in London doesn’t have a reputation for presenting itself as ‘high-end’. The majority of Turkish restaurants are of the ubiquitous fast-food variety, selling kebabs. Nothing wrong with that as long as the food is well cooked and well presented. Let’s not be food snobs – moist, seasoned meat with some salad and a selection of piquant sauces is often just what’s needed to fill that dietary void between 1am and breakfast.
Sofra Mayfair, however, shows another side of Turkish cooking and it’s a welcome addition to the restaurant scene there. It occupies a corner plot a block or so back from Piccadilly and it’s a charming building. The wood-framed windows give a Victorian gothic air and a thoroughly inviting warm light shone from those very windows on a cold Monday night in December.
We gladly accepted that illuminated invitation and found a table in the corner offering a view of the fast-filling restaurant. It isn’t, in fact, as large as it first appears. Artfully-placed mirrors trick the diner into believing that there are plenty more tables behind those pillars. The tables are laid with crisp white linen, with napkins tied with red ribbon. Red tea lights added to the rather festive but subtle theme.
Our fellow guests were a cross-section of international humanity: Irish businessmen, American bankers, French students, three generations of a Turkish family, and some British tourists. Some of these folks seemed to be regulars. Always a good sign, and especially so when Mayfair visitors are spoilt for choice by so many other dining possibilities nearby.
Our waitress was quick to present us with a basket of fresh bread, olives and hummus. That gave us time to scrutinise the surprisingly extensive menu. Yes, there is indeed a good selection of Turkish favourites but this menu also includes those dishes from around the globe that have become familiar to all of us. Satay, Malaysian Prawns and Tempura graced the starter section, with main dishes including Black Cod with Miso. We wanted to try the regular Turkish fare and there was plenty to choose from, but before we had a chance to decide, we were served with a hot lentil soup taster. A nice touch.
We settled on the lamb-topped hummus, which had been recommended by a friend, and this was creamy and light rather than the coarser varieties more often encountered in supermarkets. My guest selected the Spicy Turkish Sausages, which were served in a small frying-pan. These are a must-try; do use some of the aforementioned bread to mop up the flavourful oil. Sofra would be a good venue for a meal with friends: consider ordering a selection from the starter menu – a meal of Turkish Tapas with something for every taste.
I chose the House Speciality as my main course. This was meatballs covering a layer of cubes of bread. The patties were dressed with both a tomato sauce and yogurt. This might sound an unlikely preparation, but it works. A good-quality loaf is essential – a base of Mother’s Pride white sliced would lack any kind of impact. The meat was very lightly seasoned, so a good dish for those anxious about salt intake.
My guest was intrigued by a dish called His Highness’s Favourite. Not quite sure which particular Highness this dish is named for, but he was evidently a man of refined taste. The aubergine was outstanding with real smoky flavour and smooth texture. The lamb stew which covered the purée was delicately seasoned.
Don’t even think of missing dessert. I would recommend the Ottoman Kadayif. The pastry shreds are dry rather than syrup-soaked as with Baklava. This was a cream-filled dream with a little jug of sugar syrup to drizzle. A light dessert but a triumph of crunchy elegance. A cup of medium sweet Turkish coffee was all that was needed to complete the experience.
I enjoyed Sofra Mayfair for dinner and I look forward to visiting another branch for breakfast very soon.
18 Shepherd Street, London W1J 7JG
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7493 3320
Visit Sofra here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018