The Dish Detective is a kebab fan. Not your doner elephant leg catastrophe – I’m not an animal – but a large kofte, all the salad thanks, chilli sauce but that’s not a challenge, I don’t want my head blown off, I’m not making any boasts here, and I’m fine for chips thanks, kind of thing. Kebabs are good. Possibly after a few pints of the landlord’s finest.
But what has always baffled the Dish Detective is this. The British love kebabs. The British go on holiday to the eastern Mediterranean in droves, and sing the praises of the food they find there (‘so few ingredients, but so well matched, tasting of sunshine and the sea, why can’t we all just live off pitta and feta cheese’ – admit it, we’ve all got that friend) but there are relatively few long-lasting Turkish, Greek, Cypriot, or Cretan restaurants here. Yes, they are there – Steki in Southsea being a shining example – but why the imbalance compared to Italian or Indian restaurants?
The Dish Detective doesn’t know. I mean, we could hazard guesses about smaller diasporas, and other socio-economic reasons, but that would be the DD doing what s/he does best… pontificating, over a couple of the aforementioned landlord’s finest. But what isn’t in doubt is that in the Anatolian we have a genuinely lovely, slightly barmy gem of Turkish restaurant.
The building has had a rollercoaster few years. It was the Fountain Inn, then the Indian Summer, then last year it became the Country Inn, which was a pub which also served Cypriot food.
Now it’s the Anatolian, and the focus is on food. While the exterior says pub (and there is still a bar) there is also a whacking great scrubbed steel open grill. You’ll have seen a version of this in kebab houses – while the similarity is that it’s a joy to see and smell your food cooking, the difference is what comes out of it. Because though the Anatolian’s signs don’t scream top-class dining, and the menus aren’t aimed at the quality market, they don’t half serve up some good food.
The Dish Detective’s dining partner feels frisky and so orders a pint of Efes lager (£4.95), smiles and feels on holiday. The DD is intrigued by Salgam (£2.15), a Turkish turnip (yes, really) drink. The waiter says tactfully that ‘some people really like it’. We try it. It’s either fermented or loaded with salt or both. No doubt behind the door the staff are creasing up but fair play, the DD can safely say it's a new taste sensation. Let’s leave it there. Better to concentrate on the food.
We share a mixed hot platter (£12.95) to start. There's falafel, calamari, grilled halloumi, and sucuk, a Turkish sausage. It’s wonderful. We’re indoors but the flavours make us feel outdoors. It’s what you’d like to rustle up for your friends in the summer, but you don’t quite have the skill to do. We’re sold.
For a main course, the DD’s companion orders a lamb shish (£13.45) and the DD goes for a halep kebab (£12.95) – minced lamb in a halep sauce; spicy, tomato-ey, with a lot of cumin-y, onion-y, cayenne-y deep notes. It’s not spicy with a chilli force, but it leaves a long-lasting taste. It’s delicious, but it also feels as if it’s giving due credit to Turkish food; as I said, we all like a kebab, but it’s great to go beyond the drunken takeaway staple and taste clever, more complex flavours.
To finish, the DD goes into the garden to play on the slide with the baby. Our companion tries the baklava (£5.45). Days later, it’s being spoken about in hushed tones, like a quasi-religious experience. In review terms, this is. A. Good. Thing.
One criticism? The cost. Yes, it’s a lovely building, yes the food is great, yes, I want to go back in the winter when the stoves are on but yes, it was a pricy lunch. But good food? Check. Good friendly service? Definitely check. Would I go back? Check. I hope it survives and thrives.
The Anatolian, Waltham Chase
Ratings out of five