There are two types of diners. Gorgers can be compared to camels, stuffing their plump hump in case they don’t get to stock up later, while rabbity grazers want to nibble on a little bit of everything (they’re the sort to nick things off your plate and can turn into a hot mess at a buffet).
I’m the latter, so meze is my bag. Anyway, Service à la russe is so 19th century. Hoorah then, for a visit to Yeni, the recently renamed and slightly made-over Turkish restaurant, formerly Nargile, but still owned by Ruya Iridag and Stuart Anderson. The new city centre shopfront, with white gloss on white matte signage, makes it quite hard to spot, so look out for the gilt-fronted Bar Napoli, which is in the basement just below.
Up the red stairs and it seems that the interior is pretty much the same as ever – pleasant enough, with pale walls plastered in colourful travel posters. The main change, apart from in name, is that they’ve tweaked the Greek, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-style menu so it’s a bit more crowd-pleasing and concise.
Diners are instructed to order three or four dishes each, so we went for seven to share. First to land was the humus kavurma (£4.75), which featured a garlicky chickpea and tahini paste, with a dusting of paprika on top.
Good, if a bit single-notey – perhaps more lemon juice might’ve made it zippier. Also, they’d been a little bit tight with the lamb ingredient, as there were only about five postage-stamp-sized scratchings of meat on the top of the humus mixture.
Another classic – a cardboard-coloured baba ganoush (£4.25) – was similarly adequate, with a good muddy texture, but it lacked the smokey, charred aubergine flavour that would have lifted us into eggplant ecstasy. Still, we polished off most of it, slathered over Arabic flatbread (£3.50), a huge basketful of which was cut into precise rectangles.
According to Yeni, they’ve kept the prices of the dishes low to reflect the fact that they charge extra for bread, which includes pitta (£1.50).
Highlights of our dinner included the borek (£3.75), which consisted of three tightly swaddled, honey-hued pastries that were as crisp as a December morning, with a salty filling of feta cheese.
Our set of four match-box-sized dolma (£3.75), each containing densely packed cumin-spiced rice, were appropriately earthy, undergrowth-ish and feral. They had that chlorophylly taste I crave and which makes me imagine that I might be lacking some mineral that’s essential in preventing one’s legs and arms from dropping off.
We also liked the three russet-surfaced rustic-looking mini-fishcakes (£3.75), mainly thanks to the sardine element, which gave them an oily fish tang alongside the other ingredients of potato and chopped parsley.
Our heartiest dish was the lamb iskender (£7.95), which boasted tiny pitta bread tiles topped by shaved lamb, yoghurt and a lipstick-red tomato-soupy sweet sauce.
Like nachos or haggis, this dish is never going to win a beauty contest, but it tastes better than it looks, honest.
The final of our savoury courses was a ramekin full of dana sogush (£5.95) – a mixture of shredded lettuce, cucumber struts, coriander, red onions and tiny slivers of medium rare steak. It was a clean-tasting combination, with a lemony olive oil dressing.
Puddings include ice-cream (£1.75 per scoop), or Turkish delight (£2.25), but we shared a classic Greek baklava (£3.75).
This wasn’t particularly scintillating, as the chopped nut filling tasted a bit musty (imagine the smell of the inside of an old biscuit tin) and the pastry rather too leathery.
Overall, however, the food here isn’t bad, and it is affordable. The problem is that some of it lacks the vibrancy and joie-de-vivre that’s associated with the meze legend.
You get the impression that chef might be a little bit too safe when it comes to seasoning dishes.
Just a little more of this, a smidge extra of that, and Yeni could be the perfect venue for grazers and gorgers alike.