There’s a serious danger of over-eating at Garlic. Everything on the menu sounds tempting – some dishes, such as the gloopy pan-fried lamb brain (68RMB) even come prefixed with descriptors like ‘extremely delicious’. But you’re also bombarded with a rotating range of complimentary breads, refreshed as soon as you pop the last piece in your mouth, and once you’ve narrowed your menu selections down, a waiter arrives tableside with a large tray of quality-looking meze, which it feels rude to turn away (plus you’d be missing excellent appetisers such as the zeytinyagli yaprak sarma, 64RMB, vine leaves stuffed with olive oil cooked rice).
Fortunately, this is the sort of place you’ll want to return to, leisurely making your way through the menu rather than going for broke in one visit. Opened by the same people behind Nanchang Lu’s lovable Turkish hole-in-the-wall Pasha
, Garlic is a smart new incarnation for the Yongjia Lu space previously inhabited by lacklustre bar Van Gogh. It builds on rather than replicates the formula at Pasha, with a broader menu that puts a modern fine dining spin on Ottoman classics, reinforced by an all-Turkish wine list (glasses from 45RMB).
Some of Pasha’s dishes are present here, too, such as the sarma beyti (135RMB), a slight reworking of one of the Nanchang Lu joint’s classic kebabs featuring a crispy wrap stuffed with meat and smothered in melted cheese. But for the most part, the focus is away from kebabs and on simple dishes.
This simplicity means that some plates are a little one-note, so a shared approach to eating is recommended. Imported Canadian scallops (75RMB), cooked in butter and combined with a few leaves of spinach and dashes of paprika, are a low-key hit. The hunkar begendi (160RMB) or ‘Sultan’s favourite’, strips of tender tandoor-cooked lamb over mashed charcoal grilled aubergine is another basic but delicious combination and is full of smoky flavour. The chicken chops (90RMB) from the charcoal grill are also good for sharing, with three large cuts of chicken slightly blackened around the edges and served with a handful of seasonal vegetables.
Although some of the dishes feel a little over-priced, we’ve found ourselves making repeat visits to Garlic already and as the weather turns colder, their filling Turkish dishes will doubtless become even more attractive. And if you’re too stuffed to make it home immediately afterwards, you can always wander downstairs to their basement kids play area, complete with bean bags and a PlayStation.
By Jake Newby