31st May 2023
Each month, our food writer Bibi Roy reviews a TN partner to see what we can expect when visiting. This time she heads to Havet in Tunbridge Wells. Havet thank our members for supporting local with a complimentary glass of fizz when dining in.
"Havet is a family owned Turkish Cypriot restaurant in Tunbridge Wells. This imposing building stands proud at the top of town opposite what was formerly The Opera House. Inspired by the authentic food of their childhood, Hassan, his brother and cousin, Tom and Adil opened their first site in Bromley in 2012, then followed Tunbridge Wells in 2019 and Tonbridge thereafter.
Firstly there are many Turkish establishments in town competing against each other and so it is important to point out how each differentiates itself and this in my opinion is done by freshness of produce, culinary skills, inventiveness, exemplary service and ambience. The lovely Freya seats me in one of their pleasant, more private booths. I still have a view of the restaurant and do not feel isolated. Freya has been here six years. She knows every role front of house and has even learnt Turkish whilst being here. She worked throughout lockdown with General Manager Serhan. They had only just opened and it is a credit to the team that they survived, adapting well to the situation. Freya is full of energy and clearly understands the company ethos.
As well as the large ground floor with its olive tones and stunning arched windows, there is also a vast expanse on the first floor as they do become very busy. A small outside space is a nice little sun-trap where you can people watch whilst dining alfresco. The kitchen is in full view, as are the chefs, enabling you to see how dishes are prepared. It’s fun to watch the theatre of charcoal-pit cooking.
Havet source the best meat from Smithfield Market and fish from Billingsgate. They do this daily with everything butchered and prepared in house. Apart from the bread, certain desserts, yogurt and ice cream, everything that is possible to make is made on the premises, including the sauces. They donate anything that hasn’t been used to the homeless and customers are encouraged to take any leftovers with them using sustainable packaging. Havet also have a Go Fund Me link on their website raising aid for Turkey and their staff have already raised enough money to feed one small town for a week, an admirable effort I greatly applaud.
The menu is extensive but split into comprehensive sections. Appetizers, Meze, Meze Selection Platters, Havet Combos, with choices of 1, 2 or 4 options. Then follow Rice, Sides, Others, Havet Specials, Salad Combos and Fish. Turn the page and you will find a huge selection of wines, spirits, cocktails, beers, ciders, mocktails and soft drinks. Incidentally they have a very good Raki and Tequilla choice which others don’t even offer. Turkish and mint teas are always my favoured choices, but should you want coffee, they again have Turkish and the usual options supplied by Nairobi Coffee and Tea Company.
Today I order Patlican Ezmesi, a blended dip of chargrilled aubergines, tahini, yoghurt, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. They serve it with house bread. It is creamy and moreish. I of course drop the oil all over my sweatshirt, standard. The portion is definitely enough for
Next, a two choice platter. Lamb chops from their Mangal section, with two sides of a mediterranean salad of cherry tomatoes, mixed leaves, feta and a squeeze of lemon, and a trio of mushrooms, pan fried in garlic butter. For families their combos are a great deal and most importantly very cost effective. If I was allowed I would have rice of which bulgur is popular, but my salad and mushrooms are absolutely fine.
The lamb is beautifully pink, the decadent fat is perfectly crisp and the two mandatory sauces of garlic and chilli are wonderful compliments. As well as charred tomatoes and peppers, the salad is a very good choice with the salty feta and lemon adorned leaves cutting through the richness of the lamb. The mushrooms have a divine charred, garlic infused saltiness that I simply cannot stop eating. I never do this, but I find myself picking up the bones to make sure I get every morsel of meat off them. I like that they always place the latter on a piece of flat bread to soak up the juices, it provides a whole other treat to munch on.
True to their no waste policy, Freya is already arriving with boxes and packing away that gorgeous aubergine starter, the salad, bread and gives me two new sauces. She also explains that having a central kitchen ordering for the three restaurants, enables them to bring in the correct amount of ingredients, based on bookings and past trends. Walk-ins of course happen but they are good at gauging requirements throughout the seasons, they have been here six years afterall.
The Dessert, or Havet Ever Afters menu is also extensive. Admittedly, everything but the Sutlac, pronounced, “Sootlach”, is not made on site, it would just be too time consuming. I therefore have to try the above, a warm Turkish baked rice pudding I already know is going to be good. I want to taste their Katmer, a pistachio and Turkish clotted cream called kaymak, encased in wafer thin filo pastry and drizzled with sugar syrup. Served with vanilla ice cream I can’t believe it is not homemade. The pastry is deliciously light and the filling is very subtle. It’s a good one, no sickly stickiness here. A big up to Froza Foods their supplier. The Sutlac is much like burnt rice pudding, caramelised on top with soft Turkish pudding rice below. Not too sweet there’s a lot of it. I’ll have to try the baklava next time because Froza are definitely delivering quality here.
A fresh mint tea breaks the sweetness, I highly recommend this at the end of your meal as it helps digestion. Freya packs the Katmer in my bag, a little surprise for mum with her afternoon viewing of Tipping Point, she does love that programme. It looks like her dinner will be taken care of too with all of these leftovers! I really enjoyed my visit to Havet. The food was excellent and service was exceptional. Freya was very knowledgeable, made excellent recommendations, told me what was popular with others but also addressed any dietary requirements I may have. She actually made my experience.
Thank you Team Havet, I will most certainly be back with my family."
Review by Bibi Roy, exclusive to the TN card. All thoughts and words are Bibi's own.