2nd March 2023
It’s been a while since I visited Turkish restaurant Zorba. Situated at the top end of town, on the corner of upper Grosvenor Road. I think I may have been one of their first customers when they opened and before that a regular visitor to the cafe for breakfast on the same site.
The place is much changed. Exposed brick walls, lots of light wood and mirrors, with tasteful banquettes and vibrant blue lighting. There’s a “life is beautiful” neon sign, they seem to be very popular all over Tunbridge Wells. This one is on a faux leafy background and begs an Insta click. The chefs are on show through a window where one can see lots of billowing smoke as they cook over charcoal.
I am greeted by Onur who offers me their drinks menu and recommends a selection of meze plates. I must say they look so colourful when they arrive. King prawns cooked in sweet chilli sauce, white wine and garlic are juicy and plump. Aside them my favourite babaganoush, full of charred aubergines and blended with tahini paste, yogurt, lemon and garlic. It’s a really good one, the pomegranate seeds bedazzling atop like little rubies. Hot bread, more aubergines, this time deep fried and cooked with peppers in a rich tomato sauce, hummus and tabbouleh, which is a parsley and fresh mint salad, all grace the table. Everything is prettily presented and delicious, especially the baba, not overly mushy, the aubergine having just the right amount of sweetness. I am pleased to know all of the above are made in-house, it makes such a difference.
As I dip and munch a huge plate of lamb chops appear, four to be precise. Onur brings a lovely fresh house salad and bulgar rice, that has been made using a Turkish tomato paste giving it a nice smokiness. All main dishes from the mangal come with these two sides and they really compliment barbequed meat. The chops are cooked well, pink and succulent with lots of charring and the fat is rendered properly. There’s a unique flavour produced when cooking over fire, I love it. The meat is surrounded by roasted green pepper and tomatoes and served on flat bread to soak up the juices. All components are seasoned well and polished off happily whilst Onur tells me more about their most popular dishes.
Their cuisine is Turkish Mediterranean, think lots of barbequed and slow-cooked meats, (from Smithfields), vibrant salads and seafood. Chef’s recommendations are kleftiko a famous dish of lamb shank slow roasted in the oven with carrots and onions, in a demi glaze and tomato sauce with mashed potato. Islim, slices of aubergine wrapped around pulled lamb, sautéed with onions peppers and tomatoes. Also favoured is Seafood Buglama, a pan cooked mixture of salmon, seabass, calamari, mussels, asparagus, baby potatoes and cherry tomatoes in a rich creamy white sauce. There are plenty of vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options, so something for everyone.
As with many restaurants during quieter times, Zorba have lunch set menus from 12-5pm, Monday to Thursday. Unlike some they include at least five cold starters, six hot, ten mains and three desserts, thus making them well-liked by office groups and the Axa crowd, the biggest employer in the town. On all the major delivery platforms and delivering themselves, you can enjoy their food at home.
I end with a Turkish coffee in a very traditional ornate silver vessel. These added little touches make it such a pleasurable experience. It’s strong stuff, not for the faint-hearted, but I am used to it from many of my travels to Egypt. Just as I try to resist dessert they drop one serious plate of homemade baklava and pistachio covered vanilla ice cream in front of me. Pull me away now, I literally cannot stop eating it. Soft, sweet, flaky pastry and no hint of the teeth-sticking claggy stuff that you get in some establishments. This is my local Turkish restaurant and even the
dessert is superb.
I have to say the team make this place. Inviting and accommodating, nothing is too much trouble for them, especially Onur who can’t do enough to make me feel comfortable. It ain’t easy being a single diner sometimes, but he makes the whole experience amazing. We talk about the earthquake in Turkey. Luckily he has lost no family members but like so many, friends are lost and those surviving struggle. They had a fundraiser last week and I hope they will have more.
Thank you team Zorba. I’ll be back for even more of your wonderful hospitality, especially if that incredible baklava is on the menu!
All words are my own. Review exclusive to the TN card.
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