I've always had a soft spot for Turkish cuisine. When I was 11, I visited Turkey, back when tourists still preferred the Costa Brava and it hadn't succumbed to egg, chips and Man United theme bars. Turkey was still pure, rustic Turkishness- all homemade flatbreads, dips reflecting every spectrum of the Scoville scale and freshly slaughtered lamb (I hadn't discovered vegetarianism at this stage!). In my early 20s, I lived in a Turkish neighbourhood of Berlin where every morning, I would be gently roused from my slumbers with the potent smells of Turkish Tea and sesame infused Simitci bread. As you have probably guessed, I became quite the Turkish food connoisseur. What really gets my goat is the fact that here in the UK, Turkish food is generally overpriced and what counts for street food in Turkey and Germany is billed as an expensive delicacy here. Put it this way, would you pay £10 for a chippy tea? Probably not.
Manchester's Efes cuisine offers a 'Mediterranean Buffet' of an afternoon for £8.95 so I thought this would be a bargain alternative to sample some of the treats I've been hankering after. My tastebuds were watering at the thought- I was imagining Imam Bayildi, Borek, Lahmacun and maybe a sweet treat of Kunefe to finish. Sadly, this was not to be the case.
Efes is tastefully decorated- modern without being stark, still managing to attain that cosiness synonymous with 1980s tavernas. It even had a dance floor and a stage for the night. I glanced at the 'normal' menu and it seemed delicious- all the traditional meze dishes were present and correct, albeit dearer than Turkey and Turkish expat communities. The staff didn't strike me as overtly friendly, a bit brusque, telling diners where they can and can't sit, a bit rich considering the restaurant was a sea of empty tables. The below pic illustrates why it was empty:
Does this cuisine look Turkish or remotely Mediterranean to you? Fair enough, chips are universal, but the only place this reminds me of is the leftovers of a council estate street party in Salford. The theme of it could be 'that's why Mum's gone to Iceland and stopped off at Farmfoods on the way back'. Let me talk you through the delicacies.
Starters- First of all was lentil soup, obviously a packet one, its only concession to Turkishness was that it bore the legend 'Mercimek Corbasi' (That's Turkish for lentil soup). At least there is someone Turkish speaking working here, or maybe they just googled it. Next was a bread selection which was really good- a mix of Turkish sesame seed bread and some lovely Continental seeded rolls. Salad was also delicious with some lovely dressings on.
Mains- a selection of pizzas which reminded me of Aldi's 3 for £3 big box of frozen pizzas that I was so fond of as a penniless student. Ok at a house party, but not at a buffet for £8.95. Also on offer were some onion rings, chips and other UFOs (unidentifiable fried oddities) that looked like Findus Crispy Pancakes but were something else from Iceland. A few hot dishes were on offer like Cannelloni and a few stews that looked a bit too stewed, including a veggie option of chickpeas in an unpleasant tomato sauce. I sought respite in the cold selection where I finally spotted some Med dishes- stuffed vine leaves, tzatziki and hummus. Phew, at last. This wasn't enough for the price though, If I'd have wanted some cold appetisers, I would have went to Katsouris and paid £5. Maybe the desserts would blow my socks off- I have previously been impressed in cheap Chinese buffets with their ice cream and gateaux, plus the Britannia 3 course deal for £6.50 always has amazing cakes that would cost £3 a slice in normal cafes.
What a letdown. The desserts included fruit- I love fruit but eat it all the time at home, not exactly a treat when you go out for a meal, profiteroles coated in a sickly chocolate sauce, bananas coated in same sickly sauce and Brioche. Now, I don't mind Brioche when I'm breakfasting in a cheap hotel on the Costa Brava, but it's not exactly a moreish dessert to round off a meal! Moreover, everyone knows they're a quid in Aldi.
Efes, you could do so much better. You have a great central location, a niche market and sound like an absolutely fabulous place to party the night away. Remember, you are first and foremost a restaurant and your 'cheap' lunch deal should either be that- cheap to compete with all the £6 buffets in the area, or a good quality product to entice people to come back of a night and spend even more money with you. People want to step into a Mediterranean paradise, not be reminded of school dinners and cheapo holiday all inclusive buffets. Sorry Efes, that don't impress me much.