Dinner at Pircio, Bishop's Stortford
PUBLISHED: 13:44 02 October 2018
Brian Arnopp Images
Offering both Turkish and Italian cuisine, this large restaurant in the historic Drill Hall in Bishop’s Stortford manages to pull off variety in enjoyable style
Google Pircio and the first words you see are ‘Italian restaurant’. TripAdvisor goes one better: ‘Italian, Turkish, vegetarian-friendly’. On Facebook, it’s ‘Mediterranean restaurant in Bishop’s Stortford’. All things to all people, then.
A friend told me ahead of my visit Pircio was Turkish, which is fine by me, but the website had another surprise – click on ‘Menus’ and you will indeed find a long list of Turkish favourites, some well known and some not so much. But then comes the message, ‘Check out our Italian dishes on the other side’. Confused? You probably will be.
Thing is, it works. The other thing to know about Pircio is it is huge. Housed in Bishop’s Stortford’s former Drill Hall in the town centre, it offers up to 500 covers on Friday and Saturday evenings, though a fair proportion of those are outside and therefore weather-dependent. But on the summer Saturday evening of my visit, it was packed inside and out, many of the happy diners clearly repeat visitors.
Crowded restaurants are not among my favourites. Nearby customers describing their latest holidays at the tops of their voices to their friends I can do without while I am eating. Pircio gets away with it partly through a clever layout that creates seating areas screened from one another and partly by its sheer exuberance. There might be a bit of a wait between courses on busy days but they seem to be up to it.
Our waiter certainly was, discussing the menu, delivering the food and checking how we liked it with the odd joke and lightness of touch that certainly impressed the ladies, along with the rest of us. Maybe we caught him on a good day, but I have known places with far fewer covers where indifferent service that the restaurant attempts to excuse because it’s busy can spoil the whole occasion.
Pircio almost full was certainly noisy but it was fun to be part of it. I counted seven birthdays being celebrated – you can tell because each one qualifies for a cake, a candle, a funny hat and a song from the staff – and several other obviously special occasions too. It could have been annoying but instead it was bright, brash, boisterous and entertaining.
The menu matched the atmosphere. Always preferring the different over the everyday, we went Turkish – or is it Mediterranean? – rather than Italian but either way, the choice was lavish. Beetroot and quinoa tarator (£5.95, bottom right) was a suitably exotic starter, tarator usually described as between a soup and a dip but here thickened by the addition of garlic yoghurt and decorated with pomegranate. One of our party had just sampled this dish at Barbary in Covent Garden and it was completely different, as is the way with regional cuisines, but both were highly rated. Another starter was chargrilled spicy garlic Turkish beef sausage, known as Sucuk (£5.95), another hit.
Among the mains, a lamb Iskender (£17.95, far left), caught the eye. Named for its creator, Iskender Efendi, this had chargrilled cubes of lamb laid on a bed of diced bread coated with tomato sauce and yogurt. Like most of Pircio’s mains, it filled the plate and proved a substantial and tasty treat. Equally popular with the party were a spicy lamb pot (£17.95) with diced lamb cooked with onion, coconut cream, garlic and a ginger-based spicy sauce and served with bulgur pilaf; and chicken shish kofte (£15.95, left), marinated chicken grilled on a skewer, also with bulgur pilaf and enhanced with a salad and chilli sauce.
There were four of us but we barely scratched the surface of Pircio’s Turkish/Mediterranean menu such was the variety of dishes and quantity of food delivered with each. And we barely looked at the Italian side. We’ll just have to go back.
The cost of this meal was £40 a head including drinks, coffee, fresh mint tea in a silver pot, and service. This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
Drill Hall, Market Square. Bishop’s Stortford CM23 3UU. 01279 898181
Three of a kind
• The Grapevine
Consistently well reviewed Letchworth favourite. Chicken shish a favourite with customers, plus Turkish mixed grill (karisik isgara).
14 Leys Avenue, Letchworth SG6 3EU. 01462 677522
Bright and busy diner-style restaurant with interesting and lengthy menu including beetroot tarator among the starters and a signature lamb shish heading the mains list.
12 Cockfosters Parade, Barnet EN4 0BX. 020 8449 7771
Major trend-setter on the St Albans foodie scene, now also in Berko. Stuffed courgette flower and lor tempura a popular starter, bonfile with charred tenderstem broccoli among mains.
6 Spencer Street, St Albans AL3 5EG. 01727 569068, (also in Berkhamsted)