Dinner review: The Grapevine, Letchworth
PUBLISHED: 10:07 17 July 2017
Brian Arnopp Images
Until recently lacking in many good places to eat and drink, the centre of Letchworth is having something of a mini-revolution. Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne samples a Turkish restaurant that’s part of the movement
Letchworth’s new look town centre scored another win late last year with the opening of the Grapevine, a small but well turned out restaurant in Leys Avenue offering the rapidly growing favourite of ‘Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine’. It has already set itself apart by defying convention and doing without a website, which seems a strange omission these days. Manager Öymen Özdemir explained this away by saying the Turkish prefer to do things by word of mouth, which is fair enough if enough people are talking about you, which fortunately for his business they seem to be.
In a market in danger of being swamped by Italian, Chinese and Thai restaurants, not to mention the resurgent English/British cuisine, there is an extra touch of the exotic about places like the Grapevine. The mix of fragrant and spiced meats often chargrilled, onions and peppers and more create an atmosphere redolent of long and lazy days in the sun; difficult to resist. Judging by the numbers of customers present on the evening I visited, Letchworth is happy to give in.
Website absence there may be, but if Facebook, TripAdvisor and the rest are the modern equivalents of word of mouth, Öymen has every reason to be happy. Facebook awards the restaurant 4.7 out of five, based on 114 reviews at the time of writing. Of those, 94 give the Grapevine the full monty and 13 awarded it four, Of 26 reviews on TripAdvisor, 53 per cent rated the Grapevine excellent and 26 per cent very good.
The menu follows a familiar path for those who know their cuisines and gives plenty of choice, with 11 cold and 12 hot starters, 12 mains, seven Turkish thin base pizzas, five pides (or pittas) and five vegetarian dishes. There are also mezze platters for sharing. In the absence of a separate menu, dessert details are relayed by – ahem – word of mouth, but include baklava and cheesecake, and there is authentic Turkish coffee, served in a cup with a traditional silver cover. Service on the evening we were there was efficient and friendly, with our opinions on the food sought at regular intervals and a willingness to explain any unfamiliar-looking dishes.
In the event, our choices were straightforward. A cold starter of slow oven roasted peppers, aubergine, garlic and yogurt (patlican salatasi, for those wishing to learn the language) was a refreshing – and colourful – plateful at £4.95, while pan-fried traditional garlic sausage (sucuk, also £4.95) with vine tomatoes and mixed peppers, served with homemade bread, won the prize among the hot dishes.
For mains, we were spoiled for choice with an array of chicken, lamb or mixed plates. In the interests of my research, I chose the mixed grill (karisik izgara, £13.95), which allowed me to play among an assortment of kebabs including lamb shish, kofte (meatballs), chicken shish and pirzola (small bone-in chops), served with bulgur salad and cacik, another name for tzatziki.
Cooked perfectly in the busy open kitchen, domain of head chef Cihan Col, it was an ideal introduction to the variety of food on offer, with the various meats set off in good fashion by the cacik. My other half settled for the rather more straightforward chicken shish (tavuk izgara, £12.95), a marinated breast served with bulgur rice, salad cacik and bread, with which she pronounced herself very happy. For dessert, we shared a baklava, which seemed an appropriate choice given the surroundings.
The Grapevine was a fun place to be. Nothing pretentious and the menu much as you would expect, but everything done well, and at a reasonable price. As often happens, we barely scratched the surface of what was available, which is a very good reason to go back, as many Letchworth residents seem to be doing.
The cost of this meal for two with two glasses of wine was £45.90, plus tip.
This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and visited by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
3 OF A KIND - Turkish dining
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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.
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Major trend-setter on the St Albans foodie scene, now also in Berkhamsted. Stuffed courgette flower and lor tempura a popular starter, bonfile with charred tenderstem broccoli among mains.
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