We moved to North Finchley over 20 years ago, and discovered Izgara restaurant in Central Finchley not long after it opened in 1999. Although it’s not as local as the restaurants along our own high street 1.5 miles to the north, we loved the Turkish menu, friendly service and the windows all along the front face.
But as time went by, and some pretty decent Turkish and Persian restaurants opened even nearer to home, we sort of kind of forgot about Izgara and our visits petered out. So I was delighted to be contacted and told about their refurbishment and rebranding last year; Izgara is now Ishtah, and has a bright, colourful modern interior. The good news is that the menu is much the same, offering many of the favourites we remembered.
Located within very short distance of Finchley Central tube station, and with bus stops for several routes also nearby, it’s easy to get to not only for locals but those a little further afield. After our utterly delicious lunch last week, I’m kicking myself for letting this gem fall by the wayside, and I know we’ll become firm regulars again from now on.
The dining area is divided into two main spaces, and the spaces formerly occupied by somewhat incongruous toilets along the back wall have now been added to the restaurant space – new toilets have been built downstairs. Colours are yellow wooden tables, white tableware and turquoise and orange soft furnishings. It’s altogether more attractive, and I like it.
As soon as we’ve ordered, a basket of mixed Turkish breads is provided, alongside a fantastically delicious chilli dip and a refreshing mint and garlic one. The first dish I order is the one I loved the most when we used to visit – patlican soslu (£4.45); soft pieces of aubergine in a rich tomato sauce with mixed peppers and onions, this is just as wonderful as I remembered, and perfect with the bread.
Sigara boregi (£4.45) are a very generous portion of four large cigar-shaped pastries – halloumi cheese and fresh herbs wrapped in filo pastry and deep fried. Really light, and a perfect balance of crisp and soft, these are wonderful, though quite filling so beware if you’ve got a large main to come!
I can rarely resist hellim (£4.95), or squeaky cheese as we usually call it. The quality of this Greek Cypriot halloumi is excellent, a pleasingly soft cheese and not overly salty like some halloumi can be, this is very decent. I think the portion is a touch small for the price, as there’s little preparation work, unlike the boregi, but it’s very tasty.
From the Special section of the menu, Pete chooses chicken imam bayildi (£9.45), a whole skinned aubergine cooked till meltingly soft and filled with marinated chicken and mixed vegetables in a tomato-based sauce. On top is cheese, grilled to melting. It’s simple, absolutely full of flavour and delicious.
I know it’s going to be a little too much but I go for the mixed grill (£12.95) as I just can’t choose which of the many grill items to order. I am served crisp-skinned chicken wings, soft chicken fillet pieces, a beautifully spiced adana kofte (minced lamb kebab), cubes of lamb shish, a lamb rib and (sadly not very visible in my photograph) an utterly fabulous lamb chop. All the meat is excellent, with great flavour and tenderness but the lamb cuts blow me away. The lamb rib is packed full of flavour and the lamb chop is grilled to perfection, properly browned on the outside, pink inside and with a golden brown fringe of fat all down one edge. I’m in meatlover heaven! The classic side salad served alongside is all I need, but of course, you can order fries, rice or more bread if you prefer. I’d say this is perfect to share between two but I’d have to fight you for the lamb chop!
My non-alcoholic tropical delight cocktail (£5.45) was the only misstep of the meal – described as a blend of coconut milk, pineapple and mango juice, the balance was completely off and it was like drinking a glass of straight coconut milk with only the merest hint of fruit juices present.
Pete was far happier with his Efes beer (£3.95), a light refreshing and innocuous Turkish lager.
After our dinner, we skipped dessert – the baklava was not available and we’d eaten too much anyway. Instead we enjoyed a Turkish coffee, rich and strong but not too bitter, and tea served in a little glass mug that took me straight back to Istanbul (£2.25 each). A little dish of Turkish delight was served alongside.
It’s easy to be blase about Turkish restaurants as there are so many to be found, certainly in North London at any rate. But not all Turkish restaurants are equal and it was really very lovely to rediscover an old favourite, and to realise it performs very highly indeed compared to those we’ve visited more recently. The quality of the food and cooking are very good, as are the ingredients themselves. Service is friendly and efficient, as it should be from a long-standing team.
You may enjoy this recipe for traditional Turkish borek.
Kavey Eats dined as guests of Ishtah restaurant, for review purposes. Prices listed within the review are lunch time pricing. Please see website for evening prices.