What price can you put on enthusiasm?
Take for example, the Antep Kitchen. It opened on the corner at the end of the Highstreet opposite Tesco a few months ago. It replaced a very dodgy curry house, which had, in turn, replaced several equally dodgy establishments serving up dull, unexciting takeaways with an atmosphere to match. To make their mark, and somehow having taken inspiration from Wolverton’s hardly burgeoning Turkish population, someone thought it would be a great idea to open a restaurant demonstrating just how toss the British idea of a kebab actually is. On the face of it, it’s clearly a staggeringly insane plan born from the mind of an utter lunatic, but wait. Something very odd is happening in Wolverton. Small, independent restaurants that create and serve with passion, skill and authenticity are thriving. Suddenly tapping into the British love for a good grilled shish that you don’t have to eat out of a factory molded pitta bread isn’t quite as crazy after all and so we found as we walked through the doors and into one of the busiest restaurants I’ve visited in a long time.
Clean, tidy and full of energy, the atmosphere was muted but bright enough to see right across the charcoal grill and into the open kitchen at the far end of the room. With tables full to bursting and waiters bustling through the throng, we squeezed in to our five seater in the corner and took a closer look at the menu. Mrs P, The Child and I spent some time in Turkey this year at a couple of wedding related events and hoped to recapture that sense of exotic discovery, as we chose the feta salad and grilled halloumi with the cold mixed meze to kick us off followed by the family platter for 5 people (don’t worry, it wasn’t just us: @SuburbanGent +1 gatecrashed as well).
Now that’s a mean meze
The feta was light and crumbly without the killer tidal wave of salt you get from your usual pre-packed examples but the grilled halloumi was deep and smokey from the grill, the ladies mentioned that they preferred Nando’s version but I scoffed in their faces like a chubby public school boy. We all know how much I love a good Nando’s but that squeaky rubber cheese is no match for this punchy slice of chargrilled dairy delight.
The meze was also good and to my non-professional tastebuds, as good as I got in a little cafe down on the beach off the Mediterranean sea. While true that you’ll never get the same ripe flavours here in room temperatures that can only dream of kissing double digits this time of year, the combinations were all there and just as enjoyable. A special mention must go out to the hummous because my God that stuff is good, I suspect it’s bought in but even if so, it’s near as dammit to the same stuff as we got in Turkey and just as phenomenal. But the real star was the bread that came with it because that really was fresh; puffy, soft and liberally sprinkled with poppy seeds it was frankly amazing and took me right back to the long hot days spent out on a Turkish beach*, I can seriously eat that all day long.
A Turkish grill masterclass
The main platter was a veritable mountain of meat, with chicken shish, lamb shish, lamb kofte, chicken wings and lamb chops on a bed of rice and salad. They claim it’s for 4 / 5 people but I say that unless you are Fat Man Fatty McGee**, you can add another two on there easily. The charcoal grill had been used expertly with it’s deep charred characteristics coming through really well. I have no idea what was in the marinade they use but but if you ever have thoughts about coming in to the Antep Kitchen, order the lamb chops and do it immediately so they know you’re not messing about. Just in case I’m not making myself clear enough: Order the lamb chops because they’re awesome.
Turkish Puddings that go beyond Baklava
Let’s be honest here; the puddings were good but not amazing, although I don’t mean that in a disparaging way at all. It’s just that from the rustic heights of the charcoal grill and beautiful pomegranate molasses drizzled salads, you are never going to get complicated puds that make you go ‘wow’! If you can, look past the what you would expect and try to broaden your horizons because there are jewels hidden in the menu. Between us we enjoyed the fudge cake, Baklava, Sütlaç, Ottoman Kadayifi and a decent Turkish coffee. All the deserts were perfectly nice and we polished off the lot, the waiter was rightly proud of the Sütlaç being as it was, made fresh in-house as an almost jellied rice pudding, as smooth and creamy as you could hope for. All told it was a pleasent way to finish the meal but nothing more.
That brings me back to my initial question then because can someone please explain to me how Wolverton is doing so much right when Milton Keynes is doing so much wrong? I mean, I just don’t understand what is drawing so many restauranteurs who are brave enough to do something different somewhere different. They may not all be award winners but every single one of them fight for your cash with passion and, if you’re lucky, some fairly decent skill as well. It might be the lower level of commercial rates, it might be the appeal of the Victorian terrace architecture or just maybe it could be the recognition that this area not only can but wants to support independent restaurants of cuisines from across the world with support from the local population.
In any case, at 90 quid all in for four adults and The Child, I might not understand it, but I certainly do love it.
Oh, and if you need any more recomendation, three days later I went back for lunch – 2 courses for 9 quid? Yes, I think so.
*Or in my case, trying to evade the sun by hiding desperately in the woods like some kind of sweaty English vampire.
**And I won’t be shy in saying that I’ve claimed that title a few times in the past.