Food fashions, like most types of fashion in this country, usually come to life in London and are incomprehensible to me. I despise the ‘clean eating’ epidemic for it’s miss-information message wrapped up in a so-called healthy lifestyle (that is usually anything but) and for similar reasons that I will not wear low riding jeans or anything that has been pre-ripped before I buy it. But there are some fashions that do catch my attention and the paired back focus of less ingredients, more flavour approach of Turkish cooking is one. The Zouk Lounge is one of the four Turkish restaurants that have opened in Milton Keynes over the past year or so and with family living in Istanbul I feel qualified in providing you with a mildly insulting, colonially British judgment of their food.
EDIT – the Zouk Lounge has got in touch and has asked me to clarify that they are a Lebanese restaurant and not Turkish. I stand corrected and will immediately research the difference between the two.
Mrs P and I visited The Zouk on a Wednesday evening just after their opening and the politest way I can describe it is that it was ‘prepared for customers’. There had been no song and dance, no local announcement and as a result we didn’t exactly struggle to find a seat. We ordered some mixed cold mezza, a chicken shawarma wrap and the mixed grill. The service and food were both presented promptly and for the price, the portions were good. Mrs P had no complaints over her wrap and I couldn’t find much bad to say about my mixed grill either. The cold mezza and salad was bright and vibrant but if anything the flavour lacked that Turkish hit I’ve come to love. I’ve had better, although quite frankly I’ve also had much, much worse.
The mezza’s most controversial but pleasant addition was a spray of pickles which sat so nicely in and among the hummus but the pot of roasted aubergine and chickpeas just didn’t deliver much of of anything and was an unfortunate let down for us.
The best value for money to be had at the Zouk would have to be those wraps. At £6.50 ours was stuffed with well marinated chicken as well as plenty of salad and pickles. If the other wrap options follow the same principles then it has to rank right up there with one of the best lunch choices in Wolverton. Judging by the numbers of these flying out of the kitchen and into the bar area others agree – these are already becoming a hit and its easy to see why.
I think I should say here that I understand that my views on the food might be starting to sound fairly dull, however it’s worth pointing our that the grub is not necessarily the main draw for the Zouk. Clearly the café is a major part of the Zouk Lounge and if you fancy a quick bite then call in for a wrap and a few Kabis by all means but the key to this place is in the name; it’s the Zouk Lounge. As a restaurant, the frontage is clean and functional, it brings you what you need if not necessarily what you want. But the real point of this place is out the back, almost hidden behind the counter. For those of us who are too English for our own good (and I firmly count myself in that number), I genuinely felt like I was in a Guy Ritchie film as I made my way along a corridor and up into the real point of the place.
The lights were low, the ceiling glittered with starlight LED’s and the biggest TV I have ever seen stood proudly on the far wall while comfy chairs and sofas were clustered in groups around the room. In those chairs were people sucking on long tubes, sitting beside tall decorative pots and chatting. For those of you who have already experienced a Shisha bar, this may all sound comfortably familiar but for the rest of us, you may want to consider it a bit like a sports bar but with more cinnamon and vanilla.
It was through these miasmic drifts of scented and flavoured fog that Mrs P and I realised the whole point of the Zouke Lounge. You can go for the food, sure why not? You might even like it, it’s perfectly fine and the pricing is very reasonable. True, it’s not very exciting and there are other places that do it better but as a new breed of pub, it’s the sort of establishment that’s really finding a popular niche. Personally, sucking down on a Hookah isn’t my bag but if you like that sort of thing and there are more and more people who do, then this is one of the better options around.
In all fairness to them, I’m not sure that The Zouk Lounge will make into my Best Restaurants in Milton Keynes but who knows, stranger things have happened and I’m be happy to re-visit every now and then to grab me another one of those wraps.