On Monday night, myself and my three housemates (feeling lazy and not wanting to cook for ourselves) decided that we'd head out down Cowley Road to find somewhere to have dinner, quickly settling on nef'Istanbul. We arrived in dribs and drabs, which involved a lot of polite questions from the waiting staff about whether we were ready to order anything yet. We were very kindly brought a complimentary basket of bread while we were deciding, which came with a selection of olives, garlic yoghurt and a very spicy tomato paste. We (finally!) decided on a bottle of the house red, which though a little expensive, was very pleasant. Feeling a bit greedy, we also ordered some garlic bread and houmus to tide us over before the last of our party arrived.
It's obvious that a lot of time and effort has gone into making nef'Istanbul look good - the simplicity of their blue and gold colour scheme works well and allows for extravagances like the murals of Turkish landscapes and the statement origami-bird lighting. My only qualms with the atmosphere were the slightly sporadic playlist that kept starting and stopping at different volumes throughout our visit, and the lighting, which was incredibly bright. If they could just dim the lights a little, the restaurant would have less of a canteen feel and would bring out the classiness they're going after with the decor and furnishings.
Three of us, given the relatively small amount of vegetarian mains on offer, went for a mezze plate of Felafel, Halloumi, Borek and Houmus as our main. This came with the chef's salad (mixed leaves, picked red cabbage and shredded carrot) and white rice. I wholeheartedly enjoyed every element of the selection, though special mention has to go to the halloumi, which was thickly sliced and deliciously smoky from the grill. Though initially it didn't look like a lot of food, we were all stuffed by the end, but that may have had something to do with the slightly ludicrous amount of bread we'd got through before our mains... The one meat-eater among us opted for Iskender, a dish of Kofte, Lamb Shish and Lamb Doner on a bread base, covered with Anatolian sauce and yoghurt. While he thought the meat itself was excellent, the bread and vegetables in the sauce were a bit too soggy for him, and he looked envious of our seemingly never-ending platters.
With absolutely no room left for desert, we finished our meal with a complimentary glass of tea, excellent for cleaning the palate. Overall, the food at nef'Istanbul was really tasty and good value for money, even if their drinks menu is quite pricey. The staff were a delight and didn't rush us out, even when we were the last table left in the restaurant. I'll almost certainly be going back, but with the hope that their atmosphere is a bit more settled next time.