In the UK, the usual expectation of Turkish or Middle Eastern food is a late-night shish kebab and chips, its diners too drunk to realise what they are actually eating. However, Constantinople Cafe and Bistro, located opposite Norfolk Square, challenges this vision with a vast number of possibilities of delicious Middle Eastern delicacies.
Upon arriving at the bistro, we were greeted with warm welcomes and smiles from the owners allowing us to sit wherever we pleased. It was the end of a busy lunchtime, and the room was still bustling with guests while the aromatic smells of spices flooded the room.
Upon seating, my two companions and I were explained the traditions behind the lunch and dinner menu, and found that the family behind Constantinople still run a similar restaurant in Istanbul – as they have done for the last ten years. With their expertise on hospitality and designing authentic Kurdish food, with influences from the Middle East and the Mediterranean, it was not hard to feel at home in this traditional setting. Light jazz played softly in the background as we scanned the menu, stuck on what to eat.
As we mulled over our choices, the owners explained that they wanted to subvert the stereotypes of a typical keba and showcase the other delicacies Turkey has on offer, the varying mezes. Everything just sounded so good, so in the end we asked if we could have a selection of some of the chef’s favourites to share and feast on.
While we waited, a jug of lightly flavoured mint water was brought for the table, along with some Armenian wine. One of my companions was delighted to see this on offer as it was her favourite, and she soon had both my other dining guest and myself on board – the sweet red went down so smoothly, particularly considering I’m not accustomed to its varying flavours.
Trays full of dips, dishes and homemade pitta soon arrived, the smoky spices filling the air as they were placed in front of us, followed by dish after dish until no fewer than 12 adorned the table for us to feast upon. We were explained what was in each one by our server, then dug in.
First up, we decided to try all of the dips, a table favourite being the courgette tarator, a rich creamed dip made with yogurt and tons of garlic. Among the other dips were a carrot tatator, traditional baba ganoush topped with juicy pomegranate seeds, and hummus. The latter was truly unlike any shop bought tub we had ever tried: extremely silky smooth and runny, topped with olive oil, paprika and green olives. All four dips perfectly complimented the warm pitta.
Next up were the fried pastry rolls. Being a vegetarian myself, I opted for the ones filled with spinach and feta, while my companions tried Paçanga, filled with pastrami and tomato. Both were crowd pleasers for the table too, and perfect for dipping into the garlicky tarator dips.
A personal favourite among the vegetarian options (which was most of the mezze options, I must add!), were the dolmas – stuffed roasted peppers, aubergines and onions with a thick tomato spiced rice. The vegetables were unlike any roasted vegetables I’d ever tasted before; so juicy and full of flavour. Definitely a dish I would pick again for myself.
A few dishes my meat-eating companions tried included calamari mucver, almost patty like filled with spices and cheese, and süslü uskumru, steamed mackerel in a mustard, soy and dill sauce. I was told both were rich in flavour from the fish and the spices.
I was also surprised to find a brunch favourite – shakshuka, roasted vegetables in a tomato and green pepper sauce – on our table. But this, alongside Kurdish kurylic kibbish (little pastries served with salad, pomegranate sauce and tzatziki dip) was as authentic as it gets.
Constantinople’s Bistro and Café is open from 10am to 11pm every day, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner deals. And with a cocktail menu soon on the way, this hotspot in Hove is definitely a new favourite of mine to feast in.