Here at Forks-Up, we generally aim to feature only independent restaurants in our restaurant reviews. After all, a Pizza Express pizza is a Pizza Express pizza, whether you’re in the City or the suburbs, the West End or the West Country. But for an ambitious independent restaurateur who sees his business going from strength to strength, the obvious next step is probably to open another branch. And then another. And another. So where is the tipping point? When does an independent restaurant become a chain restaurant? The Tas Group, with its seven restaurants across London, is possibly a borderline case. But the excellent pre-theatre location of its branch on The Cut, within spitting distance of both the Old and Young Vics, together with its vast offering of moderately priced, delicious Turkish food meant I just couldn’t rule it out.
My dining partner and I chose Tas for dinner before a show at the Young Vic one Saturday evening. We enjoyed a complimentary small dish of olives and slices of fluffy Turkish bread with a garlic-yoghurt dip as we browsed the extensive menu. There are several keenly priced set menus that offer a selection of mezzes as recommended by the kitchen. But my dining partner and I preferred to select according to our own tastes. We were pretty hungry and decided to go all out, sharing three starters between the two of us. The Zeytin Yagli Patlican was a deliciously rustic blend of stewed aubergines, tomatoes, garlic, peppers and chickpeas. It was served chilled, which really allowed the meltingly soft textures and sweet flavours to come out. A dish of humus was wonderfully smooth and creamy, perfect for smearing on more of that fluffy bread, which was almost focaccia-like in its airiness and topped with a scattering of black and white sesame seeds. Pacanga, deep fried filo parcels of mushrooms, cashar cheese and oak smoked beef, were delightfully rich, the beef full-flavoured and smoky, the mushrooms woody and the cheese just slightly salty. They were served with a salad of finely chopped parsley, onion and tomato, which cut through the fattiness of the meat and the pastry just perfectly.
For main course, I chose the Kul Basti, chargrilled fillet of lamb with oregano, served with couscous and a dainty portion of pickled cabbage salad. The lamb was simply divine – incredibly tender and melt in the mouth, with the simple, delicate aroma of the oregano just strong enough to tease my tastebuds without taking away from the natural flavour of the meat. The couscous was extremely tasty, brightened in cooking with what I assume was a tomato-based paste, and peppered with tiny pieces of onion, while the pickled cabbage salad had a wonderful sharpness. My dining partner’s mixed grill, which included generous helpings of chicken and lamb shish, and lamb kofte, was equally impressive. Ezme Salata, a side salad of finely chopped onions, tomatoes, green peppers and parsley was a good accompaniment, with the bitterness of the parsley and green peppers providing a welcome dose of freshness after all that meat. The onion was a little too dominant a flavour for my personal taste, but it didn’t dampen my dining partner’s enthusiasm in the slightest.
As we finished our mains, we were really quite full, but I had been tempted by the dessert menu at the outset (it’s also the drinks menu, so it was handed to us with the main menu as we were seated). We opted to share a portion of the Kazandibi, which is described on the menu as “upside down milk pudding”. Topped with fantastically aromatic spices including sweet cinnamon and intense nutmeg, and with a texture similar to a panna cotta it felt deliciously decadent in the mouth and was a fitting end to a very satisfying meal.
The wine list at Tas isn’t bad, and the House red and white are both Turkish, giving curious drinkers a chance to sample something a little different. But my dining partner and I were tempted away from the wine by the offer of organic mulberry juice – intensely sweet but still extremely refreshing, with a unique taste that’s not like any fruit I’ve tried before, I would definitely recommend it. With minimal space between tables, you can just about rub elbows with your neighbours, and the harsh acoustics make for a level of background noise that some might find intrusive. Its excellent location makes Tas a favourite with pre-theatre diners, so the restaurant was full to bursting. As a result, the atmosphere felt slightly hurried and the service was a touch haphazard, with only five waiters looking after the entire dining room. Our bill came in at about £26 per head including service, which is pretty good value given the sheer amount of food we got through. On the basis of this experience, I rate Tas at three and a half Forks-Up, but I know from other occasions that they can excel, easily meriting four Forks-Up when they’re less busy. Perhaps one to save for a weekday evening.Tas, 33 The Cut London SE1 8LF Tel: 020 7928 1444 www.tasrestaurants.co.uk