Tucked away from the main streets of Harrogate, sharing a modest side road with terraced houses and offices, is Konak Meze - a restaurant that’s definitely worth seeking out.
In this case, first impressions are deceptive. It may look small from the outside but there’s a real feeling of roominess inside, with two separate dining areas and a small bar. The atmosphere is relaxed, combining intimacy with personal space and privacy at your table.
There’s also a genuine sense of character. This is not one of those homogenised, carefully constructed eating places that you can find in any British town or city, usually linked to a culinary celebrity name or chain.
Step inside Konak Meze and you’re transported from a grey and chilly Harrogate town centre into the warm and welcoming ambience of a truly Turkish restaurant.
There’s traditional music playing unobtrusively and the blackboard above the bar supplies essential details – with translations of useful Turkish words and phrases like “welcome”, “one beer please” and “bill please” as well as many others. “Welcome” is “Hoşgeldiniz”, by the way. I also noted that the restaurant advertises entertainment from a belly dancer, although this particular attraction is only on the menu on the last Friday of every month.
Konak Meze – roughly translated as “home of appetisers” – has been around for a while and the staff clearly know what they are doing. It is owned and run by Fettah Alkoc and Firat Bulut. Fettah has more than 35 years’ experience as a chef, while Firat has worked front of house for two decades. Everything is cooked to order and diners are promised a taste of Turkish tradition with a light modern twist.
We arrived after the main lunchtime rush and were ushered to a prime window-side table looking out on the shoppers strolling by on a quiet Saturday afternoon on the back route from Harrogate’s Conference Centre into town. In a welcome touch, we were offered a jug of water without prompting while deciding on our drinks and food.
This took a little time. Konak Meze offers a wide selection that will satisfy most tastes. Meat is prominent, of course, but there are plenty of fish and vegetarian options.
We could have chosen the very reasonable special lunch offer - £9.95 for two courses or £12.95 for three - but decided to push the boat out with a shared selection of hot starters for £12.50, called the Konak Meze (Hot). Meze, incidentally, is the Turkish version of hors d’oeuvres or appetisers similar in many ways to Spanish tapas
Obligingly, they were happy to swap the meat Kofte usually provided with this starter for Arnavut Cigeri – lamb’s liver sautéed in butter with caramelised red onions. This is apparently an original 17th century Ottoman street food dish and it was delicious.
The liver was accompanied by Hellumi (chargrilled goat cheese), Sucuk (spicy beef sausages), Kalamar (squid rings), Falafel (chickpea rissoles), Sigara Boregi (fried filo pastry parcels filled with spinach and feta cheese) and Patates Koftesi (deep fried patties with cheese, parsley and herbs). Everything was superbly done and really amounted to a full meal in itself.
After all that, it was almost an effort to face our main courses, Kofte (beef meatball patties with rice and sautéed vegetables, £11.95) for me and the special (generous chunks of lamb topped with cheese and accompanied with rice, £14.95) for my dining companion.
Both were delicious - and very substantial.
Once again, each of these was perfectly prepared and would have been more than enough as a single dish for lunch.
We accompanied the main course with a bottle of the excellent Turkish dry white wine recommended by the waiter. It was Cankaya, which is new to me but has become the best-selling wine in Turkey, a slightly aromatic, very fresh-tasting blend of four different grapes from Anatolia. It cost a reasonable £18.95.
Before soldiering on with the desserts, we took a short break to digest our meal. My companion had a cup of Turkish Cay (tea), £1.25, while I recovered with the very stron g and distinctive Turkish coffee, £2.45.
As we relaxed, the staff were still hard at work. First they went out of their way to warn customers that a traffic warden was at work in the streets outside, then they happily posed for pictures with a couple of young diners - supplying them with Fez hats for the picture opportunity. It’s clear they care about their customers.
There is a small selection of desserts, all with a Turkish theme. I had the Sutlac, baked rice pudding served with Turkish delight ice cream (£4.50) – a fresh experience for me which was well worth trying.
My companion, whose appetite was noticeably flagging at this stage, did well to finish most of the Seker Pare (£4.25), a substantial serving of semolina cookies (which are more like small cakes) with ice cream. In the interests of research, I tried a spoonful and it was delicious.
It’s not hard to see why Konak Meze rates so highly with diners and is currently ranked number one among Harrogate restaurants on Tripadvisor.
It offers great (and very filling) food along with exceptionally efficient, friendly service and excellent value – the total bill for our three course meal with wine, tea and coffee came to a very reasonable £70.80.
I’ll be seeking it out again.
Address: 11-13 Mount Parade, Harrogate HG1 1BX
Tel: 01423 500330
Opening times: Tuesday-Saturday 12 noon-10pm (last orders). Sunday 12 noon–9pm (last orders). Closed Mondays.