Turkish food has witnessed a surge in popularity over the past few years. Known for its simplistic style and subtle use of spices, the cuisine recently made its foray into our side of the border with the launch of Şölen Istanbul.
With a name that literally translates to feast, Solen (pronounced Sho-len) is part of a Turkish restaurant chain headquartered in Istanbul. The eatery opened its first outlet at Dolmen Mall Clifton in Karachi on 15th February this year, making it the first Turkish restaurant in Pakistan.
The menu, though selective, promises popular Turkish dishes such as döner, köfte and lahmacun (pizza). What dampens one’s enthusiasm, however, is not the narrow choice but the fact that the menu is in Turkish!
One can understand that retaining the original name of each dish will help create consumer awareness about the new cuisine, but for something that is yet alien to many in the general population, a brief description of ingredients in English/Urdu would have gone a long way in making the menu reader-friendly.
For the main course, we ordered soslu tavak priced at PKR 399 and döner for PKR 499. As both the entrees were packaged in deals, the prices are tax inclusive but sans the discount advertised by the eatery.
Soslu Tavak (2/5)
Served with helpings of rice and pita bread, the dish caters to both rice and bread eaters. The chicken cooked in a sauce of crushed tomato, black pepper and red pepper flakes was doused with a heavy dose of olive oil which may make it unappealing for the weight conscious.
Typical to the cuisine, the dish was mildly spicy but did not do much to stimulate the taste buds. The rice sprinkled with tomato strips was underdone and the handful of fries/potatoes served on the side were soggy and stale. The salad of sliced cabbage and onion was also chewy and seemed to be recycled.
The helping was adequate for one person but given the quality, this dish did not score any points for value. It could have tasted much better had it been freshly prepared and served hot.
Crossing our fingers, we anxiously hoped that the döner would turn out to be the saving grace of the day. A Turkish specialty, the döner is prepared using either beef or mutton and is fashioned around thin shavings of sliced meat seasoned with herbs, suet (raw beef or mutton fat) and spices.
With a generous serving of beef, few fries and a salad of sliced tomatoes, cabbage and onion served on the side, the döner was a complete letdown. The vegetables in the salad were soggy while the meat was starchy and dry.
Worst of all, the beef was infused with the permeating odor and aftertaste of raw meat. The smell was so pungent that we could not eat it beyond a few mouthfuls!
When we shared our feedback with the management, we were curtly told that the restaurant serves only the highest quality products to its consumers. Suffice to say, we did not linger long after that.
The service needs to go up a notch. The waiting staff does not seem well-informed about the menu, although it is necessary considering that the menu is incomprehensible to diners due to the language barrier.
Moreover, the Turkish management needs to interact with patrons directly to address queries and complaints rather than directing them to the front-line staff.
HIT OR MISS? A MISS!
Like any new venture, Solen faces a unique set of challenges. Its biggest task is to educate common consumers and develop their penchant for Turkey’s unique taste.
I have a few suggestions that the management can follow:
- Adapt the menu in local language and include a description for each item to increase clarity. People will not eat what they do not understand. This will also decrease the long queue of confused customers looking for advice on what to order.
- Serving food at the right temperature is the basic standard that any eatery can follow – serve food hot and fresh and watch your sales go up.
- Expand the menu to include Turkish delicacies such as sac kavurma, mücver, kurufasulye, manti and dolma.
A little heads up: contrary to what is advertised on the menu, the eatery has yet to start its home delivery service.
My rating for Solen Istanbul is 2/5.