Apologies for not having blogged lately - but I promise it's not because I've been lazy! I've been keeping myself very busy with several new commitments, and before that, E and I went on a spontaneous camping trip to the middle of nowhere, which I highly recommend if you're too short on cash to take a holiday to a tropical island, but still want to get away from cellphones, internet, civilisation... total peaceful bliss.
We weren't feeling very peaceful or blissful upon our return, though; the long drive back had left us tired, cranky, and most of all, hungry, as long drives back from the middle of nowhere are inclined to do. And in light of the fact that E was about to leave Wellington for a couple months at his parents' house, we headed to one of his favourite Turkish restaurants, Harem in Manners Mall.
The first thing you notice upon entering is this rather striking grotto-like staircase that leads to Harem's upstairs dining room.
Stalagtites hang from the ceiling, illuminated by colourful lights... this definitely isn't your average restaurant entryway.
Inside, the dining room is less cave-like but just as whimsically decorated, with stained glass, stone walls, and little nooks and crannies housing various objects.
Upon being seated, E and I were surprised with some complimentary garlic bread (menu price $6.50). I'm not sure if this is a usual practice at dinnertime, since we usually go to Harem for lunch, but our grumbling stomachs appreciated the gesture. A divinely chewy Turkish bread (which also forms the base for Harem's Turkish pizzas), slathered with garlic butter - I had forgotten how good garlic bread can be.
Since we were extra hungry, we ordered sigara boregi ($10) to start, not quite sure what we would be getting. These crispy fried filo rolls looked a little like spring rolls, but the filling was entirely different - herbs, feta and mozzarella melted together to form a mild but comfortingly creamy, oozy interior.
E ordered the kusbasili pizza ($17.50), an oblong pide, or Turkish pizza, with a supple, airy crust topped with seasoned lamb, tomato, red onion, capsicum and herbs.
The crust had that chewy, crispy consistency you find on the best Italian woodfired pizzas, but was thicker and more substantial. The topping was delicately flavoured, not overpowered by cheeese and sauce like some pizzas can be. E declared it the best pizza in Wellington (I'll probably stick to my Italian favourites but Harem's pide is definitely among my top 5).
Wanting to try something different-sounding, I ordered kabak boregi($19.50), shredded pumpkin and mozzarella cheeses sandwiched between layers of filo pastry, served with salad and sweet chilli sauce. It wasn't bad - but compared to other dishes I've had at Harem I think it lacked the fresh, made-to-order quality of, say, the pizzas or our entree. The filo crust wasn't particularly crispy, but rather soft and chewy. In the grand scheme of things, it was still entirely palatable, but I probably wouldn't order it next time.
Despite the slight disappointment, I still enjoyed my meal, and have had enough fantastic meals there in the past that it didn't tarnish my opinion of Harem. The breads and pizzas are hard to beat, and the atmosphere feels like something out of a fairy tale. Service has always been prompt and friendly, though I've only really been there at off-peak times so don't know what it's like, say, on a Saturday night. Overall, it's a special little place. Recommended.
Harem Cafe and Meze Bar
1F, 90 Manners Mall
(04) 499 9771
Open for lunch (11:30am-3pm) and dinner (5pm-late)