Sofra Turkish Cafe & Restaurant
Turkish cuisine remained much of a mystery for the better part of my awareness, since I must admit that I carelessly bunch Turkish, Moroccan, Tunisian and Lebanese all under the gigantic umbrella of Middle Eastern cuisine. I’m horrid, I know. It’s like how Chinese food is no different from Japanese, Korean or Thai to plenty of people. But I have an excuse, and you must grant me this at least: I have never had Turkish cuisine in my entire life, because if I had, I would have been making pita bread all my life had I known that homemade, freshly made flatbreads were just so darn good.
Doner Kebabs roasting on vertical spits.
We have some pretty good Middle Eastern restaurants scattered over the island, most of which I’ve heard are congregated in Haji Lane and Arab Street, some in East Coast, and a couple others on Bussorah Street. And I’ve never been to a single one. I know! What’s wrong with me?!
Well, Sofra is located in the unobtrusive and dowdy-looking Shaw Towers along Beach Road. It’s a reasonable, 8-minute walk from Raffles City, or cut through Bras Basah complex to shave of a couple of minutes. Here, I’m telling you that it’s just 8 minutes to exotic and affordable food (‘exotic’ because anything and everything else is shiny and new outside of Koufu and Kopitiam).
You know you are in good hands when the manager and all three chefs working with grim determination in the kitchen are native Turkish. And speaking of the kitchen, I particularly loved the large glass window looking into it from the dining area. It boasts of confidence and a puffed-chest-king-kong-thumpy-thump sort of pride that says ‘we have nothing to hide!’
And they didn’t.
Sheepy Chef. Flappy delivery window with fascinating poofy bread on the sill.
Most of my time was spent hovering by the window, camera in hand, coaxing the chefs to smile sheepishly for a couple of shots to which they obliged bashfully. The rotating doner kebabs on their vertical spits called for much attention as well, and the chefs put on a dynamic show of sharpening their half-a-metre-long knives before artfully shaving thin slivers of meat from the gigantic stacks. I’m sure they wouldn’t have bothered if I wasn’t standing there. I would have poked my head through the adorable swinging side window to say hi if I wasn’t certain I’d scare the heebejeebes outta them.
Doner Kebab. Godly-looking knives.
I knew the menu line-up that we had arranged with the Sofra manager, and it was his splendid idea to have 4 people share a combination of 4 different main courses instead one to each. For those who know me rather well, I’m very agreeable to communal dining. I’d start using my hands to shove food into my mouth too if everyone else did. I like to feel my food, you know, really get in there. Right, pardon me.
So we had our refreshing little appetizer, a mix of green and red bell peppers, chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, and a lone, unpitted black olive atop the pile. I love my veg so I was thrilled by such an unadulterated, lightly-dressed salad.
Red Lentil Soup. Bazlama Bread. ($3.80)
The Red Lentil Soup that came after wasn’t all that favourable with everyone, but I found it interesting, thick and flavourful with the earthy-ness of the lentils, various other vegetables and a hint of smokey cumin. The sesame-studded bread that came with it was a hit though, and I’d reckon that it’s Bazlama, a type of flat and circular leavened Turkish bread. All their breads are baked to order, fresh and warm. I’d know, since I spent a lot of time getting the chef in charge of the bread station to spare a handful of seconds for a picture, in between kneading and rolling and sliding the supple dough into the oven.
Shish Kebap. ($14.50)
And it wouldn’t be a Turkish meal without Shish Kebap (Kebab/kebap) would it? I’m not so sure why the menu description says it comes with ‘cracked wheat’, since the plate seemed more like a generous platter of vegetables, protein and carbohydrates. It was a melange of pickled red cabbage, onions, roasted peppers, tomatoes, deliciously smokey chicken and beef chunks, and a tasty mound of short-grain rice with chickpeas. If this isn’t a well-balanced dish, I don’t know what is.
Beyti Kebap. ($16.50)
One thing I noticed almost immediately was the repeated use of cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and onions in almost every dish, and also that spices are used far less heavily in Turkish cuisine than in, say, Indian or Moroccan cooking. That would make Turkish cuisine much more palatable I suppose, not that I have any particular aversion towards spices or anything. The Beyti Kebap is essentially spiced lamb and chicken patties rolled in homemade Turkish flat bread and drenched in a tomato-based sauce. You have to agree that it does sound palatable.
Sofra Fish. ($14.90)
As usual, I snagged a piece of the warm, crisp bread. Actually, I think I finished both the quadrants you see in the picture of. I tried sharing you see, but after pinching bits off here and there, I figured it wouldn’t be very nice for others to have to eat something that looked like some foul creature had been pecking at. The fish was unremarkable though, in that you can’t really go wrong with baked Cream Dory, which sounds more like a dish created to cater to local tastebuds. I mean, they eat dory in Turkey? Really? I could be wrong though. But hey, remember, bread. WARM BREAD. *dies
I’ll just order up a basket of it next time. I’ll have the poofy one, that one that was sitting on the quaint window sill by the kitchen, whichever that is.
Dessert was Baklava, a saccharinely sweet syrupy square of filo pastry that wasn’t as crisp and brittle as we’d all liked it to be. Still, it was nutty with pistachios and sweet and have I mentioned it was sweet? One serving is more than enough for anyone. Baklavas are supposed to be this cloying apparently, and it is only a shame that Sofra’s rendition was too soggy.
All in all, it was yet another great meal with great company and equally great service from the manager himself. I’m only a little upset with myself that I forgot his name since I’m most definitely heading back for more bread and meat. I’ll try to sneak into the kitchen next time, and perhaps learn a little Turkish before I do (that’s what they speak in Turkey right? I asked a friend what language they spoke in Turkey and she very gave me the very helpful answer of ‘Gobble Gobble’), so that I may win over the chefs and then they’ll teach me how to make those fantastic looking yeasty goodness.
After dinner, we were ushered over to a cozy little corner of the restaurant where the manager taught us a customary Turkish after-meal practice where one washes the hands with strong Turkish cologne, which the men gladly smothered their faces with. We were given a sweet each after, a palate cleanser of sorts from a charming Aladdin-ish genie lamp-looking bowl.
Happy, satisfied people.
The people at Sofra were incredibly accommodating, the manager himself popping by to ask if we found everything well, and though they seemed rather short-handed and dessert took a little longer than expected, it was only because the 30 of us took up more than half of their seating capacity and time. I’d be out of my wits if I had such a large group to tend to, with one annoying photographer straying every now and then towards the kitchen and harassing my chefs.
I’ll be back, definitely, to try out their other dishes and have an entire bread basket all to myself.
In the meantime, excuse me while I start my flatbread experimentations.
Sofra Turkish Restaurant & Cafe
Daily: 12pm – 9.30pm