Ottoman Cafe, 73 Berkeley Street, Glasgow. Ron Mackenna’s restaurant review
FIRST, you must walk Berkeley Street. Walk past closed doors, peeling paint, shattered dreams, and with each weighted step feel the disappointment at how her once sparkling life turned out.
Then you have to carry your own freshly lowered expectations up a few stairs, walk past an empty room, mumble aloud if that damn place is still open, slowly walk through a dark, Byzantine hallway, then boom. Take a moment. To adjust your eyes. What you see. Warmth, life, chatter. Light. Everywhere.
People stretch, talk, some actually play WTF – is that chess? Sofas, throws, furniture of all shapes and sizes, laptops, paintings. And all of this in a truly stealth room, under a glorious Victorian vaulted ceiling. Hidden at the back of what may have once been a large terraced house.
As I sip Egyptian mint tea, peppermint zings, I just try another one of those Turkish delights, pistachio this time, and watch a sizzling platter of lamb chops swaying between the crowded tables of this kitchen of mine.
I know this well: I am coming back. Probably tomorrow morning. For Turkish coffee and pastries ostensibly. For that weary old world walk over there in the hot secret here, really. Relax, calm down, check in, check in, man.
They make their own pitta bread, fill it with their own shawarma: the plump, sticky pieces of chicken I’m stuffing as we speak. “We’re here at six in the morning,” said the man with the big black beard, lingering. “That’s why we close at 7 p.m. Long, long day.
Brothers, uncles – I was served by a son earlier – it’s a family affair. Ex-banker, ex-restaurant owner, I lose track of who’s doing what as nods are made over my shoulders to that open counter, next to that big brown paper sign saying: Shank of lamb on pulao £13.50, six servings available today, lamb rib (boneless), for four: £38.
I now make my way through a Turkish salad, every leaf, slice of tomato, little perky olive and piece of salty feta, glistening with sumac, pomegranate, olive oil, vinegars and washed down with mint aromatic mince.
It’s the best thing I’ll eat this afternoon, moist, refreshing, super summery. Yeah, I’ll finish all those ribs too, of course, their crispy as a shell, the lamb that slips off the bone like in all the good movies.
But at this time of the afternoon most of the people around me are eating pastries and coffee. Chess games take place, one to four balls, on at least two tables, mochas, pistachios, all sorts of curious drinks being brought; the couple at the next table chatting about their tutors at the nearby university. I think I recognize this guy sitting on the high chair at the corner of the street, but from where? Wait? Didn’t it disappear in the 1980s?
So it’s the antithesis of the post-Covid food scene with its book by app, we want you out in 90 minutes.
Yet here, too, they’ve become a bit of a techno-cracker. When I sat down and absentmindedly searched for the menu I was directed to a QR code, scanned it on my phone, peered, scrolled, checked off the items I wanted, looked , parade, paid online, checked my signal, tickety-locked forever for my bank two-factor id, ignored all online warnings, then the server, hovering in case I made a mistake, finally pointed to the till behind us and said look, your order is already there. Surprising.
And it only took 20 times longer than if I had just told him what I wanted.
“Ah, yes,” they’ll say to me later, as I chat while a pita bread is wrapped in brown paper for the house, “but it lets our customers know exactly how many servings we have left” . Indeed and fair enough. And apparently it’s much faster for regulars.
Which, and keep this one strictly to yourself, I will very soon.
73 Berkeley Street
Menu: Shawarma with rice, homemade pitta, lamb chops, Turkish salad, Turkish delight, pastries, cakes, Turkish coffees and homemade fillers. 4/5
Service: App to order, but the staff are always there, relaxed and helpful in case, like me, you have bad phone signal or just want to go old school. 5/5
Atmosphere: fabulous secret room feel, people playing chess, couches, throws, vaulted ceiling. Hipster heaven without the hipsters. 5/5
Price: This Turkish salad was £4.90, Turkish delight £2.10, ribs £7.90 and shawarma with all sauces £6.70. Good deal 5/5
Food: The super summery, juicy, herb salad was a joy to eat, the ribs were as it should be and even that Egyptian mint tea was worth a break. 7/10