Damon Fairclough takes a quick Turkish trip via Mossley Hill
It’s not often that people remark on the similarity between south Liverpool’s suburbs and Turkey’s Mediterranean resorts, but with the help of a twinkle of early autumn sunshine and the Mossley Hill trade winds blowing in the right direction, there’s a stretch of Rose Lane that can give Marmaris a run for its money.
The barbecue zone dominates the scene...
Once the charcoal starts smouldering at Gustum – a Turkish barbecue restaurant opposite Chris’s chippy – the breeze carries aromatic clouds of deliciously charred meat straight up your nose. And for anyone who has run the friendly-yet-fearsome gauntlet of restaurant owners plying for custom along a Turkish beach front, the aroma is rich with memories of UV-bleached days, barbecued nights, and that oh-so-British terror of having to haggle.
This venue’s guise is just over a year old. Before that, the same wide, double-fronted unit was the not-entirely-dissimilar Antalya, and before that, the utterly unrelated Kinselas. No Sunday morning hangover could be considered cured without the consumption of a Kinselas’ full English, but those days are long gone, and now we south Liverpudlians must calm our quivering beer-addled bellies elsewhere.
Not that Gustum is entirely disinterested in the plight of the hungovered. As an all-day venue, it too offers its own big breakfasts, including the standard English and, more interestingly, a traditional Turkish version with egg, halloumi, olives, feta and more. But that’s for some other time. On this occasion, we were ready for charcoal-scorched goodies at earlybird prices – that’s £12.95 for two courses, Monday to Thursday, any time before 6pm (although we've inserted the full prices of each dish below FYI).
A couple of meze dishes served us well as starters along with a half of draught Efes pilsner (£2.40) plucked from the underwhelming beer selection, and a light, crisp glass of Star Beach sauvignon blanc (£4).
The sak suke (£4.50) was a rich pulp of tomatoes and peppers with slippery baked aubergine, served cold to intensify its flavours. It worked well scooped up with oil-rich warmed bread, and though it simply tasted of its ingredients with little in the way of additional seasoning or spice, the chilled smoky sweetness was good enough on its own.
A plate of sarma (stuffed vine leaves - £4.20) was a let down though. The grassy-green bundles were flattened and compact, as if recently released from a jar or tin, and the ‘marinated rice’ within was glutinous and dry, like over-cooked risotto.
It’s on the grill, however, that Gustum sets out its stall, with the fiery expanse taking pride of place in this welcoming, neighbourly restaurant. Lined with spangly metal cladding that catches the light in the most glam rock of ways, the barbecue zone dominates the scene while managing not to impregnate your clothes with the aromatic scent of November the fifth.
The domates kebabs (£12.50) consisted of rows of modestly-sized lamb chunks alternating with wrinkly scorched tomatoes, gooey with caramelised juices. The lamb itself was beautifully cooked, edges blackened and smoky with peppery package-holiday memories. A little more moisture would have been welcome though, as the flatbread and mound of noodle-flecked rice could have done with a slippery accompaniment.
The hellim kebabs (£9.50) avoided the same dry fate, as the skewers of halloumi, pepper and onion lay in a luscious mascarpone-based sauce. The halloumi was superb – fluffy and creamy, not over-burdened with salt – but it didn’t seem to have benefited from the same charcoal grilling as the meat. It says ‘chargrilled’ on the menu but there were none of those tell-tale charred flavours or chewy carbon traces.
Although we’d exhausted the generosity of the early evening two-course deal, one of us still wanted dessert. So from among the stateless delights of strawberry cheesecake and sticky toffee pudding, we chose the rather more Turkish baklava (£4.20). Except this stuff was a poor cousin of its flakier, crispier, nuttier compatriots, tasting tired and dull, glooped as it was in characterless super-sweet syrup.
The sugar-soaked parcels were further ill-served by the stuff piled round them on the plate: dollops of ice-cream, a fast-fading squelch of aerosolled froth, all manner of wafers and a Jackson Pollock of viscous chocolate sauce. A trip to the Pizza Hut ice-cream factory would have been less infantilising – and more fun.
Still, Gustum is comfortable and bustling, with attentive service and more than a hint of the stainless steel-plated meals we’ve had abroad. So with a final gulp of a good strong Americano (£1.80) and a last swig of Palazzo Del Mare’s plummy, spicy Nero d'Avola (£4.50), we left Turkey behind and stepped back out into the Mossley Hill night.
And do you want to know the best of it? You give them your Visa card and you punch in your PIN. Absolutely no haggling required.
Gustum Bar and Restaurant, 72 Rose Lane, Liverpool, L18 8AG
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Sak suke 7, Sarma 5, Domates kebabs 7.5, Hellim kebabs 7, Baklava 5
Lots of locals