Vicky Andrews reviews the Kurdish restaurant on Smithdown Road
They say that Liverpool is the world in one city and that’s certainly true when it comes to our culinary culture. Real Taste is a Kurdish restaurant on the junction of Smithdown and Hartington Road in Toxteth. The black chunky exterior with giant white letters and red flames tells me little about what’s going on inside; it kinda looks like a cross between a Vegas motel and a knock-off Burger King.
Conversation turns to the price of petrol. At the back of the room, a man is asleep with his head on the table.
An armada of delivery drivers on mopeds and motorbikes bounce up and down the kerb with testosterone-fueled aggression. This place was once Dantom Auto Centre, a garage and MOT testing centre. From the outside, Real Taste has all the charm of, er, a garage and MOT testing centre.
It’s busy this evening and it’s always busy when I go past, which is what has drawn me to come inside and try the food. We’re told to pick a table in the middle aisle where we sit for a while and try to suss out what the deal is here. Is there a menu? Where do we order? Can I get my Aygo booked in for a service?
Conversation turns to the price of petrol. At the back of the room, a man is asleep with his head on the table. Perhaps he overheard our fascinating discussion about hybrid cars.
Real Taste used to have a much smaller set-up on London Road and they’ve made smart use of the extra space that Smithdown has afforded. The restaurant bolt-on might look like an American roadside diner from the outside, but the interior is a “Middle Eastern” kind of vibe with lots of wood panelling, ornamental lights and an international TV channel playing out on multiple screens.
It’s a nice atmosphere; couples, families and big groups of lads gather around wooden tables covered in plastic sheeting. I'm not sure if this is one of those quirks left over from Covid or if the customers are just really enthusiastic eaters.
We still haven't had a menu but two bowls of yellow soup land on the table in front of us. Two soups? I’m not sure this is the right crowd for my version of the Victoria Wood sketch. It never usually is.
Mystery soup is an unusual USP for a restaurant. The presentation is simple. It’s warm, not hot. A smooth texture but sticks to the tongue a bit. My money’s on lentil.
Suffering from the after-effects of too much French wine the previous night, what I really want is a cold beer. They don’t serve alcohol here (Google says the majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims) so I make do with the next best hangover cure; a can of Coke (£1) and two paracetamol.
Traditional Kurdish cuisine shares a lot of similar qualities with Armenian, Arab, Assyrian and Turkish food. Common dishes include dolma, kofta, flatbreads, and quzi or qouzi; a spiced stew made from lamb or chicken, served with rice.
The menu at Real Taste includes qouzi, fish dishes and Kurdish kebabs with minced lamb, lamb tikka kebab, chicken kebab, lamb chops, and kebab combos. On the flipside of the menu are what I would describe as more Western dishes; burgers, roast chicken, wraps and chips.
The portions are big, man - plates with whole sea bass and mountains of naan bread fly past us. Aiming to get an authentic taste of Kurdish food, we order a portion of jajeek dip, a lamb qouzi (£9) and a trio of mixed kebabs (£13).
The lamb qouzi comes on the bone with a couple of spoonfuls of mild “sauce”, basically a meat broth with tomatoes and onions, hiding a few sneaky red-hot chillies within it. The lamb is fall-off-the-bone tender with that rich fatty flavour you get from slow-boiling or stewing.
On the side, pilau rice dotted with strands of vermicelli and a side salad of iceberg lettuce, tomato, red cabbage, lemon and loads and loads of raw white onion. There’s also a bowl of cratered naan for us to share, much thinner than the Indian variety and not warm. I imagine it’s meant to scoop up the sauce or plunge into a luscious dip; the jajeek fails to arrive so on that one I’m naan the wiser.
The trio of kebabs is three generous batons of chicken, lamb tikka and minced lamb, chargrilled and presented with rugged bluntness. Blackened cherry tomatoes and another onion-heavy salad scattered on the side aims to give it some refinement, but ultimately a kebab’s a kebab, innit? And that’s okay.
This one is up there with the best I’ve tasted; the chicken and lamb are tender and mildly spiced. The salad is oniony. The chance of copping off at The Willowbank later is unlikely.
I predict that my dinner date won’t finish her kebab platter but she proves me wrong by clearing the plate while I’ve still got a pile of pilau rice and some bread leftover. Big portions…
To finish, a goblet of “yoghurt drink” (£1), very popular with the other diners in here but not something I’d be running back for, and a black tea (50p). Soup is included in the bill, and at £25.50 total for two people, I’d say that’s a pretty souper deal.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
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.
Soup 5, lamb qouzi 7, naan bread 5, mixed kebab 8, yoghurt 5
Sporadic and a bit confusing for a first-time visitor
Busy and buzzy, but relaxed