[Disclosure: We were invited to dine at Otto Kitchen for the purposes of this blog]
There’s no shortage of places to eat in Leamington – new openings every five minutes, longstanding much-loved restaurants that have been around for years, street food, lunch spots and cuisine from across the world. Around every corner you’ll find whatever you fancy, from burgers to Bangladeshi, Vietnamese, south Indian, brunch spots, steak, pizza, Japanese and much much more.
That much much more includes relative newcomer Otto Kitchen, which adds Turkish cuisine to the broad spectrum of food on offer in good old Leamington. When it opened late last year it promised to be a ‘state of the art’ Turkish Restaurant, and a quick look at its website reveals a continuation of similar bold views, with the promise of a ‘culinary voyage through Anatolia’. Hurrah!
It’s certainly an impressive setting. There’s nice lighting, flickering fake flames courtesy of a few strategically placed fires, flower walls, neon signage reminding you where you are (as is the style these days), and walls decorated with wine bottle displays aplenty. It could all be a bit style-over-substance but is balanced out by a warm welcome and the traditional charcoal grill that’s visible from the main body of the restaurant.
The menu is predominantly traditional – there are mezze dishes, traditional Turkish main courses and a whole array of grill options – both meat and fish. But a more careful look and you find a few unexpected additions. Mersea rock oysters, Saint Jacques Scallops, Lobster Thermidor and Seafood Paella are just a few that see our eyes widen, along with a special section devoted to Scottish steaks. An effort to be inclusive and provide something for everyone, or a confused menu trying to be all things to everyone? We wait to find out.
As with the food, there are plenty of drinks options, whether you want a night on the cocktails, a quiet bottle of wine, or some soft drinks. We try a glass of nice Turkish red wine and they also helpfully transform one of their cocktails into a non-alcoholic strawberry daquiri that Jamie declares is much better than others he’s tried before. (Yes, my husband loves a cocktail when he’s not swigging beer).
Their homemade bread is light, pillowy and doused in butter. It comes with a selection of dips that add to its moreish qualities and before we know it we’re halfway through the basket.
My lambs liver starter is as good as the same dish I’ve raved around at Rugby’s own Turkish Ottoman Restaurant. It’s tender, cooked just right, and lightly spiced. There’s no fancy sauce, just well-judged seasoning and that offal-y flavour that you either love or hate.
Jamie’s octopus is tender – it’s a big old tentacle and could do with being a bit more charred I think, but he’s happy enough.
However, it’s the surprise extra ‘duck bon bons’ that impress. They’re one of the items I would never have ordered but they’re pretty blimin good. Shredded duck shaped into balls then coated in crisp, golden fried crumb.
They’re served with a cherry sauce that is the right balance of sweet and piquant, and pretty soon we’ve roared through them, despite knowing every mouthful we eat is making it less and less possible that we’ll manage our main courses, let alone dessert.
By the time the mains arrive, we’re glad we’ve both gone for grill dishes rather than anything else. That said, like everything at Otto Kitchen, even the simplest of dishes are hefty portions.
My monkfish skewer is a generous plate of chunky pieces of fish, chargrilled with a hint of citrus so they’re smoky, succulent, and tangy. I’ve asked for rice instead of accompanying chips, but in addition, they sit on artfully piped mounds of mashed potato. Because double carbs is the accepted way to do things here. I’ve got a couple of extra prawns that have that slightly sweet taste thanks to being grilled in their shells, while grilled vegetables are simple and again, slightly sweet. The rice proves to be unnecessary once I’ve tackled a few piles of mash, but it’s great – buttery, cooked properly, and nearly as moreish as the bread that kicked off the meal.
Jamie goes for lamb chops, because he can’t help himself whenever anywhere that they’re on offer. They’re big, meaty and cooked well, and come served with a nicely-dressed, simple salad. Like his octopus, I think they could handle a few moments longer on the heat to add just a bit more char, but he proves that what I think really doesn’t count as he devours all of them, leaving the bones as evidence that they’re just fine as they are.
We meet the chef, who at first glance looks slightly intimidating but proves to be a passionate, friendly and ambitious chef who has not only apparently done stints in some of Tom Kitchin’s establishments, but has worked all over Europe before landing in lucky Leamington.
We’re full and close to a food coma but we’re not allowed to leave without trying a dessert. The obvious choice is their homemade baklava which comes in the biggest lump I’ve ever seen, but is so good we somehow manage to leave none behind. I think it’s on a banana cream which is a bit of a surprise, but realistically it needs no addition. The layers of pastry and pistachio are fine just as they are, while the sugar hit proves useful in resuscitating us for long enough that we can get home.
It’s another hefty portion to end a meal where the running theme is too much food, but it’s not just big on volume, it’s big on flavour and personality. It’s a Monday night and the restaurant is busy, which goes to show that Otto Kitchen have landed on their own version of a Turkish restaurant that doesn’t just work for them but works for Warwickshire.
It’s the right blend of traditional with a modern twist that undoubtedly makes it a popular place for everything from groups to couples, colleagues and any other occasion you might want a decent feed and a few drinks. The menu is broad enough that it covers all the classic dishes along with some additions for those among us who might for some reason they want to order Italian or English food in a Turkish restaurant.
The surroundings are nicely done, and somehow don’t quite tip over into tacky, and perhaps most importantly the staff quite simply can’t do enough to keep everyone happy, which as we know is often half the battle.
We leave with a doggy bag full of a mixture of the starters we couldn’t finish, plus plenty of rice and bread, and the promise to come back for a full bottle of that Turkish wine and more of their traditional Turkish dishes. All we need to do is to remember not to eat for a day beforehand…