Flavours of the Middle East you thought you knew, reimagined and refined writes James Howells
"The Ottoman Empire, as one of the largest, longest-lived, and most diverse empires in modern history, was the incubator of a truly cosmopolitan cuisine — perhaps the world’s first fusion food. The cuisine was developed by folding in techniques and ingredients brought down through networks of trade routes (part of what’s known as the Silk Road) from the far reaches of the empire — the Caucasus to Tunisia, from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf.”
If you hadn’t guessed, I didn’t write that. It was Stephanie d’Arc Taylor for Middle East Eye. Truth be told I don’t know much about the food of the Ottoman Empire, which is not to be confused with the cuisine of The Persian Empire.
However, I can relate to it being somewhat Middle Eastern. I don’t actually know enough of the saffron-accented history of Ottoman cuisine or Middle Eastern cuisine to be able to say anything with any great certitude, but I can say, with great certitude, that Souk Kitchen is delicious, inviting and honest.
Souk Kitchen has been a Bristol institution since their opening in Southville many moons ago, and their newest venture is a restaurant-come-shop situated on Apsley Road, just off Whiteladies. They offer grazing options and larger plates, including their famous brunch menu in a similar style to their Southville sister, offering delights from the Middle East aptly referred to as the ‘Land of Bread and Spice’.
Their bread is good, so there is no filler to be found here. It is without a doubt one of the best restaurants in Bristol.
As the food of the Middle East is to be seen as the precursor to contemporary dining, it seemed fitting to sample the mezzo menu. Although there are no ‘x dishes y pounds before z o’clock’ deals, each dish is balanced enough to stand strong on its own. They offer a vegetarian souk mezze plate: a selection of their favourite mezze bites, dips, salad and flatbread for £11.95, all of which are excellent.
All dishes are under £7.25, except the Moorish spiced crab with mussel bisque, saffron, peas and preserved lemon, which is priced at £8, and rightly so. The Souk falafels, green tahini and sumac (£4.75) is a familiar dish but refined to unbeknownst elegance with much more herbaceous falafel than those offered at familiar street-side stands.
Chargrilled marinated haloumi, tomato and mustard seed amba (£4.80) makes use of the forgotten sweetness that haloumi can take on, and is tremendous. Lamb merguez sausages, taktouka, poached egg and Turkish burnt butter (£6.50) is a plate that can be eaten on its own. The best part of it is when the egg yolk meets the taktouka at the end, creating a rich emulsification perfect for the chargrilled flatbread and zatar olive oil (£2.95).
The enchantment comes from their supply shop, and with food this full of splendour, it is worth letting your curiosity get the best of you and explore Eastern delights such as pomegranate molasses, Palestinian dates and orange water.
Often when restaurants decide to open a sister restaurant, the quality can suffer as the juggling act becomes too much. However, Souk Kitchen is one of these rare cases, where, much like their dishes, the more you have, the better it is.