Norwich: Marmaris (Turkish)

DAVID WAKEFIELD I've never thought of coffee as a major conversation subject - despite the fact that Bach wrote a cantata to be specially performed in a coffee house in Leipzig.


I've never thought of coffee as a major conversation subject - despite the fact that Bach wrote a cantata to be specially performed in a coffee house in Leipzig. Well, apparently Lutherans loved it - coffee that is - and music lovers throughout the generations have enjoyed the cantata, despite the fact that the libretto's literal English translation is rather silly.

For my part I've always loved Turkish coffee, that thick, usually sweet and potent mix served in a tiny cup, and frequently feel that I am the only non-Turkish person on the planet to do so. I will admit that I first tried it after reading From Russia With Love, an Ian Fleming thriller in which Agent 007 spends some time in Istanbul and, as ever, sticks rigidly to the appropriate local cuisine. Yes, and, like James Bond, I have mine medium sweet even though I don't have sugar in any other drink. It just seems right that way.

My personal regret is that Turkish coffee in latter years has been largely superceded by the ubiquitous, and more fashionable, espresso. But it's still widely available, and as long as you don't ask for it by name in a restaurant under Greek management, then there's generally not a problem.

When my wife and I decided to visit the newly-opened Marmaris Turkish restaurant, which occupies the building that I first remember as The Thorn pub, but which has enjoyed several other existences since then, there could be only one way in which I could finish my meal. As Turkish coffees go, this was a particularly good one, and I chanced to mention this fact to the waitress, adding that it was the best I had tasted since holidaying in Turkey last year.

I was making conversation. She, on the other hand, thought my comments worthy of higher recognition, for, seconds later, the staff member (who turned out to be her husband!) who had made the coffee came out, wreathed in smiles, to give me a full explanation of his methods, even giving me a close-up of the pot used.

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I can honestly say that, after many years of visiting restaurants, this was a first for me - in England, that is. But it is fairly typical of the rapport that one experiences at the dining table in other parts of the world, and Turkey in particular. This may have been Ber Street in Norwich, and not Istanbul's Istiklal Street; but this little, totally unsolicited incident brought a warm glow of authenticity to the occasion.

The Marmaris, thought to be the city's first Turkish restaurant, has a nice friendly atmosphere, with chatty staff. In daylight it appears fairly unprepossessing but, in more subdued light, it takes on a really cosy atmosphere.

From a fairly short wine list we selected a Villa Doluca dry white, from Turkey's small, but nicely-formed wine industry, and studied the menu. Despite the exotic names, Turkish cuisine tends to be fairly straightforward and mainly meat-based - although the Marmaris offers fish and even three veggie dishes, too.

For a starter, my wife chose the Kisir (crushed wheat salad with tomato, onion, green pepper, celery, lemon juice and olive oil) at £3, while I selected the Sarma (stuffed vine leaves with rice, mint, dill, parsley, pine nuts, olive oil and sultanas) at £3.50. This dish is one of my favourites, and it didn't disappoint, while the Kisir was pronounced a success, too.

Our main courses were Iskender (grilled layers of chicken, lamb and kofte, on a bed of crispy bread, dressed with yoghurt and tomato sauce) at £10.50 for my wife, while I chose the Kul Basti (fillet of lamb grilled with herbs, served with rice and salad) at £10. Both these dishes were much as we remembered them in Turkey, with meat nicely marinated and full of flavour, and the dishes both carefully presented.

Dessert menus in Turkey are usually fairly perfunctory (perhaps such things aren't considered very manly!) but generally include the baklava, which I love, and various ice creams. On this occasion, our portions had been so generous that I opted for that coffee instead. Our bill, with wine and coffee, was a very reasonable £43.

The Marmaris is a friendly place, and, while we were there, families with children were enjoying an evening out and it was all nicely informal. Perhaps for those who consider themselves to be more sophisticated diners this may not be quite the ticket; but this establishment seems to me to fill a useful gap in the market, and is an interesting and most welcome addition to the city's already bulging portfolio of restaurants.

It's well worth a visit - and, by the way, do try the coffee!

t Marmaris, 25 Ber Street, Norwich; 01603 638999

t Where is it? Not far from John Lewis.

t Can I park? There is a fair amount of on-street parking nearby, but the Castle Mall and Rouen Road car parks are handy, too.

t Do I need to book? Possibly advisable at a weekend.

t Suitable for children? On the evidence of our visit, yes, although there is no special children's menu. It's difficult to imagine a Turkish-owned restaurant at which little ones were not welcome!

t Facilities for disabled? There is wheelchair access, and toilets are equipped for disabled guests.