Hanover Street has traditionally (well, for as long as I can remember) been the place to go if you want an Italian meal in Edinburgh. With about five restaurants to choose from in the space of two blocks, pizza and pasta lovers are well catered for. (In fact, Edinburgh has a huge selection of Italian restaurants scattered all over the city. There are concentrations on Lothian Road and Clerk St, both near the theatres and cinemas, but Hanover Street has the benefit of being located right in the centre of town. It also has The Patio, which is probably the best Italian in town, but that’s food for a different review.)
Nargile sits right in the middle of this Mediterranean enclave, and blends in well with the atmosphere of the area. As in all the Italian restaurants, you get a friendly welcome when you walk in the door, and the staff are quite happy to chat and joke with you. The first time I went there was with a party of twelve, and there wasn’t enough space for us all to sit together. We hadn’t booked, but the manager very kindly asked a smaller group if they would move so he could push a couple of tables together for us–very nice, and very accommodating. The restaurant has only been open for a few months, and it still has a slightly tentative feel to it, like they’re really concerned about you enjoying your meal. (This may be because the closest brush most people will have had with Turkish food is at the local kebab shop.)
It had been a long time since I’d eaten at a Turkish restaurant, and most of the food on the menu looked unfamiliar. What I tend to do in situations like that is go with the house specials. In this case, that worked out very well: the house recommended starter is Meze, which is a variety of small starter dishes to be shared. For £5.50 per person you get a huge spread that–like Dim Sum in a good Chinese restaurant–just keeps on coming. First, you get the cold dishes, which include things like steak and mint salad, tomatoes and aubergines, chicken salad, spiced chopped beetroot, houmous, and more, with plenty of pitta bread. Just when you think your appetite has been nicely whetted, they tidy away the plates and bring out goats cheese and phyllo pastry parcels, slices of spicy sausage, and chicken wings. All of them delicious, and great if you’ve got a group of people all tucking in.
On both occasions I’ve been there now (we went back last weekend), I took the Nargile Special for my main course (£12.95, but most dishes are between £6 and £9). This is made up of chopped, stuffed pitta bread covered with thin strips of lamb and baked in a sweet, rich tomato sauce. It comes on a huge oval plate, straight out of the oven, and I defy anyone to eat it and not feel completely stuffed afterwards.
Not so stuffed, though, that I couldn’t try their Baklava (£3.95) for dessert. (To keep from exploding, my darling wife and I shared one.) The pastry was crisp, the layered filling nutty and not too sweet, and when I cut it with my fork a syrupy, honey sauce oozed out, just begging to be wiped up and licked off with my fingers. The whipped cream it came with (a change from the ice cream advertised on the menu) was the only thing that didn’t work: it probably wasn’t, but it tasted like it came out of a can. And the chocolate sprinkles on top were a little tacky.
Nargile prepares a lovely meal, and one that I can heartily recommend. Although the food is completely different, the style of the meal is along the same lines as the more traditional evening out at an Italian, Indian or Chinese. If you’re in Edinburgh, and you fancy being a bit different, why not try a “Turkish” instead?