I was supposed to be in Fuerteventura this week but we had to postpone our trip and instead of sipping cocktails on the beach, I found myself in a Turkish BBQ restaurant in Ormskirk.
And it may not have been mid-20 degree sun in the Canaries, but the warmth from both the staff who greeted us like family combined with the heat of the open hot-coal grill at TurQuaz, made us completely forget where we should have been and instead made sure we were encapsulated in our actual location.
Stepping into TurQuaz, the door graces a little bell to announce your arrival and the tones of Türk Halk Müziği (traditional Turkish folk music) hits your ears.
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You’re instantly transported to a Turkish bazaar in Istanbul or Ankara, with traditional mosaic lamps hanging from the walls and ceiling, projecting beautiful coloured shapes, then there’s hand-woven bags, jewelled trinkets and bold patterned artwork scattered around.
It feels like a genuine taverna with open wood beams matching the furniture, landscape paintings and a shutter-door window creating the impression you are looking out to sea.
But the main spectacle is the sprawling BBQ grill in the open kitchen, with hot coals glowing, smoke billowing as the chefs busily prepare meat, fish and vegetarian dishes. You can smell the cooking as you approach outside and it has that familiarity of every estate in Britain when the barbeque gets its first outing the year on a hot day.
Naturally, the menu is filled with tempting traditional Turkish dishes, with meat the primary focus and the charcoal specials, well, their speciality, but there are options for vegetarians, pescatarians and vegans or those with dietary requirements are also well looked after.
Some more commonly British dishes are included but providing an authentic Turkish meal, from the staff to the ingredients is pivotal to what makes TurQuaz so popular, with the restaurant virtually full before 6pm on a bank Holiday Monday after Christmas and New Year.
On a side note, my dining partner has been to TurQuaz before with his friend, who is experienced in cooking Middle Eastern cuisine and enjoys talking Persian with the staff, a touch he really appreciates. He is also quite particular about where he eats out, but would have absolutely no qualms in recommending TurQuaz to anyone.
There’s hot and cold starters from hummus and olives to halloumi fries (Hellim) and grilled Turkish sausage (Sucuk).
As we love a sharing platter because they offer up a little bit of everything, so we ordered the cold mixed meze and freshly-baked flatbread.
It comes with hummus, cacik (similar to the Greek version, Tzatziki but thinner and the cucumber has additional seasoning), ezme aubergine, kisir (cous cous salad) and stuffed vine leaves.
It looks like a painter’s palette wheel. The deep pink-coloured kisir is sweetened with pomegranate and has a little spice hit that sits nicely on the lips.
The aubergine had more of a puree consistency, but it had a delightfully interesting flavour , while the chick peas rightfully dominated the hummus, which was seasoned well and the textured paired elegantly with the cacik.
The cacik is creamy and garlicky with the tang of the yoghurt making it work perfectly with the oil-drizzled bread and while the stuffed vine leaves were too much of a required taste for us, they could be an important addition for others.
And ooooh, that bread!
It was so light and the chefs had nailed that level between too soggy and too crunchy and dry so well, that we had to order more to mop up what was left of the meze.
We could hear our mains sizzling as they were being prepared and with the starter plates barely cleared away, they were served.
The TurQuaz special (lamb kebab, chicken kebab, adana and lamb chop) is exactly how a meat feast should look on a plate – smoky and sizzling.
There was not a single dry piece of meat, often the case when it is barbecued.
The lamb was succulent, with the juices still bubbling away and the chicken tender, cooked in a lovely marinade and the herby, spiced adana (ground lamb kebab) was the highlight.
For the second main we had the king prawn guvec, which is a casserole-style dish cooked in a earthenware pot, with tomatoes, onions, peppers potatoes, aubergines, mushrooms, garlic and topped with cheese, which was gooey and added another dimension to the texture.
It was hearty and inviting and every mouthful had a new flavour and the natural juices from the fish and vegetables created a gorgeous sauce, which I doused over the rice.
The prawns were big, juicy and meaty and they didn’t overpower the other flavours in the dish with the seasoning delicate and just right.
Both mains were served with a dome of well-seasoned rice and a tangy, striking salad, which had a good crunch and so much better than the token and neglected ones you commonly get, which are a handful of leaves from a bag tossed on the plate.
Time and much thought had gone into the combination of flavours, ingredients and the preparation, which can be said for everything we ate.
I’d recommend trying a glass of Turkish red with your meal and we had a tipple of the Ancyra made from the Öküzgözü grape and it was a little more acidic and fruity than your malbecs or pinot noirs but still delicious.
Atmosphere is as important as the food when dining out. You want to feel welcome, comfortable and cared for; to talk about your meal with friends afterwards. You want wide smiles. To take in deep, potent smells and listen to music that takes you away.
We may not have been eating Spanish tapas and sipping sangria in Corralejo, but for the duration of our meal at TurQuaz we didn’t even care as we wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
Food reviews by Denise Evans are published every Sunday morning. The restaurant did not know we were coming and our review is anonymous.
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