Riding up the escalator in a small, nondescript shotengai just north of JR Asagaya station, you’d never imagine you were about to enter a haven of home-cooked Turkish cuisine. We entered the softly lit space, and chose the counter in front of the workstation of chef Elif (pictured).
Charming waiter Sali brought us two glasses of Efes Pilsner, a Turkish standard—elegant and dry, but with a slightly sweet aftertaste (¥630)—as we perused the menu. Other drinks include Sapporo on tap, Turkish wine by the glass (¥525) as well as a few Turkish, French and Chilean selections by the bottle (¥3,150-8,400). For those who don’t imbibe, the salty yogurt drink ayran is one to try among the usual soft drinks.
Elif was happy to talk us through the dishes in her charming English, with occasional translation help from the fluent Sali. We went for the chef’s special course, which is priced and sized according to your preference. Set courses are available, and solo diners can request a daily special sampler of appetizers and meat dishes for ¥2,415. Otherwise, choose à la carte from the well-explained English menu with photos.
First to arrive was the assorted appetizer plate (¥1,365 small; ¥2,520 large; pictured). This is a scrumptious selection of homemade Turkish dips such as hummus; patlican ezme, or Turkish babaganoush; and the excellently tart avuc tarama (seasoned carrots and yogurt). Included for mopping up this tasty kaleidoscope was the addictive, freshly baked flatbread ekmek (pictured far right), which Elif warned us to go easy on—to save room for later. Not easy, but we did our best.
Next up was akdeniz salatasi, a rich, herb-dusted salad including tomato, cucumber, and salty feta—plus the surprising bonus of chopped pickles (¥945). Then came domates dolma: roasted tomatoes stuffed with rice and pine nuts (¥840), excellent with a squeeze of fresh lemon. The term “Turkish pizza”—used in the menu—doesn’t do justice to lachmacun, the country’s baked dough discs topped with spicy meat sauce. As a nice twist, Izmir serves its version with fresh arugula leaves and sliced tomato, which you lay on the lachmacun with a squeeze of lemon, roll up and get crunching.
¥3,500-4,700 with drink and dessert
No nonsmoking seats
Counter if solo or in a pair, back table for large groups (reservation recommended)
The assorted appetizer plate. A world of flavors you’ll never taste anywhere else.
Asagaya might be unknown territory for some
2F, 2-13-2 Asagaya-Kita, Suginami-ku
Nearest station: Asagaya
Tue-Sun 6pm-midnight (LO 11 pm), closed Mon
We were lucky enough to witness Elif methodically construct a giant spindle of meat for her doner kebabs. She chatted to us as she patiently trimmed wafer-thin slices of meat and piled hundreds, one by one, onto the giant metal skewer. She inserted the occasional layer of fat, which was probably the reason why the kebab we ordered was so divinely moist. Our dish was the iskender kebab—succulent shaved meat swamped with a piquant mixture of yogurt and wonderfully rich tomato sauce, and layered with chunks of toasted flat bread (¥2,100). Unforgettable. This is just one of the various grilled meat dishes on offer, but sadly we were physically unable to try more.
Stewed dishes populate the menu too, such as the standout manti (Turkish dumplings)—bite-sized lamb-stuffed ravioli served with yogurt, a hint of garlic and a mouth-watering paprika-butter sauce (¥1,785).
To wind down, we sipped a glass of famous Turkish tipple raki, made from grape and flavored with aniseed. Our stomachs recovered enough to try the dessert of the day—the stretchy ice cream dondurma, homemade and topped with a sprinkling of walnuts (¥630). Finally, a glass of strong cay tea was a refreshing counterpoint to the sweetness.
The flavors encountered at Izmir are hard to find elsewhere in Tokyo, and the quality of the home cooking, combined with the chef’s maternal presence, will definitely see us going back for some more Turkish-style comfort food.