Name: Taze Mediterranean Cuisine
Address: Shop 4 Genge St, Canberra City
Ph: 02 6262 6601
There is a move at the moment to focus cuisines down to regions. Terms like Italian have lost their relevance, being replaced by Venetian or Lombardy. Likewise, Hunan or Szechuan dishes have superseded the idea of Chinese cuisine.
Which is why a restaurant that claims to serve “Mediterranean cuisine” makes me bristle at its ridiculousness.
The Mediterranean is bordered by nations including Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, and Morocco, all of which have intensely rich, and varied, food cultures. Past the use of certain ingredients, there is little connection between the food put on the table in, say, Italy and Morocco. It leaves the term “Mediterranean cuisine” near meaningless.
At Taze, an up-market barn of a joint with this absurd definer on the door, the term seems to mean Turkish with a smattering of mains from the other nations. So while the list of meze and pides are almost exclusively from the former Ottoman Empire, you also find paella, linguini and Morrocan lamb rum in the mains.
This lack of menu focus upsets me from the beginning, and so for over half a year I have walked past the broad windows of Taze, judging it without giving it a go. Turns out, I was judging it a little harshly, because the food was surprisingly good.
Taze is busy, its two levels buzzing pretty constantly while we were there, with very flash but somewhat by-the-book décor. All the places down Genge St come across as a little soulless to me. There’s something about it being big and concrete that doesn’t work.
Arriving without a reservation, we were sat by the bar while a table was finishing up. While this was appreciated, the place really isn’t set up for it. Plus, it took far too long to be offered a drink, right when a beer was needed.
In ordering meze, all of which were Turkish or Turkish with a twist, it is hard to veer away from the classics of dips, cheeses or dolmades. Instead, we went further down the menu to the BBQ octopus, which had a wonderful smokiness from then charred edges, although the natural flavour of the octopus was overridden a little with the balsamic in the marinade.
A dish of roasted eggplant “stuffed” with fresh vegetables (really, they were just resting on top) tasted like any good, chunky vegetarian sauce. Sadly it lacked the strong eggplant taste that I so love.
Another constant of Turkish restaurants is the pide menu, and while they can range from oily messes to good staples, they rarely excel. Yet here, the Pastirmali was the highlight of the night, and one of the best pides I’ve ever eaten. Pastirma is a spiced, smoked beef. In Turkey it is often eaten with egg for breakfast. I guess that makes this basically a breakfast pide, but that would be underselling it. It had that round saltiness that comes from air-drying, softened by the egg and cheese. Stunningly good. I can’t speak for the rest of the pides, but this was simple and excellent. It was the sort of dish that makes me excited they do take-away.
This was good Turkish food, and I don’t think anyone would complain if Taze were simply a Turkish restaurant. But I couldn’t eat at a Mediterranean restaurant and reside only in the one country, so for mains I crossed the waters to Spain.
The paella was piled high in a modern, asymmetrical bowl, topped with strips of fried squid and a really powerful aioli, the highlight of the dish. It was strong on the saffron, packed with seafood, and on the money in terms of flavour.
However, make no mistake, it was not in anyway paella. There was not even the pretence of a crust, which is the vital part of the dish, and the rice had more the stickiness of a risotto. Don’t get me wrong, it was a decent dish, but it wasn’t that Spanish classic.
An 07 Bodgas Enguera “Castillo De Enguera” Crianza from Valencia, chosen off a short but very cleverly put together wine list, delivered the needed Spanish edge and was more than reasonable at $46.
Taze is a better than average Turkish restaurant, with some interesting but unnecessary takes on other dishes of Europe. At around $85 a head for a very satisfying meal, it is a fine night out, and I will go back.
I just wish they would limit themselves a little more.