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Restaurant Review: Iskele on Whitecross Street

There is a similarity between a restaurant menu and whisky. If everything on a menu is from one country (or even better one region) – like a single malt is – you know your meal will probably be passable or better. If, instead, you see a menu and it draws “influences” from 43 different cultures and cuisines you know you are in trouble. As interesting as a Peruvian fish and ceviche based dish in the style of an Ethiopian stew with Californian-eseque vegetables might be it will also be a godforsaken mess. However, sometimes fusion works (think of good Australian cuisine) and you can be as happily drunk on food as you might be with a good blended whisky.

So to (via Peru and Scotch whisky) Iskele on Whitecross Street. I am not quite sure how we ended up here. As is apparent I am a disgraceful restaurant snob; albeit a wide minded one. I am as happy going to Momofuku Ko or some squalid Mexican eateries on the baseball fields down in Red Hook in Brooklyn. Both are authentic, both are the equivalent of good whiskies (though Momofuku Ko is definitely a blend) and both deliver. Iskele is not that. Iskele is a multi menu muddle. Iskele is see-through plastic table covers over tasled tablecloths. Iskele is being offered a free shot at the end of the meal and having to shake the hand of every waiter of the restaurant when you leave.

That said, I still like it. We went on a Friday night. It was lightly humming. The service was over eager. The food was edible and in its good moments even enjoyable. It was easy, it was local.

And the price, £10 a head including alcohol. And if you do go please please pretend it is your birthday as then you get to experience a sound system they apparently borrowed from Fabric and intense Mormon like clapping as they bring out the cake.

  • Price – £10 a head
  • 179-181 Whitecross Street, London, EC1Y 8QP

10 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Have been there too (I live in the Barbican which is just down the road) – for the price it is remarkable. I suspect one would need the constitution of the proverbial ox to test everything on the menu which is impressive for the variety, if not for the food – but like yourself managed to ignore the clear plastic topped tables and actually had some edible and tasty food. The owners are taking over the street. They operate the transport type cafe opposite – which I have to say serves a great full english breakfast, and the cafe next door. Value is remarkable which means one could go back over and over without stretching the budget – and probably eat something totally different every time. Food is generally eastern Mediterranean which covers a variety of sins and tastes – and I gather they are serving turkey on their Christmas menu (or perhaps that's just turkish food?)

  2. Anonymous

    Well I have been there twice, three months apart. It is cash only, which is disconcerting (machine in the post type of excuse). It is pretty, the food isn't bad and the service is lovely. 10.30 is listed as closing time. But on both occasions, the shutters over the bar area came down about 10.20, the coffee machine was turned off around 10.30, the candles started to be blown out at 10.45, the bill was brought shortly afterwards and it was quite clear that they wanted us out. We had had two courses. This is absolutely no way to treat customers. I am used to a relaxed meal and a leisurely coffee. On the second occasion I raised it with the owner – very nicely – 'pretty restaurant, nice food etc.' But he was having none of it. First of all he blamed the licensing laws. Then I couldn't read for not seeing the opening hours. It escalated badly to the point where he was shouting at me. I have never before been shouted at by a restaurateur and I am not going to be again. This man has no idea how to run a proper restaurant. His establishment is definitely one to miss.

  3. Tom

    I would guess the cash only is probably for the avoidance of the tax man then… (that said is pretty annoying as any restaurant meal is generally more than I have in my pocket and the cash machines in the area are always out of money).

    It is also surprising that the owner is being like this as they got off to such a good start by getting some pretty good (given the food) reviews and Time Out even sung their praises.

    A bit of waste…

  4. Anonymous

    I was with anonymous above and was disgusted and appalled by the behaviour of the owner. Never go anywhere near this place.

  5. Stana

    Hello anonymous,
    If 10.30 is listed as closing time, than I don't understand why you are shocked at being asked to pay for your bill after the closing time and at the coffee machine being turned off at 10.30 and candles being blown out at 10.45.
    If you prefer leisurely coffee after dinner, than either come early or go to a restaurant that is opened till late.
    I stand for a good and honest comment, however I believe that such unjustified comments like yours can be damaging to starting businesses.
    I however cannot comment on the behaviour of the owner re shouting at you as obviously I was not present but I know from my friend's experience how demanding customers can be.
    This however doesn not change my opinion that customers is always right if you want to continue doing your business so perhaps they should inform their customers in an advance about their tight closing hours etc.
    Anyway, to add to this, I went to Iskele on two occasions as it's my local and I loved the food, the service was great and I will definately return.
    I agree with the other comment that they should accept credit cards, however to make assumptions such as this is due to the tax avoidance is a bit silly. I believe that each card payment carries a fee payment for the restaurant owner and acceptance of the cards might might underestimate the great prices the restaurant offers.

  6. Tom

    Stana – Anon seems to have had a terrible viist. I will probably revisit as it was easy and fast when I went. Will be curious to see if it is replicated…

  7. Sarki Newar

    Last evening we were there with my collegues.We've been there before! But probably-never again! Everything was great but there was one thing that disturbed us-the smell coming straight from the table next to ours. We've just had a look and guess?? There was a DOG under the table!! We couldn't believe! May be people have to learn that when they go to a restaurant they should leave their dogs outside. But first of all the owner should learn that till there are people who come in this place to spend money they can't let this happen! or may be its some kind of turkish tradition?? :) who knows..The only thing I know is that I Will Never go there to spend even £1. Everybody was laughing! So was I

  8. Tom

    Sarki Newar – I have to admit having a dog in a restaurant wouldn't trouble me that much. I actually kind of like it.

    Watch out in the US, sometimes the dogs even get their own seats : )

  9. Emily

    My first visit to Iskele was in 2009. I also was quite disappointed that they didn’t accept credit cards and manager’s attitude who pretended he was owning the place was simply unacceptable. After such experience I thought I will never visit this place again.
    However decided to give it another go and was there last week.
    I should say that it has changed a lot. The atmosphere was great! Food is so tasty( I guess they have changed their chef since 2009)! Staff is very friendly ( they helped me with the choice of the meal as I was attracted to few of them on the menu and couldn’t make up my mind).
    When I asked about the previous manager I was quite surprised to find out that he told everyone he was the owner. And apparently there always has been card payment option but that freaky previous manager wouldn’t accept cards. LOL
    And finally whoever was disappointed in Iskele before I would suggest to give it another chance.
    I will definitely be visiting this place again.

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