The Best Turkish Restaurant In Oxford? nefIstanbul Full Review

Introduction

When seeing the restaurants name (nefIstanbul), my first question was, “What does Nef mean when translated into English?”. Well as I’m told “Nef” doesn’t mean anything. However “Nefi” means “Tasty” so the name “nefIstanbul” is quite a clever play on words for a restaurant name.

With the recent opening of Antep Kitchen a few doors down and then nefIstanbul opening shortly after, I thought the competition for Turkish dining was starting to heat up a bit on the Cowley Road so wanted to try it out. Antep could be my next review, watch this space. But for now let me begin sharing my thoughts on nefIstanbul.

So after walking into the restaurant my first impressions were that it is clear a lot of thought and resources have been put into making it feel like a special place with an upmarket Turkish vibe. I have visited a few Turkish restaurants over the UK and of course in Turkey (I am half Turkish if you didnt know before).

The best way that I could think of how to describe this place was a Turkish version of Victors in the Westgate.

My favourite spot in the whole restaurant was this one particular corner with the dark blue wallpaper and copper plates on the wall which is the last picture above. There are hints of marble, copper and authentic looking Turkish tableware throughout.

Food

Before you order anything, a nice bowl of freshly baked Turkish bread is placed on the table with a spicy tomato paste, garlic yoghurt and olives to accompany it.

There is a certain taste related to the bread I have had in Turkish restaurants before and you might be able to relate if you’ve had it too. I think they put it on the grill or something, but this was exactly like how I remember it from other Turkish restaurants and in Turkey, it was so soft. I’m glad there wasn’t more because it all went rather quickly.

To start I ordered something called Lahmacun pronounced ‘Lah-mah-jun’ which I typically refer to as Turkish pizza. This is a thin piece of dough topped with minced meat and a popular dish. The taste was great and for £2.95 a portion I think that’s a bargain. You could easily have this on its own for lunch, for example.

Below you will find Adana Kebab which is named after an area in Turkey from which the Kebab style originates from. It is a long, hand-minced meat kebab mounted on a wide iron skewer and grilled. The taste of this was fantastic and I couldn’t fault it – just look at the pictures of it below!

I didn’t try the rice but I was told it was really nice and also comes with a side salad as you can see.

One of my personal favourite kebab dishes which is super filling is Iskender (in hindsight I didn’t need to order anything else to eat haha).

Iskender is one of the most well-known dishes of northwestern Turkey. It takes its name from its inventor, İskender Efendi, who lived in Bursa in the late 19th century Ottoman Empire.

An Iskender kebab consists of thinly cut grilled lamb, tomato sauce, pita bread, melted sheep butter and yogurt on top to serve. The combination of these ingredients is indescribable when done well. The cold thick yoghurt with the rich hot tomato sauce and chunks of kebab meat (has to be good quality meat for it to work) compliments each other so well.

I can confirm that all of this was of fine quality and I thoroughly enjoyed it feeling rather stuffed. Just managed to finish it to be honest, I couldn’t leave any to waste.

Below you can see some of the cold mezze dishes that the restaurant offers, the level of presentation of all the dishes I tried was nothing short of excellent.

I had to take a picture of the post meal Turkish coffee saucer and what the Turkish Delight was served in. I love most Turkish Delight and this was no exception, it was nutty and flavourful.

If you have seen my Instagram stories from the night I was at the restaurant (if you haven’t tap here and see my story highlights for nefIstanbul) then you might remember me showing you the dish below, Künefe.

One of my favourite sweet dishes in Turkey which can also be found over most of the Middle East which consists of thin noodle like pastry, syrup and a mozzarella style cheese in the middle served hot. It’s something that you wouldn’t think works well in a dessert but the cheese is the item that makes this dish special for me. Again this tasted just as authentic as when I had it by the Istanbul Bosphorous when I was last in Istanbul.

It’s almost rude if you eat some Turkish food and don’t finish it off with a Turkish Çay. It is a strong black tea frequently served in a glass cup with no handles. A very nice way to finish off the meal and cleanse the pallet.

Conclusion

My conclusion after visiting nefIstanbul is that if you are curious about trying Turkish food or enjoy Turkish food already it’s definitely worth a visit. When you think about it there aren’t that many premium Turkish restaurants in Oxford so it certainly appears to be an expanding space.

A small grumble would be that the service could be improved a little but that being said they are a fairly new restaurant so I’m sure this will improve over time.

One thing I noticed is that there seemed to be a lack of English customers, although I visited on a Tuesday evening and I’d be curious to see what it’s like on a weekend. I thought this was a shame because to put it simply if you enjoy a simple BBQ this place is great, with their open charcoal grill.

I’ve also heard they do great cocktails and they had a very well stocked bar. I didn’t take a picture but they have a nice outdoor seating area too which I’m sure will be popular when we see some nicer weather come back to Oxford.

If you’d like to, you can check out more of our food and drinks reviews in Oxford here.

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