The party was in full swing when we arrived at Antep Kitchen for dinner on Friday night, the unmistakable sound of Turkish dance music belting out with every birthday cake that wound its way through the restaurant.
They know how to celebrate in style here, and anyone who fancies pushing the boat out should shimmy down to East Oxford for some good old Turkish hospitality.
And while Turkish food is stereotyped as kebabs and nothing but, there’s lots of choice in this Cowley Road eatery, which packs them in, its regulars enjoying the reasonable pricing and large portions, as well as the party vibe.
If you’re looking for refinement and elegance then it’s not for you, but for us, there to snatch a bite to eat and enjoy some strong cocktails, en route to the O2 for a concert, it was the perfect pit stop.
You might have to shout to be heard, but the atmosphere more than makes up for the need for quiet conversations.
Food wise, yes it’s got all the classics, but there are also some unusual additions to the menu.
The Şakşuka starter (£5.95) for example – like a Turkish babaganoush with sautéed aubergine and potatoes in a tomato and onion sauce – which sat alongside the more traditional humus – smooth and zinging with lemon juice and a hint of garlic.
And the complementary Turkish bread, like puffed up pittas, hot and oily, served with two dips – a spicy tomato and a cooler yoghurt, which were demolished immediately.
Most of us, who wanted to try a bit of everything, opted for the sharing platter for 2-3 (£59) which included the Adana Kofte (lminced lamb skewered and grilled over charcoal), a chicken shish, lamb ribs, chicken wings and a lamb shish all served with rice, couscous and salad, which was more than ample for three, with lots to go around, a veritable mound of carnivorous food.
Only the Tavuk Sarma Beyti (£18.50) would do for one of us though, the curious sounding marinated minced chicken seasoned, with garlic and herbs, grilled over charcoal, wrapped in bread with cheese, drizzled with butter, topped with tomato sauce and served with yoghurt. How’s that for a carb overload?!
The rest of us were drawn to the long, thin Turkish pizzas we’d glimpsed being carried temptingly through the restaurant. Choosing the Beyaz Peynirli Pide (£11.95) (feta cheese, peppers, tomatoes, onion and parsley) and the Tavuklu Pide (£12.95) (diced chicken, red pepper, green pepper, tomato and parsley), they were less moist and juicy than their Italian counterparts, the dough almost pastry like, but were novel, plentiful and filling.
And then the piece de resistance for the birthday boy, and the main reason that so many people come here, as the familiar music wound its way to our table and the whole restaurant joined in, clapping and singing along.
A guaranteed fun night out that won’t break the bank, but then that’s Turkey all over for you isn’t it, although a bit more sun would be appreciated!
Antep Kitchen is at 228-230 Cowley Rd, Oxford OX4 1UH http://antepkitchen.co.uk/menu-oxford.php