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If the difficulty in booking and the precise second-sitting arrival time of 8.15 arent clues enough, the crowd milling outside Lezzet on a cold Saturday night tells the story: this is a devotedly loved local. Its customers are willing to endure the indignity of a nightly queue. And its running out of room.
Owner and chef Kemal Barut opened Lezzet, which means appetite and flavour, in 2003, aged 22.
His modern Turkish cuisine is inspired by memories of his childhood in Turkey but stridently influenced by modern food trends. He has plans to expand the restaurant and aspires to scale the heights of the Melbourne dining scene. Both are eminently possible.
On the night we visit, and most weekend evenings, Barut manages to also fill the role of host and waiter charmingly and with such pride in the food he delivers that its difficult to believe hes been doing this for seven years. His staff is industrious, pleasant and genuinely enthusiastic, which adds to the atmosphere and the sense of occasion.
In the clamour to get the second sitting under way, small details are lacking, or forgotten cutlery, water, serviettes, wine orders but rapidly and cheerfully amended. No one seems to mind, and the paper-covered, white-clothed tables slowly begin to feature quality tableware.
The sofra menu, definitely a first-time must, features five generous courses ($50), beginning with an excellent stuffed mushroom appetiser. The plump star vegetable is packed with goats cheese, Danish feta and walnuts and rests on a pistachio oil, sun-dried tomato, olive and basil tapenade.
Its followed by a dark-timber meze platter featuring a mix of colours and flavours. There are tiny shot glasses filled with a rich, frothy, truffled mushroom soup and a delicate prawn and scallop mousse coddled in kadayif (shredded pastry), golden baked haloumi and slow-cooked lamb with fig chutney. Theres also a glazed clay bowl filled with quality Victorian mussels in a fragrant, wine, cream and garlic reduction.
Course number three arrives on another board, with a pretty goats cheese, sesame and rocket salad at its centre and two terracotta pots of lamb at either end. Twelve-hour lamb shanks rest in a tomato-shiraz broth on a bed of fluffy mashed potato. Its a good dish but is overshadowed by its longer-cooked partner, a divinely tender shoulder of lamb in fig and date jus, cooked in the wood-fired oven for 18 hours and served with herbs, vegetables and mograbieh (Lebanese cous cous).
A seafood course follows on another platter. This dish features a clay bowl overflowing with scampi, scallops and baby octopus in a heady wine-infused broth and is partnered by an excellent piece of ocean trout wrapped in vine leaves and draped in a cream-and-garlic reduction.
The dessert platter that completes the package features four tiny treats a shot glass of lemon sorbet, a Turkish delight gel in a filo pastry cup, a dark chocolate fudge orb with chocolate dirt and a wedge of berry couli-topped watermelon on a whisper of Persian fairy floss. The final combinations of flavours are lasting impressions in a memorable meal.
Packed and popular, Lezzet is an emerging star. The contemporary Turkish cuisine shows passion and dedication to quality, attracting families, groups and couples of all ages. Menu options range from simple pizzas to seasonal specials and intricate five-course banquets. Vegetarians are well-catered for, but lamb and seafood dishes dominate. A planned extension will alleviate some crowding, but the reasonably priced appealing food, atmospheric surroundings and motivated staff will continue to attract crowds.
Lezzet, 79-81 Brighton Road, Elwood
Chef Kemal Barut
Prices Meze $12.50-$14.50; pizzas $18.50-$20.50; mains $20.50-$29.50; desserts $12.50-$13.50; banquets $38.50-$50
Open Tuesday-Sunday 5.30-10pm; Friday-Sunday noon-3pm
Bookings 9531 7733
By night, Lezzet is a portal into another time and place. Not in a clichéd prints-of-Turkey-on-the-wall kind of way, but in an honest celebration of melded cultures. The visual allusions to Turkey are manifold, modern and atmospheric, from the ruby glow of the backlit main bar to the ultra-low lighting and the handwoven Ankaran rugs and ornaments. A timber lace screen divides the room, which is flanked on the opposite side by a long, pale-hued, cushion-laden banquette. These are clever features that add a sense of privacy and comfort to an otherwise crowded, noisy space. Long blackboards outline the sofra (chefs table) menu and a few daily specials, requiring less effort in the half-light than the printed menu offering meze, pizza, seasonal and signature dishes.