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Tas Pide brings serious Turkish Cuisine to London

Clifford Mould was knocked out by the sheer variety of flavours and textures

Ask most people what they think of Turkish food and they'll probably say Doner Kebab.  More adventurous foodies will perhaps come up with Imam Byildi, (the priest was supposed to have fainted with delight at this dish of stuffed  aubergines).  Neither of these two old chestnuts are on the menu at Tas Pide, Bankside's newest, and in many ways, most exciting restaurant.

Southwark's Bankside

is the area on the South Bank of the river Thames around Southwark Cathedral that has certainly captured the imagination. Only a few years ago it was a no man's land of derelict warehouses criss-crossed by railway arches. 

Geoffrey Chaucer's
Canterbury Pilgrims left from the Tabard Inn and in Shakespeare's day it was the entertainment centre of London, safely outside the jurisdiction of the City and the Bishop of London. The ancient history of the area is given a sharp focus by the very first exhibit at Vinopolis, City of Wine where Roman wine amphorae were discovered virtually under the floor of this brilliant interactive exhibition. 

Recently, the centre of attention in Bankside has been the success of the Tate Modern art gallery in its imaginatively converted former power station - other attractions include the careful reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drake's ship The Golden Hind, the original jail known as The Clink and of course Southwark Cathedral which is just completing an extensive refurbishment. Don't miss their fine professional choir.

There are two Tas restaurants already, one in the Cut at Waterloo and the other in Borough High Street. The new Tas Pide is equipped with a genuine Anatolian wood fired oven which is designed principally for the cooking of Pide, a kind of boat shaped pizza. The dough is wafer thin and crisp, and because of the way it is folded, there's room for a filling that's richer and more substantial than in most pizzas. Of course the oven is marvellous for cooking all sorts of other dishes, and the key to this kind of eating is the mezze, so expect to be presented with a kaleidoscope of flavours and textures. The atmosphere is great too - I'm always a bit suspicious of theme restaurants, too often the triumph of style over content, but Tas Pide really does transport you to Anatolia with its use of carved wood, tiles and kilims.

There's a huge selection of hot and cold starters as well as Anatolian fish and meat dishes. Over a dozen different kinds of Pide include some that are wholly traditional, while others are the creation of chef-patron Onder Sahan. The best line of attack for the first time adventurer is to go for one of the set menus, which start at £7.25 for a mezze of eight cold dishes, or £7.45 for a mixed feast starting with the delicious red lentil soup, four starters and a choice of Pide. In the interests of serious research we pushed the boat out and tried the Aslan Menu (£17.50) which includes 8 starters, various hot dishes, dessert and coffee. While we were waiting, out came the most delicious breads with tasty olives and a dip that reminded me of skordalia. We washed this down with a bottle of the house wine, a light but brisk white from Turkey's Western Anatolian region - it sells for an extremely drinkable £10.50.

I love Levantine salads, especially when they are made from previously cooked ingredients served cold. But they have to be very fresh - I can assure you that we were offered nothing remotely tired - the flavours were all vivid and well differentiated. I particularly enjoyed Kisir, made from bulgar wheat with walnuts and lots of tomatoes and fresh mint - a sort of variant on Tabuleh, and Bakla, made from broad beans, coriander, red and green peppers, dill, garlic and oil and a yoghurt base. Amongst the hot starters was the Humus Kavurma which comes with crispy diced lamb and crunchy pine nuts, kicked up a notch or two with some paprika. .Their "take" on favourites such as borek and falafel was authentic, no short cuts, and in spite of the array before us, there were still plenty of things to try for my next visit, like skewered mussels, (I wonder how they flavour them) and kalamari.

By now I was dying to try a pide, and out came a very fishy one with sardines (which somehow I can't take after lamb, but that's my problem!) and one called Pastirmali. Since it's made from very special cured beef, I wondered if this was a distant ancestor of pastrami? It was simply delicious, it's bound up with egg, just perfectly set, with the pide dough forming a crisp light base. My favourite of all was Kul Basti, prime lamb fillets that really tasted of lamb, given the wood oven treatment as well as with oregano and other spices. 

We drank an honest, rustic Turkish red wine called Buzbag, not a name that appeals to my marketing instincts! The wine list is quite adequate with a reasonable selection of familiar names. I'd like to see a much more adventurous selection from the Eastern Mediterranean, beginning with the Lebanon. There are some fantastic (dare I utter the name) Greek wines that would go supremely  well with these vibrant flavours. Perhaps Tas Pide can help to build a much needed bridge between these two great cultures.

Let me offer a word of advice. Don't stuff yourselves with too much of that lovely bread at the start of your meal. Leave some room for desserts, they are seriously yummy! Katmer is a sort of dessert pide, wafer thin pastry dusted with icing sugar which caramelises in the wood oven, filled with I don't know quite what, obviously pistachios, but it's oh so good! What ever you do, don't miss Firin Sutlac which is rice pudding but not as we know it from English schooldays. Wickedly creamy, just set to wobbly perfection, it's intensely flavoured with rose water and orange essence. There are other marvellous puddings, designed to bring on instant attacks of groaning ecstasy, but you should discover them for yourselves.

Finally, the service is efficient and utterly charming - with a delightful reticence and total lack of attitude. Claudia Roden, my esteemed guru where matters of Middle Eastern cuisine are concerned recorded the wise words of an old man in rural Anatolia:  What gives us most pleasure in life is being hospitable, and to be hospitable you have to give food. They exemplify this dictum perfectly at Tas Pide.

Clifford Mould,  December 2002

Dine Online highly recommends: Tas Pide, 
20 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London SE1
Tel: 020 7928 3300

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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