Updated: 2012-08-27 13:24
By Mike Peters (China Daily)
There is a trio of Middle Eastern restaurants on Beijing's Gongti Beilu strip near the Sanlitun village, and it can be tough to choose among them.
Since I'm convinced that I was Persian in a previous life, Rumi delights my heart with its lean grilled lamb, savory stews and alabaster elegance. At the other end, 1001 Nights can be charming and offers better food than you usually get at a belly-dancing parlor.
But my feet most often take me to Turkish Mum, the cozy eatery in the middle. The service is super-friendly, there's a nice selection of wine, and the food combines the pleasure of home cooking with enough presentation panache to make it a dining out experience well worth the reasonable prices.
Lentil soup is the can't-miss starter, even if you're eating outside on the pleasant street-side patio.
A selection of appetizers - including a 48-yuan ($8) combo with hummus, pickles and a nicely tart tabbouleh - gives you cooler options before sinking your teeth into an entree. Salads are fresh and intriguing, including the coban salad of cubed cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and fresh pepper and a shirazi salad with similar ingredients but a lemony bite.
Miss Ning, the cheery manager, offers plenty of choices when you are ready for a main. As you'd expect, there are plenty of kebabs - grilled chunks of lamb with come-hither hints of lemon and yoghurt marinade, or the pleasant and reliable adana with its two long strips of pressed ground beef, beautifully seasoned and very filling with sides of rice and grilled peppers.
Other meat-on-a-stick platters feature chicken or fish with various side dishes.
For an occasional change from kebabery, we like the tiny dumplings that the kitchen fills with savory meat and sets adrift on a big platter of sour cream dressing dusted with paprika. It's enough for two to share as a light meal with a couple of salads.
There is also Sultan's Delight, a stew of lamb and pureed eggplant that must be sensory torture for the chefs who cook it long and slow before serving it to other people.
The kitchen also makes a lovely version of fesenjen, an aromatic stew of chicken, walnuts and pomegranate that's home-style if you have a Persian mum, but tedious to do in your own kitchen because the walnuts need a lot of attention during the slow-cooking, or they turn oily.
In the hands of Turkish Mum chefs, it's out of this world.
Roasted options for mains include the popular sea bass and a half chicken served with chickpea rice - all simply but consistently prepared in hearty portions.
Finish the night with a sweet-smoking hookah if you like. Of course there is robust coffee and sweet Turkish pastries - the baklava is fine, but give other choices an eyeball before you decide.