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You wouldn’t necessarily notice that the Kemp Cafe is Turkish at all. Most of the posters in the windows advertise baguettes, filled rolls and cooked breakfast, and, both times I’ve been there that’s what the customers have been eating too. But right after the place opened, I saw a woman sitting in the window rolling flatbreads. In one of those moments when you just have to investigate despite not actually being hungry, I went in and discovered that yes, those were Turkish bureks (filled with feta, spinach and chili) and yes, they were as homemade and delicious as you might imagine. I’ve been back twice for lunch and eaten the meze, which are tucked away on the right hand side of the menu, after all the British standards. There aren’t a lot of choices, but that’s because you’re eating what the owner has cooked that day. It’s small scale, homely, and no less pleasing for that.
The first time, I had a green bean and tomato salad, roasted aubergine and courgette, and couscous. All were really good but the couscous was transformative. I’ve never been a massive fan of couscous: I find it dry and the texture unpleasantly granular. But I’ve still eaten it a fair few times as I like North African food. This was by a factor of infinity the best couscous I’ve ever eaten. Moist, richly flavoured, obviously cooked in some ambrosial broth, I could have eaten it by the bowlful. Someone here is a really good cook.
But lovely as the meze were, what charmed us the most was the warm Turkish welcome. The owners are just lovely; obviously happy to share their cuisine with customers and rightly proud of what they serve. The first time I ate there, one of the owners stopped by our table with a plate of yoghurt topped with herbs and chili flakes. Eaten with bread and honey, it was a perfect complement to the rich tomato dishes.
The next time I visited, a plate of vine leaves appeared, unordered, and fresh out of the oven, at our table. Filled with nutty rice and rolled thin, they were irresistibly toothsome.
The owners have obviously decided that Turkish food is not enough to sustain their business and they want to be a local caff for people in the neighbourhood. Hence the emphasis on traditional British food. It’s probably a smart move: they’re far enough into Kemptown that they won’t catch too much foot traffic from the city centre and a new ethnic restaurant is a dicey proposition in a recession. The welcome is warm for everyone, and if you enjoy Turkish food, then so much the better. Moreover, both the meze and the bureks are vegetarian, another plus for the many Brighton veggies out there. Kemp Cafe is unassuming and the food simple, but if home-cooked Turkish meze sounds appealing, then it is absolutely worth a detour.
(This one was for Mr Lemur, obviously!)
Kemp Cafe, Upper St James St (on the corner of Wyndham St), Brighton