Eating out: Topkapi
It's late afternoon, an unseasonably warm wind is blowing, and our energetic 3-year-old is tiring. Cool drinks and tasty dinner are required, quickly.
Isn't favourite pre-quake haunt Topkapi nearby?
Our question is answered by a smiling member of Topkapi's serving team, spruiking the menu in front of the now-further-down Manchester St restaurant.
No reservation? No problem. We are most welcome as long as we are out before the floodgate of dinner reservation guests arrive.
It is still well before six, so we score the best seats in the house. The low cushioned corner arrangement is relaxing and child friendly.
The dinner menu is comprehensive but not overwhelming and is complemented by a solid wine list and surprisingly extensive selection of cocktails.
Turkish beers, Efes, are ordered and although maltier and perhaps more textured than most of New Zealand's big-brand lagers, they are cold and refreshing.
The first of four entrees, fried eggplant, is flavoursome but has degenerated to a stew.
Courgette fritters combine moist doughiness and a crispy outer with a delicious dipping sauce.
Garlic pita bread - not too oily and perfectly toasted - is eagerly devoured by young and older.
Lamb shish rides on top of crunchy salad greens and (the ubiquitous) grated carrot. The lamb, while moist and tender, might have benefited from a fraction more seasoning.
Our iskander main course is an impressive pile of expertly cooked flesh (beef, lamb, chicken) accompanied by fluffy rice, excellent tabouli, more carrot salad and a range of sauces.
The sauces are innocuous - the mint and yoghurt is lacking the zing of fresh mint, the tomato and chilli is missing a piquant punch, and the thin tomato offering seems more suited to vodka and tabasco than it does to food.
A chicken and havuc doner is thoroughly enjoyed, with the slightly dry fowl countered by an abundance of delicious dressings and Topkapi's very good and hard-to-replicate havuc salad.
What better way to end a feast fit for Ottoman royalty but to recline with apple tea, baklava and a shisha pipe?
Alas, time is up and only baklava is available to go. The filo-like pastry filled with nuts and drizzled with honey excelled as supper.
I have not been been to Turkey, so I am not sure whether Topkapi delivers authentic Turkish fare or a dumbed-down version.
However, I suspect its lack of punchy herbs and spices can be attributed to the path of commercial reality trodden by many international restaurants to satisfy (generally conservative) Kiwi tastes.
What Topkapi certainly does deliver is friendly and efficient service, a clean and pleasant dining environment, and food that was fresh, tasty and enjoyed.
Would I go again? Already have.
Where: 64 Manchester St, Christchurch.
Phone (03) 3794447.
When: Monday-Friday, 11.30am-late; Saturday-Sunday, 4pm-late.
How much: Prices moderate - $11-$35.