113, Parkgate, Darlington, DL1 1RZ

Tel: 01325-464466

Menu and order through Facebook: meze-turkish-restaurant

Takeaways: Wednesday to Saturday

Food quality: 8

Recyclability of packaging: 6

Value for money: 8

Covid-safety: 8

A YEAR ago, we were free, living life without masks, working in offices, drinking in pubs, planning summer holidays and cramming as a family into a restaurant for a carefree meal out.

Our last meal out before lockdown was at Meze, a Turkish restaurant in the shadow of Darlington Hippodrome. It was #LoveDarlo week, when 20 restaurants offered two courses for a tenner, and town was heaving.

Meze is one of the smaller restaurants, and we were crammed into a tiny space beside the door, squeezing plates of food onto every spare inch of tabletop and balancing them on top of the condiments as they kept coming from the kitchen quicker than we could rationalise them, and we watched outside as the wind lashed the rain one way and the police chased the villains the other, with their blue lights flashing.

There was barely room to pull on a coat to face the weather without clouting the person on the next table. It was a normal night out back then, but, from the distance of a year, it looks infectiously claustrophobic. We were partying like it was 1939, oblivious to the coming storm.

But the food was fabulous, and now Meze is doing takeaways from Thursdays to Saturdays.

Town was pretty quiet – no rain, no villains, no people – as we pulled up in Parkgate, and, of course, the restaurant was empty apart from Pauline Eskia, the front-of-house, with bits of paper spread on tables around her as she tried to direct a delivery driver to a postcode that the satnav said didn’t exist. Her husband, Cem, was in the kitchen, and we needed several hands to carry our bagged order away – this was the biggest, most generous, takeaway of our year in lockdown.

Five of us were dining, so we’d ordered three mixed mezes as starters (£7 per head). What an enormous selection of tastes we got!

The Northern Echo:

The meze starter from Meze - there's more in the fridge!

There was a tub of butter and pinto beans in a tomatoey, red peppery sauce, another of green beans in a similar sauce, another of mushrooms in a darker, garlicy sauce, another of potato salad in almost a sweet mayonnaise, another of sigara boregi – the flaky pastry cigars stuffed with cheese – and another of chicken in a slightly spicey tomato sauce. Plus there were tubs of smooth humus and of cacik – yoghurt with cucumber, mint and garlic that our son, Theo, liked so much that he was still talking about it a week later.

And then, most substantially of all, there were half peppers stuffed with tender minced lamb and topped with a dollop of yoghurt.

It was a great journey through tastes and textures – the grainy-ness of the butterbeans, the little crunch of the green beans, the smooth softness of the mushrooms.

Plus there was a pile of Turkish flatbreads, each the size of a seven inch vinyl record, to mop up the sauces.

The five of us could not manage all of the three mixed mezes.

We’d each ordered a main course, most of which are £10 or £11 although my top of the range Iskender was £14. Each was a meal in a cardboard box, served with fluffy rice, fried potatoes, great wedges of tomato or pepper and often a dollop of yoghurt – my Iskender, being top of the range, also had a layer of pitta bread for good measure.

Among the kebabs, grills and casseroles, there are only two vegetarian options and Petra, my wife, went for the vegetable guvec – a casserole – while grandma had the lamb version. Chickpeas replaced the meat in a tasty dish of aubergine, courgettes and peppers, although I thought the lamb in grandma’s dish was excellent – braised, it fell into soft fibres as the fork approached.

The Northern Echo: Iskender, a bit of everythingIskender, a bit of everything

Iskender, a bit of everything

It was very different from the lamb that was in my Iskender. My dish had a bit of everything, including a lamb kebab, which was cubed, grilled meat, nicely soft but more sturdy than the guvec. I also had a minced lamb kebab, although my favourite was the chicken pieces where you could really taste the marinade and the smoke from the grill.

Theo and his sister, Genevieve, also had chicken dishes – a kebab and a supreme – which were full of white, juicy meat, again with a waft of smoke.

Oh, and we each got a tub full of salad. Not just a couple of handfuls out of a supermarket bag, there was a portion of grated carrot, a chunk of lemon and the lettuce was topped with shavings of radish, pickles and beetroot.

Even though we had ordered what felt like an appropriate number of dishes, there was much left over. In a restaurant, it would have gone back as waste, but eating at home, we were able to put the lids back on the plastic pots and put the leftovers in the fridge.

There are not many consolations of living a year in lockdown, but one of them was, the next evening, all of us being able to enjoy reliving this great journey through Turkish tastes and textures.