There is a magical, delicious slice of Turkey in our backyard.
Remember the sixties TV show I Dream of Jeannie? Allow me to jolt your memory: the dashing astronaut Anthony Nelson, the glittering genie (named Jeannie), her quirky ‘cross your arms and blink’ tricks and whacky storylines. I mention this because a visit to Toowoomba’s wonderful Sofra Turkish Cuisine in Margaret Street conjures memories of viewing an episode of that kooky sitcom. Just like Jeannie’s enchanted bottle, the bright shopfront hides a sumptuous interior and charming characters to make wishes come true.
Toowoomba is a long magic carpet ride from Turkey, but Sofra is like a food embassy – producing some of its finest recipes and techniques. Just as the Garden City sits between greater Brisbane and the spread of the Downs, Turkey’s land mass joins Asia and Europe between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. The country also blends culture from the east and west – including the charmed cuisine, honed over centuries.
Sofra’s ‘sharing mezze’ platters carry a generous spread of menu highlights, with meat, seafood and vegetarian versions. From the entrée section there is sebze kizartma – embracing eggplant, zucchini, capsicum and potato cooled with garlic yoghurt and a house-made tomato paste. Zucchini re-appears in muçver with carrot and fresh herbs served in lettuce leaf cups. The fantastical falafel are superbly crafted – crunchy outside and chewy within – the chickpea, beans and sesame seed saltiness melding perfectly with creamy tahini sauce. Haloumi is spiked with rosemary skewers, which secrete their woody essence into the chargrilled cheese alongside locally grown heirloom tomatoes. More cheeses abound with Turkish rice and bread, pickles and olives.
You do not need a crystal ball to see that everything has been expertly made from scratch with crisp, fresh ingredients. There are no oily, brine-soaked bites here, no poor morsels fried within a millimetre of their last molecule, or hideously dry, chewy meats. The menu stretches to soups, dips, a bunch of chargrilled items, a pile of house specials, oval-shaped Turkish pizzas and a glamorous range of salads. The Ottoman banquets are indulgent for a harem or two, and everything is reasonably priced. You might even pop open a bottle of Moët for a special occasion, and enjoy some of the sweet treats for which the Turks are famous.
The superb cuisine is sharper than the restaurant’s furnishings, which recalls Jeannie’s ‘bigger on the inside’ bottle – colourful carpets cover everything – even the placemats are like mini Persian rugs. Embellishing the walls and surfaces are spatters of sequins, touristy pictures and collections of lamps and bottles. This design swoops diners into a comfortable, charming place for enjoying their banquets.
The warm, romantic atmosphere must have inspired owners Irfan and Moyalia Tokmak, who were married at the restaurant in 2012. After growing up in Turkey, Irfan has owned Toowoomba eateries for 17 years: first Karingal Café, then Bindi Spot, and now Sofra. It seems he may be under the spell of Toowoomba’s graceful nature, and in return has given it a truly Turkish delight.
Words by Chris Hassall | Images supplied by Sofra Restaurant