The Turkish Ambassador was among the first to phone with congratulations when Truva Bar and Grill won the Weetabix Food and Drink Awards Gold for World Cuisine.
“I thought it was a joke at first but I spoke to him. He saw it online and he wants to book a table after we reopen,” laughs owner Recep Yildirim as he prepares his Towcester restaurant for the return of customers on May 17.
“We had three judges come here in secret. It is not just the food, they look at the service and everything. It is done properly and we never knew who they were, so if the Turkish ambassador wants to come let him come. We will cook him some good food and look after him well.”
Recep takes quality of service very seriously and spends most of his time front of house, ensuring his diners are having a great experience.
“You can put the best plate of food in the world in front of someone but if the service is poor they have had a bad evening,” he says.
The menu is Turkish and Mediterranean with a good selection of vegetarian and fish options too.
“When people ask me what they should have I ask them ‘what do you fancy?’ We cook everything here. British people do love their kebabs though…” says Recep.
When I suggest it feels healthier than a burger and chips his face lights up: “It is! Cooked from fresh on a charcoal grill with loads of salad. You can taste the difference when food is cooked over charcoal rather than gas. It is a little bit more difficult to manage. You judge how many grills to light as the reservations build up and use them when the heat is just right. It is the art of the flame.”
Recep studied hotel and tourism in Turkey and came to the UK with his English wife in 2003. Now a father of three he lives in Daventry where he used to run a restaurant before he was tipped off two years ago that the White Horse Yard venue in Towcester was available.
In his first year running Truva the restaurant was named runner up in category that they won this year. Ironically that was celebrated at the glittering food awards ceremony at Royal & Derngate in Northampton. Winning the gold was a more humble affair on YouTube this year but it still means the world to Recep and his team.
“It is because they judge you properly. You have to earn it. People use the awards as a guide when they want to go out somewhere to eat,” he says, although before the pandemic word of mouth was already very strong for Truva. You need to be quick off the mark to get a table on a Friday or Saturday night.
If things get hectic in the kitchen Recep is quite capable of jumping into action on the grills too.
“My family come from the Mengen area of Turkey, famed for providing chefs for the Ottoman sultans. All my family were raised helping out in kitchens, working your way up from washing pots, preparing salads to learning how to use the grills.”
Truva continued through lockdown with a takeaway and delivery service but Recep is keen to focus on the restaurant after May 17.
“If you have got a full restaurant those people have to come first. We will look at it carefully and do what we have to do,” he says, acknowledging that making plans for the future is tricky until some kind of normality returns.
He does have something to look forward to however, hot on the heels of his Weetabix award Truva has been longlisted for the British Kebab Awards.
Pictures by Dave Ikin