A dark-haired goddess who is painted on a wall towers over the counter at Café Xenophily in Ecclesall Road.
Her clothing is based on a famous 1960s belly dancer and she is also called Xenophily, a made-up name based on the word xenophilia, which café owner Rachel German describes as an attraction for new people and customs.
Rachel, who has a Turkish father and a Syrian mother and was brought up in Saudi Arabia, has brought some of those influences to the café’s menu. As well as other light meals including shawarma sandwiches and breakfast options with a Mediterranean twist, there is a range of mezze dishes on offer, which Rachel describes as “proper Turkish and Syrian” fare.
The Turkish tea and coffee are made to secret family recipes, says Rachel, on specially-imported equipment. An eye-catching electric tea urn is on the counter, constantly on the go. I tried the tea, which was interesting but was a little too strong for me.
She says she always has gluten-free and vegan options on the menu and these have proved very popular.
Rachel, who has also worked in hotel management in Leeds, is justifiably proud of getting lot of four and five-star reviews on TripAdvisor.
The café is open on Fridays and Saturdays for bistro nights. It’s best to book.
The café, which took over the premises of PJ Taste at Hunters Bar, has a small seating area downstairs and a pleasant, larger area upstairs which was being cleaned when we arrived. There are also a couple of tables outside.
My friend Linda and I opted to share some mezze dishes and asked Rachel how many we’d need when she came to take our order. She suggested three if we were peckish rather than hungry.
You could easily go for four between two and still leave room for the delicious cakes.
We tried the chicken and goat’s cheese salad (£4.85), baba ganoush (£3.95) and Levantine mini pastries (£5.95).
They all appeared quickly and were well presented.
I’ve wittered on before about how much I love baba ganoush, which is a salad or dip made with chopped aubergines. This version tastes a little sharper than I’d like but still good.
It was served with four triangles of flatbread, which was disappointingly cold, and we could have done with a little more bread.
There was another small helping of baba ganoush accompanying the four Levantine minis. The pastry tasted almost bready and two of the minis were just filled with smoky little hot dog sausages. The others were very tasty, with a lovely lightly spiced and moist spinach filling.
Our favourite mezze dish was the salad, which had strips of grilled chicken breast and really good pieces of goat’s cheese on top of mixed leaves and roasted red pepper with a balsamic-based dressing. All the flavours married really well.
We both had our eyes on the cakes displayed on the counter and went for the sensational chocolate brownie and very nicely textured lemon polenta cake.
Our bill came to £27.
This is an interesting place and a good option if you like decent tea and coffee and cakes but want a healthy option rather than a decadent treat. The mezze was pleasant rather than sensational.