Former site manager Ercan knows ingredients, service and loyalty build success.
He won’t serve chips or drunks and he turned down TV’s Come Dine With Me.
Ercan Er is a man to be reckoned with.
In a previous life he worked his way up from builder’s labourer to site manager then he opened up a restaurant and now trains his own chefs.
Love brought Ercan to this country from Turkey in 2004 and although that didn’t last, he did, and when you meet him it’s easy to see why. There is an impressive intensity and a dry, building-site humour to the man whose first name means ‘soldier’ in Turkish.
Tonight we’re at his Elif restaurant – Elif is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet – in Wickersley, Rotherham and he’s a man down on the night and running around like restaurant owners do when they’re a man down.
It’s a Thursday night and already busy when Erfan seats us at 7.15. I change my mind and he seats us again with an indulgent smile. For starters I order a Turkish beer, Efes, a crisp cold lager that’s so good that I’m soon ordering another.
Elif is a small-ish unit – soon to be enlarged – with an open-plan kitchen and a open-pit barbecue grill manned by a couple of kebab-wielding cooks. As with Broomhill’s La Vaca steak house you can smell the meat in the open barbecue grill from across Bawtry Road and Ercan confirms later that the aroma is a big pull for Elif. It smells fantastic.
“People have said they were out running on the other side of the dual carriageway and smelled the meat and that’s what attracted them to us,” said 37-year-old Ercan, originally from Istanbul.
Not that you’ll get the aroma of grilled steak cooking at Elif – or chips.
“People ask all the time for chips and lots of people have a little moan but I won’t serve chips or steak.
“This is a Turkish restaurant. I managed a bar and restaurant in Turkey and although I have changed things a little to suit English tastes – people like to see a lot of meat on their plates here – I want to keep it as authentic as I can. If they want chips there’s a chip shop at the end of the row.
“We take our last food order at 9.30pm. I don’t want people coming in here drunk at the end of the night –that’s not the kind of place I want to run.
“I don’t cut corners and I don’t buy cheap ingredients. My customers are very important to me. Most of them are local and word of mouth recommendations mean everything for a restaurant like this.
“It’s not like being in a big city where you get different customers every day. If something is wrong I see to it myself, that’s why I’m so busy tonight. We are one short in the kitchen but that doesn’t mean the service levels can drop. We have been here for three years and we have done well from the start.”
Fair enough. For starters my wife had Tavuk Kanadi – spicy chicken wings grilled on charcoal and I had Dolma Stuffed Aubergine with rice and pine kernels. The chicken had that just-barbecued smoulder and a good hit of spice. It came with salad and pickled red cabbage which was as tasty as surprising.
The stuffed mini aubergines were delicately spiced, smoky and with added texture from the pine kernels and topped with cooling yogurt and sliced tomatoes. All good – and we were given a basket of soft, salty bread with sesame and carraway seeds. By now Ercan is actually running to brting out food, make drinks, set tables.
For my main course I had Karisik Izgara – chargrilled pieces of lamb and chicken and adana – minced lamb kebab with salad and cous cous served on a bed of smoked aubergine and garlic yogurt.
The chicken breast chunks are nicely spiced, moist and the lamb is melt-in-the-mouth tender. The adana is a minced lamb kebab, crispy on the outside, soft within and great with garlic yogurt.
All this comes with cous cous – somewhere between regular and giant – and istopped with fresh herbs, a slice of pickled gherkin, more pickled cabbage (must get a jar of that) and salad.
Karen had pieces of char-grilled marinated chicken breast that came with all the above and was tender, rich and warming. As we eat, buckets of charcoal are repeatedly ferried to the grill to keep that meat sizzling.
Desserts are limited but classic and we go for Baklava – a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup. It is intensely sweet and would have been perfect with a powerful Turkish coffee to balance the sweetness but still good on its own.
As I pay I tell Ercan I’m doing a review and ask to speak to him the following day to get some detail.
“Don’t phone,” says he, holding my wrist and fixing me with that stare. “Come and see me, we can have coffee together. Then we can talk.”
I do and he tells me why he turned down the chance to appear on Come Dine With Me after one contestant said they wanted to serve his food at their TV dinner party.
“I don’t need exposure on national TV,” says Ercan as he looks me in the eye. It means nothing to me. What matters is giving my customers good food and good service. That’s all.”
For two starters, two main courses, two beers and a shared dessert our bill came to £51.10.
Star rating out of five:
* Elif Turkish Bar & Grill, 196 Bawtry Road, Wickersley, S66 1AA
* Tel: 01709 730363
* Open: 5.30pm - 10.30pm Monday to Friday. Noon – 10.30pm Saturday, closed Sunday.