FOOD & DRINK: Eating out: Is this the perfect TV dinner?

Next door to Broadcasting House, Ozer is perfectly located for power-lunchers. So will Modern Ottoman cooking catch on?
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The Independent Culture
It's a smart decision for a new restaurant to open for business a few doors down the road from Broadcasting House. Not only is a stream of expense-account diners guaranteed, but you also improve your chances of getting that career-making TV commission: a fat lunch, a few brandies, and move over Jamie Oliver, the first series is in the bag.

A new term, "Modern Ottoman", has been invented to describe Ozer's style of cooking, which is definitely more BBC2 than BBC1, being a reworking of the elaborate traditions of Turkish food using modern French techniques. The owner, Huseyin Ozer, made his fortune with the Sofra chain of Middle- Eastern cafes, and chef, Jerome Tauvron was most recently stationed at Quo Vadis, and has an impressive catalogue of Michelin-starred employers behind him in his native France.

Initial reports from early diners were effusive, so I was confident I'd be able to enlist a table-full of companions from the revellers I ran into at John Birt's annual Christmas drinks party, felicitously being held at Broadcasting House on the night of my planned visit to Ozer.

Despite being stuffed with canapes, Michael Jackson of Channel Four and Alan Yentob of the BBC, together with Alan's partner Philippa, allowed themselves to be herded a few yards down Langham Place and through Ozer's impressive, studded doors.

The restaurant's design has apparently been inspired by the mosques and palaces of the Ottoman Empire, but the overall effect is restrained and minimal, rather than opulent. Apart from those studded doors, and the bronze grilles over the windows, the only exotic touches are the ruby- red, polished plaster walls and a twisty copper lighting rig based on one in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. With limestone floor, ecru upholstery and white linen, the dining room seems airy, expensive and slightly anonymous.

"It feels a bit international," said Alan. "Like a hotel," chipped in Michael. "Yes, there's definitely something slightly naff about it," concluded Alan. Programme-makers who pitched ideas to these two when they were respectively controllers of BBC1 and BBC2 would, no doubt, have found this discouraging double-act all too familiar.

Still, we were all looking forward to the Modern Ottoman experience. The focus is on fish, vegetables, pulses and fruits, and the menu bristles with tempting and unexpected combinations, such as grilled mackerel with cucumber jelly, and John Dory with barberries. Unfortunately my three companions all alighted on one starter - artichoke hearts with broad bean puree - and none would be budged. "Why don't you try the seared tuna, Alan?" I cajoled. "Because I want artichoke hearts!" he retorted. "Michael, can't you order something different?" I pleaded. "But artichoke hearts is what I want!" came the reply.

Sportingly, Philippa volunteered to break the deadlock, by changing her order. She was pleased that she had - the seared tuna was by far the most appetising and substantial of our starters, rolled into a light, filo-pastry crust with fresh coriander and served with a tangy relish of ginger, fig and lime. The disputed artichoke hearts were meagre and the accompanying broad-bean puree underseasoned, so much so that Alan immediately called for a lemon, which arrived just in time to be squeezed over the last mouthful.

I was by now so flustered by the caprices of my power-companions that I was unable to concentrate on my own, rather more flavoursome, choice, langoustines in a delicate tempura batter, served with a tsatsiki-style yoghurt and cucumber dip and jewel-bright beads of pomegranate.

Ozer is proud of its lamb dishes, which it describes as being "among the most exquisite in Europe", so Alan and I decided on the lamb, though we chose different cuts.

Unfortunately, when our plates arrived, they looked suspiciously similar - Alan had been brought loin instead of the slow-roasted shoulder he'd ordered. In a flurry of apologies, his plate was removed, and the correct order speedily substituted. But though perfectly fine, it has to be said that both our lamb options would best be characterised as "adequate" rather than "among the most exquisite in Europe". My loin cutlets were tender and sweet, and the accompanying pinenut-spiked lentils worked well, but the effect of the dish was peculiarly bland. Alan's had more character, the tenderness of the lamb betraying slow, careful cooking, but a "marmalade" of kumquats and limequats wasn't as interesting as it sounded.

Worst off was Michael, whose pan-fried chicken breast with walnut sauce had almost no taste, and was served with an unidentifiable green puree which was actively unpleasant: further enquiries revealed it to be made of broccoli and Turkish cheese. "I don't like this," he said, and, pushing it aside, promptly left us to schmooze with a party of Time-Warner executives at the next table.

Considering the fact that Ozer prides itself on the purity and freshness of its cooking, the presentation was unnecessarily finicky, with deep- fried herbs sprinkled around as garnish and sauces elaborately curlicued about the plates. Style appeared to have triumphed over content, which is the last thing you want when you're expecting a spicy Middle-Eastern feast.

Puddings are mainly fruit-based, and mine went some way towards restoring my faith in Ozer's approach. Pain perdu (fried bread soaked in milk and sugar) was served with a gorgeous rose-water ice-cream, the only blast of identifiably Middle-Eastern flavour I'd encountered all evening. Philippa's figs had been cooked with herbs and honey - for rather too long, we guessed, given their pallid taste and stringy texture.

We finished with Turkish coffees, and a general chorus of bemused disappointment as to why our experience of Ozer should have been so different from that of the ecstatic early reviewers. At around pounds 45 a head, excluding wine, the meal was expensive, and the service erratic. Still, the expense-account crowd are already flocking there. The room was full of besuited business diners, all of whom seemed perfectly content with the "Modern Ottoman" experience. Just don't hold your breath for the TV series.

Ozer, 4-5 Langham Place, London W1 (0171-323 0505). Lunch noon-3.00pm (Mon-Fri). Dinner 6pm-11.00pm (Mon-Sat). All cards. Disabled access

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