Sarastro – “The Show After The Show”
When your mojo needs a boost and life is a rainy stormy day, head down to Sarastro, the heart and soul of theatreland Covent Garden in central London. If it does not cheer you up, nothing will. Regular customers from the showbiz and theatre world, politicians, tourists and the general public gravitate towards this mecca of fun and joviality.
Sarastro Restaurant is a visual feast of opulence and flamboyance styled after an opera house. Indeed, most of the outlandish and ornate features are props and cast-offs from shows and operas in the theatres around the area. It is a riot of Gothic, Rococo, Byzantine, Aladdin’s cave and Arabian nights all boldly assembled like a Salvador Dali-Picasso surreal artworks in a psychedelic visage. An awesome assault of the senses!
Sarastro – A Night At The Opera
The theatrical setting comprises of ten wall-mounted opera boxes with intimate booths on the ground level, holding a capacity for 250 seating. The room is festooned with drapes of velvet, silk and lacy fabric and theatrical paraphernalia.
This was the brainchild of the late Richard Niazi, the ebullient and eccentric owner, known as King Richard of Covent Garden. Whisky in one hand, a cigarette on the other and a look of mirth was his hallmark countenance.
True to his mischievous sense of humour, Niazi, an opera buff and music lover, commissioned artists and designers to paint and decorate the once dilapidated dosshouse to emulate an opera house. The restrooms are decadently painted in erotic art, which had won “best toilets in London” award in the past. They are not for the fainted hearted or prudes. The murals portray quite explicit erotic paintings, more art than pornography (depends on your sensitivity and outlook,) not quite suitable for junior eyes. Children have their own restrooms, which are suitably decorated.
Niazi named the restaurant “Sarastro” after a character in his favourite opera, The Magic Flute by Mozart. His daughter Sibel inherited the restaurant after his death and continues his legacy of keeping Sarastro a magical and fantastic place of exuberance and merriment.
Sarastro – Eat, Drink and Be Entertained
Sarastro is a restaurant for grown-ups who want to let their hair down especially at weekends when the party mood is at full swing. On Sunday afternoon and evening, there are string quartet and live opera provided by professional singers from international opera houses including the Royal Opera House.
Swing and Motown are on Thursday evenings currently starring Colin Roy, a West End actor and singer. The weekend kicks off on Friday nights with Latin rhythms performed by Grace Rodson who also entertains on Saturday night with 70s and 80s classics, party and easy listening tunes.
A small area is cleared for diners to dance and show off some moves when the music picks up the tempo. It is a wonderful place for parties and celebrating special occasions such as office Christmas parties, birthdays and anniversaries. Its lively atmosphere lends itself to a festive mood and it has been billed as “The show after the show” being a favourite of theatregoers in Covent Garden.
A Turkish Cornucopia
Sarastro’s menu may not be haute cuisine but they are heartily created to showcase the soul of Mediterranean gastronomy. We dined there one afternoon for Sunday lunch with some friends. To whet our appetite, we ordered a mezze medley of Turkish pinchers such as hummus; Cacik -yoghurt with chopped cucumbers and garlic; Shakshouka – sautéed aubergine, green peppers and onions in tomato sauce; Kisir- a Turkish style bulgur wheat salad; Sucuk- spicy beef sausages in tomato sauce; Mucver a cheese and courgette fritter and the cheese borek -a cheese-filled puff pastry is especially yummy.
Main courses feature some typical Turkish fares of which the Lamb Anatolian (my favourite) is the signature dish. It is a generous portion of slow cooked lamb shank stewed to perfection served with a melange of mixed vegetables. Other delicious fare of our choice included Mutancana, an Ottoman dish of sautéed beef with onions, peppers and mushrooms complemented with the sweetness of apricot served with pilaf rice.
The Karniyarik, an aubergine stuffed with minced beef and lamb, parsley and onion served with pilaf and garnished with cherry tomatoes is another winner. I had the Chicken Mediterranean, a tender chicken breast served with baby spinach, orzo pilaf and béchamel sauce. The chicken was moist and well seasoned. There are equally delicious menu for vegetarians and we chose the Savoury Crepe filled with creamy aubergines, courgettes and peppers, topped with cheese, tomatoes and pesto sauce garnished with wild rocket.
The dessert of Black Forest Gateau, Panna Cotta with homemade fruit compote and mixed berries and ice cream may not be quite Turkish but they worked well to cleanse the palate after the rich full flavour of the Mediterranean.
Sarastro has been hailed as a destination restaurant that “gladdens the heart, delights the eye and captivates the soul”. If you come to Sarastro and feel miserable, go and seek help or stay at home. It is exclusively for bon vivants who enjoy the good things in life. In the immortal words of King Richard, “If music is the Food of Love, Eat up!”