The Sorcerer’s Choice: Sarastro

The most magical pre-show restaurant in London carries on the eccentric legacy of its founder.

 

Sarastro is one of the most fun, passionate and cultured restaurants in London with a theatrical ethos that is as vibrant as the personality of its founder. Named after the benevolent sorcerer in Mozart’s Magic Flute, Sarastro is as warm and magical as its original namesake. It has established for itself a firm place in Theatreland lore in no small part due to the eccentric reputation of its recently deceased founder, Resat Niyazi, who was known as ‘The King of Covent Garden’. A Turkish Cypriot, Niyazi worked his way up from a humble dishwasher to the founder of some of the most entertaining and theatrical restaurants in London, including Papageno on the Strand, and Caligula in Bromley. All of his restaurants are united by his unabashed passion for opera, and their High Rococo set design interior reflects this. In particular, Sarastro may be seen as the restaurant counter-part of the Royal Opera House, featuring many of its props and set pieces amongst its interiors. Diners may enjoy their pre-theatre meal inside one of the many balconies of Sarastro, including the spectacular Royal Box. Extravagance is the key word of Sarastro, and this is reflected in its small details as well as in its overall oeuvre: dancing putti grin at you from behind velvet curtains, wooden airplanes dangle from pearl-encrusted chandeliers, Egyptian sculptures adorn mosaic window sills, and even prima ballerina Darcey Bussell gave a pair of her shoes to the restaurant to be used as decorations.

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The food and drink are remarkably reasonable considering the ultimate effect of the place, with a meal and glass of wine averaging £25-30 per person. This showcases its egalitarian ethos, which encourages those from all walks of life to join in the fun of the theatre. West-End celebrities may be found dining beside Mr. Jobsworth and Mrs. Middlestwit under the brilliantly garish gilded ceiling whilst a string quartet with accompanying opera singer play on in the background. The food has a distinctly Turkish streak, although the extensive menu features the standard affair of well-executed Mediterranean favourites. The Rack of Lamb is tender and comforting, whilst their Mucver (cheese and courgette fritter served with cacik dip) is tangy and crisp. Their Islim Kebabi has won awards (they regularly compete in the British Kebab awards and usually win the Fine Dining medal) and is a star-studded example of the traditional 17th century Istanbul dish. Wine is the way to go in terms of drinks, and they have a carefully chosen recommended wine list as well as a more widespread selection for the seasoned connoisseur. That said, larger tables will no doubt enjoy a jug of the Sarastro Special. Recently featured on Canada Food Network’s ‘The World’s Weirdest Restaurants’, Sarastro is definitely one to add to the bucket list.

 

Sarastro is located at 126 Drury Lane, Theatreland, London, WC2B 5SU

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