Contemporary Turkish/ Middle Eastern cuisine is matched with avant garde décor.


Although Wellington is, if anything, over-supplied with modest kebab shops, in recent years the city has seen the demise of the once familiar mid-range Middle Eastern bistro. Up in quirky Cuba Street, the wildly popular Kisa plugs that gap.


To really enjoy Kisa, allow executive chef Johnny Taggart to present his cheeky reimagining of traditional cuisines, as Middle Eastern cuisine appears to be merely the starting point. For example, his turşu (classic Turkish pickle salad) introduces the crunchy delights of razor-thin raw butternut, with a walnut and pomegranate dressing and a hearty sprinkle of hazelnut dukkah over frisée leaves completing the deliciousness. Adana kebab at Kisa refers not to the traditional minced lamb but to chunks of muttony tahr, a meat every conservation-minded New Zealander ought to be eating. Wild goat and Fiordland wapiti (a type of deer) also feature on this sustainability-driven menu. Moutabel (the Lebanese version of baba ghanoush) is improved by chargrilling the eggplant over pine embers (a milder alternative to mānuka) and then sprinkling the eggplant purée with puffed wild rice for crunch. Indeed, despite its baffling array of Middle Eastern culinary terms (such as zhug, toum, ezmesi, ekşili, ajvar, nohutlu, lahmacun, laffa, muhallebi), the menu makes no claim to be strictly traditional. Kisa’s take on muhallebi, for example, has nothing to do with the heavy, milky Turkish rice pudding of that name. Instead it’s an airy vegan mousse of almond milk and coconut cream, with no dairy or rice whatsoever, but it is definitely improved by including preserved sour cherries and a wispy topping of pashmak (Persian candyfloss).


Perhaps it doesn’t matter that chef Taggart, an expat Canadian, has never actually set foot in Turkey or the Middle East. Rather, his credibility derives from professional kitchen experience: three years at the cult Hataitai hideaway Bambuchi (now BambuchiSan), plus four years at Hamilton’s two-hatted Victoria Street Bistro (now closed).


Jacob Ford writes the drinks’ list and works with restaurant manager Molly McDavitt to supervise a waiting team who pump out the dishes with remarkable efficiency, helped by the kitchen’s policy of heavy prep for the sake of quick service.


Kisa was deliberately fitted out to look worn and weathered from the day it opened: a row of cloudy old mirrors crowns the bar, tilework is slightly uneven and long banquettes offer both comfort and style. The buzz is constant: even at 5.30pm on a Thursday evening all 90 seats in the house may well be taken.

ADDRESS: 195 Cuba St, Wellington
Check website for opening hours
SHARING MAINS: $32 – $48
CONTACT: 021 449 820