While some restaurants fight back the years with constant renovations and makeovers, Carthago has aged without apology. The interior is slightly worn and cluttered with an impressive accumulation of ornaments: a textured map of the Mediterranean, plates, paintings, figurines, tourist trinkets. It’s like visiting an elderly relative’s home, just with better food.
The middle-aged Japanese couple who run the place do all of the work themselves, and orders can be a little slow coming. If they say they’re fully booked, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every seat is taken, but rather that they have as many customers as they can handle. You’d do well to reserve in advance, especially at the weekend.
The menu rounds up many of the gastronomic highlights of Arabic and Turkish cuisine, with the occasional nod to other Mediterranean countries. The combination mazza is a good place to start, offering three of four picks from the appetizer menu (for ¥1,500 or ¥1,900, respectively). The hummus andbaba ghanouj are both tasty, but they’re outdone by a superbly balancedezme salatasi and parsley-laden tabbouleh. Rounds of doughy pita bread go for ¥200 a pop, and you might end up ordering more than one per person.
We follow up with some agreeably tart sigara boregi, spring rolls stuffed with feta (¥750 for three), and a plate of falafel. The latter is moist and not too garlicky—just right, in other words—but ¥700 feels a bit steep for just two pieces.
The yogurtlu kebab (¥1,700), stewed lamb with yogurt, tomato and an eggplant splayed on top, also proves a little smaller than we would’ve liked. Still, it’s cooked to perfection, the meat tender and beautifully flaky. By contrast, the vegetable couscous (¥1,900) is a monster, coming in a sizable bowl piled with chickpeas, carrots, asparagus, eggplant and more besides. Highly recommended.
They’re all out of Palestinian Taybeh beer, so we get the Lebanese Almaza (¥750), a light pilsener. Bottles of wine start at ¥3,000, with vintages from throughout the Mediterranean, including Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Indecisive drinkers will appreciate the wine bar, which allows them to sample Middle Eastern plonk one glass at a time (¥300 for a small serving, ¥660 for a large one). It’s self-service, and diners are simply asked how many glasses they had when their bill is totted up at the end of the night.
It’s touches like this that give Carthago much of its charm. Sure, it may not be the cheapest of places, but for homely atmosphere and quality food, it’s hard to beat.