Condolences made for Esra Muslu, chef and founder of London restaurant Zahter, who passed away last week

For many, Turkish cuisine in London was confined to classic kebabs or fast casual pide. Esra Muslu became a force to change that when she opened Zahter.

Muslu has been described as a visionary talent. Hailing from Istanbul, the 44-year old had a hugely successful and diverse career, quietly showcasing how diverse and impactful the hospitality industry can be.

Muslu initially became interested in cooking through her Jewish landlady, who would show her how to prepare traditional Jewish dishes and breads, introducing her and her family to a wider range of techniques. She came to the UK to study but before long, decided to move to Melbourne where she began her course in gastronomy at the Swinburne University of Technology.

After graduating, Muslu returned to her native Istanbul, working as a chef and developing her creative culinary skills. The Turkish news outlet T-Vine reports that during this time, Muslu “brought fresh flavours and styles to Turkish cuisine” and just three years later, she opened her first restaurant, Moreish, in the up and coming Beyoğlu quarter.

At the time, Muslu said of Moreish: “‘We wanted to do a fine dining take on traditional Istanbulite cuisine, so we’d do things like smoking aubergines and making a soup out of it and making beetroot ice cream. It was incredibly popular because there weren’t many fine dining restaurants in Istanbul at that time, so we even started to get attention overseas.”

The concept proved a roaring success, with a further five sites added to the group in just a small number of years, however after opening her sixth Istanbul outpost, Muslu stepped back from the business. She didn’t stay out of the kitchen for long.

Soho House Istanbul opened in 2015 and the club quickly hired Muslu to run the main restaurant, a move which later saw her take the helm at Shoreditch House in London in 2017.

The next move was a stint as head chef of Ottolenghi’s in Spitalfields. The common thread, asides from the popularity of all these restaurants, was that each time Muslu ran the kitchen, she was riding the culinary zeitgeist: the most pleasing food of a newly more familiar region which people simply wanted to eat.

Opening her own independent restaurant was still an ambition and in 2021, in the heart of the Covid storm, Esra Muslu opened Zahter. Found on the corner of Foubert’s place in London’s Soho, a diminutive, influential restaurant flourished, receiving rave reviews from critic Jay Rayner and described by Harden’s diners as “an impressive addition to the Carnaby Street scene” which “gives you so much to talk about”.

Zahter lives on as does Muslu’s enduring legacy to the British-Turkish restaurant landscape.

In a post from Zahter, the restaurant stated: ‘her vibrant spirit and unwavering positivity touched us all. Her legacy will forever live on in our hearts.’

Share this article: