Maintains Richard's Legacy with Innovation and Dedication, "Lumière Bistro": Sarastro, an intersection where food, music and fun meets: Murad Magden

“Lumière Bistro”: Sarastro, an intersection where food, music and fun meets 
Murad Magden
 Maintains Richard’s Legacy with Innovation and Dedication

Murad Magden

By: Riz Z Bhutta

In a world where flavors dance on the palate, melodies serenade the soul, and colors splash across canvases with joyous abandon, there exists a place where music, food, art, and fun intertwine in a delightful symphony of the senses. The walls are adorned with vibrant artwork, each telling its own story and inviting you to get lost in a world of imagination and creativity. From bold abstracts to intricate portraits, the gallery-like atmosphere adds an extra layer of intrigue to the dining experience. But it’s not just the food and art that make this place special; it’s the sense of fun and camaraderie that fills the air. Friends gather around tables, sharing plates of tapas and clinking glasses of wine as they revel in the joy of good company and lively conversation.

Imagine a “Lumière Bistro” tucked away on a charming cobblestone street, where the aroma of freshly brewed coffee mingles with the scent of freshly baked pastries. As you step inside, you’re greeted by the cheerful sounds of live music drifting through the air, accompanied by the gentle hum of conversation and laughter, Imagine a place like Sarastro.

Step into the surreal world of Sarastro, a vintage culinary oasis nestled in the bustling streets of Covent Garden, London, founded by Richard Niazi. A seemingly larger than life character, well known as the “King of Covenant Garden”. Named after Mozart’s timeless masterpiece, “The Magic Flute,” Sarastro opened its doors in August 1996, and since then, it has been captivating diners with its unique blend of gastronomy, opera, and classical music, all wrapped in a cloak of whimsy and charm. Located at 126 Drury Lane, Sarastro is more than just a restaurant; it’s a celebration of artistry and culture. From the moment you set foot inside, you’re transported to a bygone era, where vintage elegance and 19th-century charm still reign supreme in the heart of the 21st century.

At Sarastro, the culinary offerings are as exquisite as the arias that echo through its halls. Each dish is a culinary masterpiece, meticulously crafted to delight the senses and tantalize the taste buds. From traditional Mediterranean flavors to innovative fusion creations, every bite is a symphony of flavors that pays homage to the rich tapestry of culinary traditions. But it’s not just the food that sets Sarastro apart; it’s the seamless integration of opera and classical music into the dining experience that truly makes it a standout destination. As you dine, you’ll be serenaded by live opera performances, transporting you to the grand theaters of Europe where the classics come to life. Richard passed away in 2008, and he was laid to rest by the show he wanted after the show he had lived which ended in Nicosia, Northern Cyprus. After his demise, Sarasota was passed down to Richard’s daughter Sibel, and her uncle, Murad.

In this article, we invite you to join us as we explore the magic of Sarastro, delving into its rich history, culinary delights, and captivating entertainment. Prepare to be enchanted as we uncover the secrets behind this iconic London institution and discover why it continues to cast its spell on patrons from around the world.

In a candid interview with Murad, the esteemed successor to the renowned Sarastro restaurant, he shed light on the establishment’s rich history and enduring ethos. As Richard Niazi’s brother-in-law, Murad has played a pivotal role in preserving and nurturing Sarastro’s legacy, alongside Richard’s daughter, Sibel. 

Reflecting on Richard’s profound affinity for the performing arts, Murad recalled his unwavering passion for opera and classical music, with Mozart’s masterpiece, “The Magic Flute,” holding a special place in his heart. Murad emphasized how Richard’s admiration for the opera’s principal character, Sarastro, mirrored the ethos of the restaurant that bore its name. 

Murad Magden

Acknowledging the skepticism that often-surrounded Sarastro, Murad was quick to dispel any misgivings, echoing Richard’s sentiment that Sarastro meant no harm to anyone. Instead, Sarastro embodied a spirit of benevolence and a steadfast commitment to spreading joy and happiness through its culinary offerings and vibrant ambiance.

With the passing of the torch to Sibel and himself, Murad affirmed their dedication to upholding Richard’s vision and continuing to nurture Sarastro as a cherished destination where music, food, and fellowship intertwine to create unforgettable experiences. In essence, Sarastro the restaurant remains a testament to Richard Niazi’s enduring love for the arts and his steadfast belief in the power of hospitality to uplift and inspire all who enter its doors.

Delving into the heart of their menu, discovering a diverse blend of flavors that seamlessly blend Mediterranean tradition with a distinctive Turkish twist, after interactions with the culinary team,  “Our menu,” they explained, “embodies the vibrant spirit of the Mediterranean, infused with the rich culinary heritage of Turkey.” Each dish is a masterpiece of flavor, crafted with care and precision to delight the senses and transport diners to sun-drenched shores and bustling bazaars. At the forefront of Sarastro’s culinary offerings is the Kuzu Incik, a dish beloved by patrons and revered for its exquisite taste and texture. This succulent lamb shank is slow-cooked to perfection, allowing the flavors of a carefully curated mix of herbs and spices to infuse every bite with warmth and depth.

Equally captivating is the Ackabat Kofte, a culinary delight that marries the bold flavors of ground beef and lamb with a highly aromatic blend of spices. Grilled to perfection, each bite of this savory creation is a testament to Sarastro’s commitment to excellence and innovation. As diners embark on a gastronomic journey through Sarastro’s menu, they are invited to savor the vibrant flavors and aromas of the Mediterranean, enhanced by the unique influence of Turkish cuisine. From the tender richness of the Kuzu Incik to the bold flavors of the Ackabat Kofte, every dish tells a story of tradition, innovation, and the joy of sharing a meal with loved ones.

In essence, Sarastro offers more than just a dining experience; it is a celebration of culture, community, and the timeless appeal of Mediterranean cuisine with a Turkish twist. Sarastro stands as a beacon of elegance and charm, offering patrons a dining experience unlike any other. Stepping through its doors, guests are transported to a world of opulence inspired by the grandeur of old-world estates and the allure of the opera.

The interior of Sarastro is a sight to behold, reminiscent of a bygone era where glamour and extravagance reigned supreme. Gilt furnishings, richly colored fabrics, and intricately painted ceilings adorn the space, while opera boxes line the walls, offering guests a truly immersive dining experience. Despite its intimate size, Sarastro exudes a sense of grandeur that leaves visitors in awe from the moment they arrive. In addition to its stunning aesthetics, Sarastro is renowned for its diverse and dynamic musical offerings. What began as a venue for live opera performances twice a week has evolved into a vibrant hub of musical entertainment, with four nights dedicated to a variety of genres.

Murad Magden

Thursday evenings at Sarastro come alive with the infectious rhythms of Swing and Motown, drawing guests onto the dance floor and sparking impromptu conga lines that wind through the restaurant. On Fridays, the sultry sounds of Latin music set the stage for a night of passion and excitement, while Saturdays transport diners back in time with hits from the 70s and 80s that evoke memories of bygone eras.

But it is on Sundays that Sarastro truly shines, as a string quartet fills the air with melodic harmonies while opera singers serenade guests from the restaurant’s balconies. It’s a laid-back yet enchanting evening, where the music serves as the perfect accompaniment to a leisurely meal and heartfelt conversation. In every aspect, Sarastro offers more than just a dining experience; it is a journey through time and space, where culinary excellence meets theatrical splendor. Whether you’re drawn by the allure of its opulent interiors or the enchanting sounds that fill its halls, a visit to Sarastro is sure to leave a lasting impression, with memories that linger long after the final curtain falls.

Before Niazi’s death, he explained that the interior design was heavily influenced by the grandeur of old opera houses, “We wanted to create a space that would transport diners to a bygone era, where every detail spoke to the drama and romance of the stage”. Indeed, stepping into Sarastro is like stepping onto the set of a lavish theatrical production. Gilded furnishings, richly colored fabrics, and ornate detailing adorn the space, evoking a sense of grandeur and sophistication that is unmatched in the London dining scene. But it is not just the décor that sets Sarastro apart; it is also the live performances that have become synonymous with the restaurant’s identity. “Hosting live performances has always been a cornerstone of our identity,” says Niazi. 

Murad Mugden

With the restaurant’s proximity to a large number of theatres, it often finds itself bustling with activity during the pre-theatre rush. Diners flock to Sarastro to indulge in a meal that is in keeping with the theatrical theme of their evening, setting the stage for an unforgettable night out. Yet, Sarastro’s journey from concept to reality was not without its challenges. Niazi, along with a team of artists and set designers used to work tirelessly for almost a year to bring his vision to life, often sleeping on site as they fine-tuned every detail of the interior design. “It was a labor of love,” recalled Niazi. Ideas were constantly evolving, and the design took on a life of its own as they drew inspiration from the world of theatre. Even to this day, the interior continues to evolve, reflecting their commitment to innovation and excellence. 

In every aspect, Sarastro is a testament to the enduring allure of the performing arts, where culinary excellence and theatrical ambiance converge to create an experience that is truly unforgettable. Whether you’re indulging in a pre-theatre dinner or simply seeking a taste of theatrical life, a visit to Sarastro promises to transport you to a world of drama, romance, and culinary delight.

“At Sarastro, music is as integral to the dining experience as the food itself,” shares Murad, the esteemed custodian of Sarastro’s legacy. “We strive to curate a playlist that resonates with our guests, drawing from classical and operatic repertoire that evokes a sense of familiarity and nostalgia. Indeed, the strains of Maria Callas and Luciano Pavarotti often fill the air, lending a timeless elegance to the dining room. Yet, on special live music nights, the soundtrack takes on a new dimension, mirroring the theme of the evening and setting the stage for an unforgettable dining experience.

Our approach to music is much like our approach to cuisine,” explains Murad. “We seek to blend the classics with elements of the unexpected, creating a symphony of flavors and melodies that surprise and delight.”

Murad Magden

This commitment to innovation and excellence extends to Sarastro’s culinary offerings as well. Head Chef Ali Kidik, trained in classic French cookery at The Savoy, brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the kitchen, infusing traditional dishes with his unique twist. The menu is a celebration of classics with a twist. From traditional French cuisine to Turkish specialties, every dish is crafted with care and attention to detail, ensuring that each bite is a culinary masterpiece. But beyond the food and music, Sarastro seeks to create lasting memories for its guests, offering an experience that transcends the ordinary.

“We want our guests to leave Sarastro with happy memories,” says Murad. Whether it’s the delicious food, impeccable service, or the vibrant atmosphere, we strive to exceed expectations at every turn.”

Sarastro stands out as a shining example of excellence and innovation. With its commitment to high standards and dedication to creating unforgettable experiences, Sarastro invites guests to embark on a journey of culinary discovery and artistic exploration that will linger in their hearts and minds long after the final curtain falls.

Murad explained that London is not just a place to live, but a place to call home. Its diverse neighborhoods and welcoming communities provide a sense of belonging and connection that is unparalleled. Whether you’re strolling through the leafy streets of Hampstead or exploring the vibrant markets of Brixton, there’s a sense of camaraderie that permeates the city, fostering a strong sense of community among its residents. 

But London is more than just a residential hub; it’s also a global center of commerce and innovation. With its world-class infrastructure and strategic location, London attracts businesses from around the globe, offering entrepreneurs a platform to launch and grow their ventures. From bustling financial districts to cutting-edge tech hubs, London’s business landscape is as diverse and dynamic as the city itself, yet amidst the hustle and bustle of city life, London offers moments of respite and relaxation for those who seek them. Its lush parks and green spaces provide a tranquil escape from the urban hustle, while its vibrant cultural scene offers a myriad of events and shows to captivate and inspire.

For many Londoners, family is at the heart of everything they do. Whether it’s enjoying a Sunday roast with loved ones or exploring the city’s many attractions together, family bonds are cherished and nurtured in this bustling metropolis. “I am a family person, and enjoy looking after my family together with the comfort of having a close bond which gives me the energy to do more.” Murad shares.

Indeed, for those who call London home, the city offers a unique blend of challenge and opportunity, excitement and tranquility. It’s a place where honesty is valued, hard work is rewarded, and dreams are pursued with passion and determination. In every aspect of life, from business to leisure, London offers a wealth of opportunities to thrive and succeed. It’s a city that never sleeps, where every moment is an opportunity to embrace life to the fullest and create lasting memories with those we hold dear.

In a heartfelt recounting of his journey with the iconic Sarastro restaurant, Murad shares his deeply personal connection with its founder, Richard Niazi, and the profound impact their partnership had on his life. “My relationship with Richard started when I was just 13 years old,” Murad reminisces, “as I began my journey as a kitchen porter in Topkapi Restaurant, one of Richard’s establishments where my father also served as the F&B manager.”

From those humble beginnings, Murad’s bond with Richard flourished as he spent every school holiday working in various roles across Richard’s diverse portfolio of restaurants. “Over the years, we became very close,” Murad reflects, recalling Richard’s encouragement and visionary outlook. “He was always telling me, ‘Stay with me, Mush (my nickname), and one day we’ll be millionaires.'”

Despite his aspirations to pursue a career in the restaurant industry, life took Murad in a different direction, leading him to work for The BOC Group in Turkey for two decades. However, fate would soon intervene, as Richard’s terminal illness prompted a pivotal conversation that would change the course of Murad’s life.

“In 2009, when Richard asked me to take half of the business and run it with his daughter, my niece Sibel, I knew it was a turning point,” Murad recalls. “It was a bittersweet moment, filled with both sorrow and determination to honor Richard’s legacy.” Stepping into the role of co-owner of Sarastro, Murad faced the daunting task of implementing changes while respecting Richard’s vision. “It took me a while to start changing things,” Murad admits, “as I considered it disrespectful to Richard. But the business needed adjustments, especially as Richard’s health declined.”

Now, nearly 15 years since assuming leadership of Sarastro, Murad reflects on the journey with a sense of pride and gratitude. “I am very happy and proud of the history we have managed to create,” he says, acknowledging Richard’s enduring influence on his life and career. “I very much miss Richard,” Murad confides, his voice filled with emotion. “He gave me plenty of what I am today—a great friend and a mentor whom I always looked up to.”

Sarastro - Murad Magden

Looking ahead, Murad can’t help but wonder what could have been. “I am pretty sure we would have gone a long way if we had the time together to run the business,” he muses, his words tinged with a sense of longing for the partnership that might have been.

In every aspect of his journey with Sarastro, Murad’s commitment to honoring Richard’s legacy and preserving the restaurant’s storied history shines through. As he continues to carry Sarastro into its next chapter, Murad remains grateful for the lessons learned and the memories shared, cherishing the enduring bond forged with a dear friend and mentor.