Talented Turkish chef and “visionary” founder of London restaurant Zahter, Esra Muslu has died

One of the most exciting Turkish chefs of the past twenty years, Istanbul-born Esra Muslu has sadly passed away at the age of 44. The news was announced on social media by her central London restaurant Zahter, where tributes have been pouring in.

The cause of death was not stated by Zahter, but a relative posting underneath the Soho restaurant’s Instagram post said Muslu had been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour.

Zahter’s online statement referred to Muslu as its “the visionary founder” and noted her “vibrant spirit and unwavering positivity”:

“Today, we mourn the passing of Esra, the visionary founder and head chef of Zahter restaurant. Her vibrant spirit and unwavering positivity touched us all. With heavy hearts, we share the news of her peaceful departure this morning. Her legacy will forever live on in our hearts. Our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to her family and friends during this difficult time…”

Among those to pay tribute was food critic Jay Rayner, who had described Muslu’s bakala at Zahter “as the best I’ve ever eaten” in his review of the restaurant for The Observer last year.

“I’m so so sorry. Esra was a brilliant chef and a lovely, lovely person. She welcomed me into her kitchen with such kindness and grace and taught me so very much. A terrible loss. My thoughts are with you all,” Ray posted underneath Zahter’s Instagram statement.

British Turkish Cypriot chefs Selin Kiazim and Hus Vedat both posted broken hearts on Instagram, while cook and TV personality Gizzi Erskine wrote, “This is awful. Sending so much love and strength ❤️”.


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About Esra Muslu

Born in Istanbul in November 1978, Muslu initially came to London as an 18-year-old to study, before opting to move to Melbourne in Australia, where she took up a course in gastronomy at Swinburne University of Technology.

She returned to Istanbul in 2004, where she started to forge a reputation for her creative culinary skills that brought fresh flavours and styles to Turkish cuisine. She opened her first restaurant, a fine dining concept called Moreish, in the trendy Istanbul district of Beyoğlu in 2007.

Muslu joined forces with other cool chefs and they collectively opened six more restaurants in and around Beyoğlu, including Backyard and Kauf, which are still running today.

She stepped away from the collective to become head chef in Nick Jones’s new Istanbul venture Soho House in 2015. The role paved the way for Muslu to transfer to another of Jones’ private member clubs, Shoreditch House in London.

Muslu’s career continued to blossom when she then secured a job as head chef at Ottolenghi Spitalfields, working alongside celebrated Middle Eastern chef and broadcaster Yotam Ottolenghi.


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Working at the two high-end London eateries allowed Muslu to learn about London’s restaurant trade:

“When I arrived in London I didn’t know any producers or suppliers, or how the city worked. But it was always my goal to open a restaurant of my own,” she told Domus Stay.

With her sister Yasemin Efe, Muslu realised her dream; the pair became business partners and launched Zahter in 2021.

Located on the corner of Newburgh Street, just off Carnaby Street, with a navy blue exterior, the building boasts high ceilings and original cornicing and, with the help of interior designer Merve Demir Kargacı, Muslu and Efe were able to create a beautiful space inspired by the informal style of Istanbul restaurants.

Muslu quickly set about crafting an exciting menu presenting a depth to Turkish cuisine rarely seen in the UK, taking diners beyond the usual fare of kebabs.

Using seasonal produce and combining traditional techniques with contemporary ideas, Muslu cooked up incredible dishes showcasing every region of Turkiye: from stuffed artichokes from the Aegean to dried stuffed vegetables and baklava from Antep.

Within a short time, Zahter – named after a thyme-like herb in Anatolia – was generating rave reviews, not just from customers and food critics, but from the industry too. The elegant, upmarket restaurant was listed in the Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland and had also won a SquareMeal Silver Award.

Covering Muslu’s death and legacy, Great British Chefs wrote: “It’s no easy task bringing a style of cuisine to London which people might not be hugely familiar with, but the combination of Esra’s wealth of experience, her passion for traditional Turkish food and of course her infectious love for cookery won her many fans. Her food may not have been what people expected of a British Turkish restaurant, but that’s what made it so enticing.”


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