We were treated to another incredible gastronomic feast last week, at another of Istanbul’s finest dining spots. Mikla is on top of the Marmara Pera hotel and is a contemporary restaurant with a view, and oh what a view – spectacular.
Sunset at Mikla
We were taken there by Jo and Thierry, who were visiting from Geneva – they said to book anywhere we would like, and let’s push the boat out, this was a celebration after all – Jo and I hadn’t seen each other for about ten years!
Mikla is owned by a Turkish Norwegian chef, so the food has always had a Scandi influence, although in the last few years, he has taken the menu back to its Anatolian roots.
And so after the huge success of the tasting menu at Gile last year, it didn’t take much persuasion before we all decided the seven course tasting menu was the way to go – and all on a Monday night – who’d have thought?
Zeytinyağlı & Raw Vegetables
Crispy Hamsi, Olive Oil Bread, Lemon
Dried Beef Tenderloin, “Hardaliye”, Malkara Lentil Humus, Green Tomato
The wonderful thing we have now discovered about tasting menus is that it is actually really rather nice to all have the same thing on your plate, and so therefore be able to discuss it endlessly, rather than a taster of your dining partners dish, before moving the conversation on…
Whilst we have lived abroad before, I never really felt like an expat, even though we spent our ten years in Cape Town. So, its quite a different experience landing squarely in expat land, here in Istanbul. I guess the main defining difference is language, as all of us who don’t speak the language of the new country, are automatically grouped together as non-locals, and therefore expats. Whereas in Cape Town, our life seem to meld nearly seamlessly into the lives of ordinary South Africans, although of course, the divide there is not local and expat, but white, black and coloured. If I think back to Billy and Daisy’s schools, there weren’t that many different nationalities, but mostly South Africans, and as our friends were mainly South Africans, with a handful of Brits thrown in, we felt as if we merged into South African society.
So, for the first time in my life, I’ve joined a bookclub and I love it! It is a totally new experience for me and whilst bookclubs are not limited to international communities, they take on an added dimension, by their very ‘internationalness’. Because an expat community is always changing, then the bookclub’s members are also changing. We are busy organising our farewell dinner for those that are going, but have just welcomed two new members.
Our bookclub has so many different nationalities represented – Pakistani, Swedish, French, Irish, Bulgarian, Indian, Dutch, German, Amercan, Russian, Australian. and me, the token Brit – which leads to very interesting discussions with varying viewpoints.
This week we were lucky enough to be invited to Umbereen’s house, and whilst of course the focus is the discussion of the book, I was particularly looking forward to Umbereen’s Pakistani food. In case you’re dying to know though, this month’s book was a Japanese book called Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. I have to say that I was not looking forward to reading it as I did not think it would be up my street. However, within a page, I was hooked! I loved the style it was written in and learning about Japanese culture – a good read and highly recommended.
But the highlight of the day, apart from the company of seven wonderful and interesting ladies, was the lunch. Umbereen served us traditional Pakistani food, which I must say, was very different to the Indian food that I know and love. What I particularly liked was that whilst we ate three courses, I certainly didn’t feel overly full at the end, and each course was so well balanced, with different textures and flavours.
We started with some dokhlas, which are made from gram (chickpea) flour. These were served with a coconut chutney and fried curry leaves. Also, there was a wonderful spicy pumpkin on a piece of paratha – all absolutely delicious and interesting flavours.
Our main course was a Kashmiri-style chicken leg and this was served with a channa chaat – a salad of chick peas and potatoes with fresh coriander, tamarind chutney, yogurt, pomegranate, red onions, and traditional crunchy sev. Again, wonderful flavours and beautifully balanced.
For pudding we had mango and passion fruit ice-cream served with little biscuits that Umbereen had made by dry-frying on the stove top, as traditionally in Pakistan, they don’t have ovens (I had no idea!) This was accompanied by Jasmine tea, which apparently is drunk a lot in Pakistan, although usually it is very sweet, so untraditionally sugar was optional for us!
We just returned from a couple of weeks in the UK for Easter, and for once, wherever we went, we had great coffee! Wow, how coffee has improved. We spent a few days in London, and every day, started our day by looking up a cool new artisan coffee shop in the vicinity of where we were going.
The Love & Scandal menu
So here are our finds –
Day One – arriving at Waterloo, we had looked up Love & Scandal down on Lower Marsh Street, so having dumped our luggage in the vastly expensive Lost Luggage at the station, we headed off in search. Love & Scandal it turns out, has only been open about four months and is a very urban understated place operated by a couple of cool young guys. It is all rough finishes and chip board and anything that can be recycled has been used – I particularly liked the Golden Syrup tins for the cutlery – reuse and recycle. They had a few yummy pastries and sandwiches and the daily menu was written up on a roll of brown paper, hanging on the wall – urban chic. The coffee was delicious, probably the best flat white we had in the UK – made with skill and care.
Day Two – was not new to us, as we went to Borough Market, so of course we visited Monmouth Coffee. I have always held Monmouth in the highest regard, and it is the pinnacle at which all other coffee has been measured. But alas, somehow it is not quite what it used to be – just a little too mass market now – all the small artisan houses are just a bit more avantgarde and cutting edge, and have nosed their way in front.
Day Three – was our Oxford Street shopping morning, so we got off the tube at Leicester Square and walked up through Soho to a place called Milkbar, which is apparently the next shop from the owners of Flat White, also in Soho. There we found a similar retro paired back feeling in a small shop with hip young people making fantastic coffee. I almost don’t even need to mention the coffee anymore as we take it for granted its going to be fabulous in all these places.
Flat white in Milkbar
Day Four – our last day – we mooched around Greenwich Market, and after some deliberation spotted Turnip. A small shop on the side of the main market, with a wonderful Mancunian man who made perfect coffees every time. (We know as we came back several times!) We caused some hilarity as we mistook his accent as being from the West Country! Turnip also sold amazing looking toasties – we look forward to trying next time…
Even in the deepest depths of the countryside, there are more and more places selling and serving fantastic coffee.Down in the heart of Winchester, we discovered Black White Red, a relatively new cafe, which specialises in two of my very favourite things – wine and coffee – does life get any better? Black White Red probably make the best coffee in Winchester now, and they use beans from the Roasting Party, a local coffee roastery set up by three Australians in 2013 – let’s hope they stick around!
Saturday was my birthday and our dinner at Gile Restaurant in Istanbul’s Besiktas district ranks as one of the best dinners I’ve ever eaten in my nearly (but not quite) fifty years!
We have been to Gile once before, for my sister, Emma’s birthday last year, and whilst it was very good, it was perhaps not showing its full potential then, as it had only been open a few months. But wow, what a year can do – it was incredible! You’ll have to forgive me if I keep writing ‘wow’, as that is what I kept saying on Saturday night, as course after course arrived, each one surpassing the last.
But I am getting ahead of myself – let’s start at the beginning. After sitting down and ordering a glass of prosecco, we began the enormously pleasurable experience of perusing the menu – as well as a la carte, there were several tasting menus plus the special ‘Omnivore’ menu, which has been created by the chef from Gile in conjunction with the chef from a restaurant called l’Escargot in Cesme in Western Turkey. We rarely go for the tasting menus in restaurants as both Peter and I don’t usually have the stamina but there was something very special about this one. So after an unanimous quick decision, all we had to do now was sit back and wait – not even any wine decisions as each course was paired with wine.
The Omnivore menu consisted of ten incredible courses, preceded by two amuse bouches, and interjected with a refresher between the starters and main courses, and then also a pre-dessert – all in all 14 different sublime taste experiences with ten different delicious Turkish wines. I will hasten to add at this point that they were not full glasses of wine, but merely tasters of four or five mouthfuls which complemented exquisitely the four or five delectable forkfuls on the plate in front of us.
What was so fantastic about the menu was that it was very much Turkish, but modern, deconstructed Turkish, using very local ingredients, but could go happily up against any of your top London restaurants, such as the Square, Pied-a-terre, etc.
So to the food –
To begin with, we were brought beautiful butters and olive oil – one with nigella seeds, honey and salt, the other with tulum cheese and poppy seeds, as well as some olive oil with quince sour sauce. We were offered four types of bread – walnut and raisin, cheese and onion, plain or yogurt. These were a sign of the quality and precision that was to follow.
Butter with salt, nigella seeds & honey, olive oil with quince sour sauce, butter with poppy seeds and tulum cheese
Amuse bouche no. 1 – Cauliflower soup with orange oil – I am not much of a soup person or for that matter, a cauliflower person, but this was well-crafted and an explosion of intense flavours – so much so that even Peter loved it!
Cauliflower soup with orange oil
Amuse bouche no. 2 – A tiny piece of celery wrapped in a spinach leaf served with a lime herb mayonnaise. We accompanied both the amuses bouches with a glass of Nodus Chardonnay.
Celery wrapped in spinach with a lime & herb mayo
Raw Shrimps – Cucumber Vinegar. Wine – Sauvignon Blanc. So raw shrimps served with pickled cucumber with the pickling liquid poured over at the table. This was probably my least favourite as was a little nervous about eating raw prawns but nevertheless interesting and beautiful to look at.
Raw Shrimps, Cucumber Vinegar
Red Pine Charred Saroz Bay Shrimp – Bell Pepper Coulis, and Fresh Blueberries, Pickled Sea Fennel Salad. Wine – Riesling. So exciting to look at, and we decided this was one of those experiences that it didn’t matter if you didn’t think you would like every ingredient but just fascinating and interesting to see and try it all.
Red Pine Charred Saroz Bay Shrimp, bell pepper coulis, and fresh blueberries, pickled sea fennel salad
Love this Riesling label….
Mugla Tarhana Soup – Caramelised Lamb Rib, Smoked Tomatoes, Mint infused Black Eyed Peas and Fermented Garlic Cream. Wine – supposedly rose but it seems they forgot this one! This soup was incredible – wow! Probably my favourite dish, which is amazing as it was a soup – but what a soup! It was a deconstructed big impact soup with such depth of flavour – it was served with each of the ingredients having been cooked separately and then the rich broth poured over the top at the table.
Mugla Tarhana Soup, caramelised lamb rib, smoked tomatoes, mint infused black eyed peas & fermented garlic cream – without the broth
The finished soup
Kusleme – Lamb Loin in Baklava Phylo, with Black Aubergine, Beet, Hummus and Charred Pepper. Wine – Kalecik Karisa. These were delicious – like mini baklava but filled with a perfect little eye of beautifully cooked pink lamb loin. All the dishes were so clever, and perfectly sized so that at no time did we feel full.
Kusleme, lamb loin in baklava phylo, with black aubergine, beet, hummus & charred pepper
The refresher came next and was an incredible apple and celeriac sorbet – so sweet, sharp and sour all at the same time – a perfect cleanser.
Apple and celeriac sorbet
Onto the mains –
Yedi Baharli – Slow Cooked Rock Bass, ‘Yedi Baharli’ Spiced Tomato with Lemon Scented Potato Foam. Wine – Nodus Chardonnay. This was my favourite main course – the fish was cooked perfected – slightly underdone with a gorgeous foam and puree – amazing.
Yedi Baharli, Slow cooked rock bass, yedi baharli spiced tomato with lemon scented potato foam
21 Days Aged Local Duck – Roasted Duck, Smoked Wheat, Dark Plum, Olive Oil Braised Fennel and ‘Subye’ Melon Seed Paste. Wine – Suvla Karasakiz. Again, beautifully cooked piece of duck – and, as with every dish, the portion sizes were so well balanced, so it was only three or four mouthful’s worth.
21 days Aged local Duck, roasted duck, smoked wheat, dark plum, olive oil braised fennel & sub melon seed paste
41 Hour Lamb Shoulder – Lamb Jus with Liquorice Paste, Cappadocian Pot Cheese, Local Pepper on Ash, Aubergine Cream and Potato & Yogurt. Wine – Selendi Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Franc blend. This dish was full of strong, intense flavours, which worked together so well, but also looked amazing on the plate.
41 hour lamb shoulder, Lamb jus with liquorice paste, Cappadocian pot cheese, local pepper on ash, aubergine cream & potato & yogurt
Oxtail – ‘Manti’ Sheets with Cinnamon, Yogurt & Sweet Bell Pepper Oil. Wine – Melen Shiraz. Manti are a type of Turkish pasta, so here they cleverly deconstructed it and made an open ravioli with gorgeous sweet oxtail meat. Interestedly, we weren’t so keen on the shiraz, which in fact came from one of the wineries we visited a couple of weeks ago.
Oxtail, Manti sheets with cinnamon, yogurt & sweet bell pepper oil
Next was our pre-dessert which was an ayran (Turkish yogurt drink) pannacotta with a lemon and lime confit and an Earl Grey tea shot poured over it – incredible – need I say more?
Lastly, the puddings. And I must reiterate that the amazing thing was that we were still not feeling overly full, and were still eagerly anticipating our puddings. In fact, one of the contributing factors to making the whole experience so wonderful, was that because each dish was so exquisite, the anticipation of the next was so exciting! Or as Peter put it, ‘the Chef just knocks up great shit and I’ll keep eating it’ – a particularly significant accolade from one not noted for his love of fruit and vegetables!
Re-Invention of Trilece – Clotted Cream Sponge Cake, with Condensed Buffalo and Goat Milk, Salty Caramel Ice Cream. Wine – late harvest Muskat. Wow, wow, wow!
Re-invention of Trilece, Clotted cream sponge cake, with condensed buffalo & goat milk, salty caramel ice cream
Paper Pumpkin – Citrus infused Crusted Pumpkin with Almond Paste and Mandarin Sorbet. Wine – Corvus Passito. I loved the straw wine and didn’t know they made it in Turkey – really dark and concentrated. The pudding was incredible, yet again. Sort of jelly-like strips of pumpkin, a bit like the crystallised fruits we used to have at Christmas.
Paper Pumpkin, Citrus infused crusted pumpkin with almond paste & mandarin sorbet
It was an incredibly exciting evening and I’ve written on my menu that I was so sad that it was finishing, even if it was past midnight by then, and we had been sitting eating and drinking for more than four hours. Also, I realise there is something special about sharing the tasting menu, and in so doing, having the same dish put in front of you both/all and then the ensuing pleasure of dissecting and discussing.
Wow, what an incredible birthday! Will we be able to top it next year for the big one?
We made our first trip down the Thrace wine route last week, and it was a revelation to try such gorgeous, big, structured, balanced wines that are well-made and have got some age on them.
When I say ‘discover’, I do mean that, as it not easy to find much information about the wineries and vineyards and they are not very well known. This is mainly down to the present government banning any advertising about wine, and even calling wine ‘wine’ is against the law – it is officially fermented grape juice.
However, there has been a new initiative promoting the Thrace wine route – not sure how they managed that – and so we set off from Istanbul and followed the road down the North West coast of the Marmara sea for a couple of hours.
Our first stop was Chateau Nuzun, which is the closest vineyard to Istanbul. It is a state of the art winery that has been purpose built with a huge tasting room overlooking the beautiful vineyards.
And we were blown away by the wines! We didn’t really know such wines existed in Turkey – and decided, that in a blind tasting, we would not have picked them out as Turkish but as a good Southern French blend. Our favourites were the Chateau Nuzun Cabernet Sauvignon – Syrah blend 2008, and the same label Syrah 2010 – I would go so far as to say they would give your European wines a good run for their money. chateaunuzun.com
From there we were directed to a small village called Marmaraereğlisi, where we tried the small köfte which the region are famous for. Dave had a wonderful time exploring the nearby beach – the first time he has felt sand under his paws for several years since Cape Town!
Next stop was Barbare Vineyards which also has a hotel where we had booked to stay for two nights. They have been clever, as they have converted their now illegal wine tasting room, into a hotel, which can therefore legally serve wine. Whilst we will gloss over the hotel rooms (a pre-fab mobile home divided into rooms of a disappointingly low standard), the main hotel was a delight with a big open fire place and large sofas that we were more than happy to sprawl on and taste wine.
The tasting here took the form of plonking a few bottles of wine on the table before dinner and then working our way through them for the rest of the evening – we didn’t complain! The first night we were treated to the Barbare Elegance 2009 and the Barbare Prestige 2009 – both were delicious, and worked well of course with the bonfile we were served but the Elegance, a Southern Rhone combination of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre just tipped the balance for us.
The next night we were given the 2007 Elegance as well as the Premier 2007 which are no longer for sale but came from the owners private cellar – again we felt very spoilt to be enjoying such wonderful wines.
The food was a simple and well-executed Turkish set menu – a tasty shrimp and vegetable soup to start, a Turkish mushroom pasta dish next, then fillet steak served with a gorgeous gutsy cheesy dauphinoise style potato bake.
However, the star of the show was the breakfast – not only presented beautifully on lots of wooden platters and bowls but wonderfully tasty local produce. We eagerly awaited the arrival of the sigare cheese borek on the second morning having polished off a huge pile of them on the first! barbarosbagevi.com
The whole experience was very reminiscent of similar trips to the winelands around Cape Town, including a wonderful long walk through the vineyards and across some muddy fields to reach the seaside village of Barbare.
On our way home we visited Melen Winery further down the Marmara Sea, where we sat outside gazing out to sea and tasted a dozen wines. It was a very pleasant afternoon, but no notable wines for us. We very slowly limped home after that on our safety tyre, after Peter and Billy had sorted out the puncture….
It was touch and go whether I got all my luggage on the plane back to Istanbul on Thursday – when I got on the bus from the rental car depot to terminal 3, the bus driver asked if I was flying business class? I shook my head. First class? Again no. He muttered something about no wonder the handle on my suitcase had broken and good luck getting that on economy.
Still, it all went fine and I managed with Daisy’s violin on my back, a hand luggage suitcase, handbag and duty free plus one incredibly heavy suitcase – thanks to Jed Hewson for carrying up 4 flights of stairs to our apartment in Istanbul 😉
Here is what I brought back –
A loaf of spelt bread
3 x packets salt and vinegar crisps
Pizza express pizza for daisy
2 x bottles of wine
2 x bottles of Jim Beam
Hundreds of bars of chocolate
Jar of horseradish
Jar of béarnaise
Jar of hollandaise
1 kg soft brown sugar
1 kg caster sugar
It took me a while to realise this was a play on the Four Seasons Hotel, but they state their four values as their four reasons – serenity, attitude, quality and design – and they pretty much have those in bucketfuls.
High points – gorgeous serenity, peace and a certain retreat-like quality as the hotel is nestled up in the hillside overlooking the small fishing town of Yalikavak about 20 minutes from Bodrum further into the Bodrum peninsula, and of course fantastic views.
The service is wonderful – very personal with Ali, Birol and Serhat doing their utmost to ensure you are looked after to their best ability. Occasionally the service was a tad slow when they were busy attending to somebody else, but their attitude and desire to please are outstanding.
The main low point is the food which is occasionally good – panfried sea bass salad and Billy was particularly partial to their meatballs – but mostly just ok. A bit disappointing but when we asked ourselves why we kept eating in the bistro night after night rather than trekking into town, we realised we loved the setting. So we were prepared to overlook the clumsy cooking and chill out with a delicious glass of Turkish rose. My advice to the chef is simplify – live up to the values of a bistro – simple flavours and let them speak for themselves.
There were a few irritating things like having to pay for water and espresso which frankly should be included in a hotel of this price. Oh, and the beds were very uncomfortable, although slightly improved by a soft mattress topper after the first night but still not great.
Would we come back? Absolutely, loved our 5 days here – definitely 4 reasons to come back.