Istanbul

A gastronomic feast at Mikla restaurant in Istanbul

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

 
 

Slow Cooked Grouper, Roasted Tomato, Halhali Olives, Salicornia, Tire Potato, Fig Vinaigrette

 
 

Cibes, Artichoke, Salty Yoghurt

 
 

Anatolian Raw Milk Cheese & Honey

 

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…
 
  
Thanks Jo and Thierry!

 

How Was Your Summer?

Back in Istanbul after a long summer in the UK, and for the first time since moving here, I was actually looking forward to coming back ‘home’. In this case, home is where our things and belongings are, where my bed is, and where my husband is 😉

It was great to be able to spend the whole summer in the UK, for the most part within spitting distance of my parents, and to be able to be involved in their daily lives, and help out where I could. We were so lucky to be lent cottages in beautiful surroundings so we could enjoy the best of the Hampshire countryside.

  

But I have to be honest, it was not the most relaxing summer, and I felt a fair weight of responsibility in looking after them and getting carers organised, and bullying the NHS to get on with Tom’s treatment, resulting eventually in a week’s radiotherapy course in August.

As I said, it was a long summer, and so whilst it was with some trepidation that I left Mum and Thomas to fend for themselves for a few weeks, until I next go back, there was also a lightness in my step, as I boarded the plane back to Istanbul a couple of weeks ago.

After 11 weeks away, it was wonderful to see the dazzling Bosphorus again, to feel the warmth of the sun on our faces; and of course to reconnect with all our furry friends, both kedi (cats), and köpek (dogs), and make acquaintance with the new cats that have taken up residence with us, mostly outside, but occasionally inside, if they are wily enough.

  

And then back to school for Billy and Daisy, their last year at MEFIS, and at school in Istanbul, new classes to get used to, with several new faces.

It’s a strange adjustment coming back again, as an expat, after an extended period away, as there are holes, that people you have grown fond of over the previous year, have left, and then of course there is the influx of new people.

But it is always lovely catching up with old friends again, and having our first book club meeting.

  

However, I quickly came to dread that inevitable question, ‘How was your summer?’ As I dug around searching for the best way to describe it, I found that I stumbled and stuttered about it being ok, I mumbled something about my parents not being well, and ended up with some awkward condolences all round.

It’s a bit like that question asked to a woman who does not work in a paid job, ‘what do you do all day?’, to which of course the only answer is ‘why, of course, lie around with my feet up eating chocolate!’

So I decided I had or come up with an answer for this question also: how was my summer? I spent good, quality time with my family – and I did.

 

Isle of Wight with the girls chez Sowton

  

Evening river action

  

Fishing in Cornwall

    

Dave

 

Expat world

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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A wonderful lunch – thank you so much Umbereen!

Winter in Istanbul

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Sunrise over a snowy Istanbul

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This winter, our second in Istanbul, has been much colder. We have had three separate weeks of snowfall – much to the delight of Billy and Daisy, and I must say, I have also loved it! And because we are lucky enough to have such a wonderful aspect from our apartment, with views across the Bosphorus, there is nothing so beautiful as sitting snugly on the sofa by the window, staring out at a snowy landscape, and watching the snow fall over the rooftops.

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As well as the snow, the last few months have very much been dominated by Billy and his exams, but thankfully, they are now over. Billy sat four exams last week in a bid to get a place at Bryanston School in Dorset, where he will (hopefully) go in September 2016. We are all on tenterhooks now while we wait for the results.

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But as we all know, all work and no play does not make for a happy life, so we sneaked out for a long weekend at the end of January to a nearby ski resort, where Billy and Daisy got their first taste of zooming down the mountains. Needless to say, they loved it, and whilst we expected Billy to be fearless and tackle the slopes head on, Daisy surprised us the most as she took to it so easily and naturally.

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The intrepid trio

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And they’re off….

Kartalkaya is a 3 1/2 hour drive from Istanbul, so perfect for a long weekend, especially as it’s mostly highway. There is a wonderful jaw-dropping moment, when you exit the Bolu tunnel, and suddenly everywhere is white, with drifts of snow all around us. After that there is a final 28km winding ascent up the mountain to the resort, and we had been warned that we would need to stop and put chains on. And of course, this being Turkey, there are men on the side of the road at regular intervals, who are happy to do the job in a jiffy, in return for a few notes.

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Chains going on the wheels…

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The mountain road up to Kartalkaya

Kartalkaya is not like a European resort – there is no village, no shops, no restaurants – it is simply a collection of hotels with ski lifts, and ski runs of varying degrees of difficulty, spreading out behind them like a spider’s legs.

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Kartalkaya

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We had been recommended the Golden Keys hotel (thank you Ebru at Cup of Joy!) and it didn’t disappoint. Whereas the other hotels were eighties relics – old and crowded, they had stained carpets and smelt of fried food and cigarettes – our hotel was just a few years old. Moreover, it cleverly managed to combine both an industrial look – rooms that were quite bare and minimalist – and in contrast, a cozy feel – the main lobby and lounge areas were full of furs and roaring fires providing a wonderful oasis to ensconce yourself in after a hard day’s skiing (ahem!)

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Ski lesson on the first morning

There was also a wonderful spa with a sauna and steam room but the highlight was the outdoor hot tub, where we could relax in the afternoon, gazing out at the snowy peaks and watch the sun go dow. A games room with table tennis, pool and table football was a great addition for us, and provided just the right amount of diversion for hungry skiers waiting for the dining room to open for supper.

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Billy and Daisy in the chair lift

All in all, a wonderful weekend for both skiers and non-skiers alike, and we can’t wait to go back – till next year then! 

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The enigma that is street dogs in Turkey

I think I can speak for the rest of my family, when I say that one of our lasting memories of our time in Turkey, will be the street dogs. Growing up in the UK, stray dogs have a negative connotation of being dangerous and unwanted, but that perception has been turned on its head in Turkey.

Dixie, Sammie and Steffy

 

It is so embedded in the culture here, and is just a part of life, that people take care of the dogs. When we moved into our apartment here in Arnavutkoy, we first saw a dog that used to come and greet us and wag her tail – we named her Steffy. She was soon joined by a large dog with a gentle, yet fearful temperament – Sammi. Whilst he comes up to us and accepts treats, he does not want to be touched, even after 15 months of knowing him.

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Dixie, Sammi and Steffy getting caught up with Dave

 

Apparently, according to some of our dog-loving neighbours, the municipality, who monitor and look after the dogs (it is firmly enshrined in the law here), find places that they think the dogs will thrive, and if it works and the neighbours don’t complain, they bring more dogs. What seems to happen though, is that not only do the neighbours not complain, but they look after and cherish the new additions to the neighbourhood. Hence, Steffy and Sammi were soon joined by Dixie, who is definitely the underdog and quite timid. A few months later, a gorgeous dog, whom we had come across while walking on the Bosphorous, joined the pack – we named him Ziggy, as he has one brown eye, and one blue – a la David Bowie.

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Ziggy

 

Then there’s Waya, who used to belong to a house up the road, but ran away to join the strays – such an interesting enigma that a stray dog’s life here is preferable to a domestic dog, that is kept tied up all day. Poor Waya is a bouncy friendly dog that just wants lots of loving.

We have often thought about adopting one of these dogs and giving them a loving home, and it is especially tempting at this time of the year, when they have to survive in sub-zero temperatures – I remember last year, seeing Sammi lying in the snow, and it breaking my heart. However, the debate we always have is, would they prefer to be adopted or maybe not? For the most part, these dogs have a wonderful life – they are free spirits to roam where they want, they run around on the hillside in front of where we live, they have enough food and plenty of attention and cuddles. Would they want to have their freedom taken away, and be confined to being indoors? Is the exchange of security and love worth the sacrifice of their freedom? The jury is still out on that one…..

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Daisy giving some loving to Ziggy and Steffy

 

Theres one more part-timer in the pack, and that’s King, who’s an incredibly athletic boisterous Alsatian, who loves chasing cars. He is a loner and wanderer and we often spot him down by the Bosphorus. Or rather, he spots us out walking, and then runs at a million miles an hour towards us. Meanwhile most other walkers recoil in horror at the sight of this huge dog running at us, and grab their mini pooches into their arms as quickly as possible. Quite a sight as Daisy and King then embrace and have a big cuddle, much to the amusement and concern of onlookers.

 

But that’s just our little enclave. We feed them and so do lots of our neighbours. One couple built them a big shelter last year, that they regularly use at nighttime and one lovely lady is often in there, hanging out the blankets to dry, and generally spring cleaning their house!

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Daisy and Steffy, who loves her cuddles, as you can see

 

We recently invited ourselves unbidden onto the patch of other dog-loving people. There is a tiny park about a 5 minute walk from us on the way to Arnavutkoy, where several dogs hang out – we have seen them many times. One of the dogs is old and barks but we have never paid him much attention. Until last week. He was the one that I wrote about on FaceBook as I was so affected by this poor old dog lying in the snow, with a coat on! He looked so old and ill and cold and I couldn’t get him out of my head, and so went back and visited him most days. What was incredible is that every time I saw him, he had a new coat and jumper on  – old human ones that had been put over his front paws and body to keep him warm. I have slowly met the ladies who care for him, and his name is Beyaz (white in Turkish) and he is 12 years old and clearly on his last legs.

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What is interesting but strange, is that to me, he looks so ill and uncomfortable, with no quality of life, and barely surviving the freezing temperatures, that I couldn’t understand why somebody didn’t put him out of his misery. I realised it was not my place to interfere, as it was not my ‘patch’ but now I understand that euthanasia is not part of the Turkish culture. This understanding came about yesterday when I met another lady who told me that she had watched Beyaz grow since a puppy and they all loved and cared for him. She said that the vet had been yesterday and given him an injection, and when I suggested that the vet gave him an injection to put him to sleep forever, she looked aghast and horrified. I quickly explained, that in the UK, if a dog is old and ill with no quality of life, then we consider it to be the kind thing, to end their life, but clearly this was not an option for this poor dog.

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So, I shall visit him every day, sit with him and stroke him and hope that his end comes quickly.

Oh what a night!

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Red Pine Charred Saroz Bay Shrimp, bell pepper coulis, and fresh blueberries, pickled sea fennel salad

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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.

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Mugla Tarhana Soup, caramelised lamb rib, smoked tomatoes, mint infused black eyed peas & fermented garlic cream – without the broth

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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?

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Japanese cooking – yum!

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I was thrilled to be invited to join the Istanbul Women’s Institute at a Japanese Cooking Demonstration today. We were hosted by the wonderful Ayse, whom I have heard about and yep, she is as warm and friendly as her reputation suggested. She lives in Yenikoy which is a suburb further up the Bosphorus and has the most amazing enormous kitchen, just perfect for cooking demonstrations. Apparently, it is often Ayse doing the demos as she loves to cook, and is the Institute’s Turkish food expert.

But today, it was Kyoko Numan cooking. Kyoko has lived in Istanbul for several years, and before that the US, and as well as Japanese food and cooking, Kyoko teaches origami. We had the pleasure of admiring her origami when we eventually got to sit down and tuck into all the wonderful dishes, as the tables were decorated with fans, and birds and flowers….

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As well as learning to cook some delicious Japanese dishes, the fascinating part for me, was meeting all the women there – 17 in all. Our nationalities spanned Mexico, Portugal, Brazil, Canada, Sweden, Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, USA, and of course Turkey and the UK. It was wonderful to hear everybody’s stories and what brought them to live in Istanbul. And of course we all shared a love of food.

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So, to the food – Kyoko cooked for us:

Teriyaki chicken made with boneless chicken thighs – she demonstrated this two ways, both in the pan on the stove top, and in the oven. It was succulent and juicy and had a wonderful flavour, and one that I plan to make very soon.

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Vegetable tempura – aubergine, peppers and courgettes with a wonderfully simple teriyaki sauce. I have never made a batter before and so was interested to see that you use carbonated water for it. (or beer!)

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Miso – delicious flavour of miso with spring onions, egg and wakame (seaweed)

Chirasi sushi – a new dish for me as I have never seen sushi like this. The sushi rice is spread out on a bamboo platter, with the shredded nori seaweed sprinkled over the top. Next some fake(!) crab, smoked salmon and egg pancakes were all scattered over, and it was finished with some sesame seeds. Again, delicious but refreshingly different – actually it made me think of a sushi cake!

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We also learnt to make homemade gari, which is pickled ginger, a complete revelation, as it is easy to do, but wonderfully harmonious in its flavours, and of course finished the meal with Japanese green tea, which we were told should always be made with hot water at 90C, in effect, allowing it to slightly cool after it has boiled.

All in all a wonderful day with wonderful food and wonderful ladies.

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Another side of Istanbul

This post is the next one in the series, ‘what I love about Istanbul – different opportunities.’ As I have said many times and told as many people who will listen, it is so wonderful having Billy with us here in Istanbul! We learnt the hard way, but the value of family, however difficult family life is, however many arguments there are, is the most important thing to be cherished.

But one of the more unexpected things I am enjoying with Billy here, is that he is taking us off on different tangents, and I am seeing another side of Istanbul. This is because Billy’s life is very much centred around sport, so now I get to explore whole new areas as we trek to rugby stadiums and sports clubs dotted around Istanbul.

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For example, on the recent public holidays, we made our way to miles away on the Asian side, to Maltepe, which was when Daisy and I made our coffee stop in Kadikoy. Billy played with his club in the Kadikoy stadium at an opening game for the ensuing match for Kadikoy against an Italian team, and it was almost a surreal experience to watch him play with a mosque as a backdrop, and the French ambassador in the audience.

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Billy has joined a predominantly French rugby club, with a smattering of Irish thrown in, and then there is Billy who is English although thinks of himself as South African, and of course, will one day play for the Bokke.

The club does its regular Saturday training not far from us and I stand by the side of the pitch on a Saturday and marvel at our surroundings and in particular, at how incredibly different it is from anywhere Billy might have played rugby before. Its not just the lack of grass, but the entire skyline.

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Obviously, Billy learnt to play rugby in Cape Town, where there were hundreds of grass pitches everywhere and these young whippersnappers played rough and tumble to a beautiful background of Table Mountain. And then in the UK, again, wherever he played, whether a home match at Twyford, or an away match at another school, they were privileged to be running around in these acres of amazing green-ness.

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So, I hope Istanbul will be a memory for Billy for years to come. Not only playing on that sore astroturf but a small pitch surrounded by skyscrapers in a built up inner city suburb.

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Discovering Turkey’s wine routes

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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. 

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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….

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Istanbul’s burgeoning coffee scene

There are not many ways I would compare Istanbul to Cape Town. But there is one. Coffee. As you know, a subject close to my heart. When we moved to Cape Town in 2001, we took with us our trusted Nespresso machine, and that was about all we could lay our hands on, except for over-foamy horrors in Melissa’s, seen there as the height of sophistication. Oh, and there was Seattle Coffee in a garage somewhere, and I have a memory of being scolded by the cashier as I was 6 months pregnant, and apparently shouldn’t be drinking coffee.

In the following years, coffee literally exploded in Cape Town, first with the Vida e Caffe chain and then many more that followed. I have to say, that for a while, coffee was better in Cape Town, than in the UK, as there was more individual care taken by the baristas than their counterparts in the likes of Starbucks and Costa. I remember the first time my dear friend, Cathy, told me about Vida e Caffe in Kloof Street, and it was such a revelation – it remained my favourite place to hang out and drink coffee until we left Cape Town.

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Our new grinder

Fast forward a few years and we arrive in Istanbul. The main issue with coffee in Istanbul is that there has been no European coffee culture here – the majority of people drink cay (pronounced chai) which is strong black Turkish tea, usually served in a small glass. Of course, there is also Turkish coffee – extremely strong and concentrated, and served in a small cup. And as both the traditional style tea and coffee are not served with milk, there is no culture of using high quality milk in their drinks, so most European-style coffees over here are made with UHT milk – aagghh!

When we came to visit Istanbul last May on a house/school visiting trip, we were lucky enough to come across an article in the current edition of Istanbul’s Time Out guide, which was one of the first of many, to extoll the virtues of the new coffee shops in Istanbul. It took us nearly an hour to find Cup of Joy, as it is in a little passageway tucked between some buildings, but thank goodness, we persevered, as that place has been one of the things that has kept me going over the last year and a bit.

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When we found Cup of Joy, it had only been open a month and so was relatively quiet. It is owned by Suzan and Ebru, who are both passionate and knowledgeable about coffee, but they are also warm and hospitable and provided me with lots of useful tidbits of info from buying curtain material to where to go sailing. We are obviously not the only ones who love Cup of Joy, as it has now expanded into a second shop in the same passageway, and is nearly always heaving with people. Oh, and they love Dave – need I say more?

But the problem was, that really there were not many places like Cup of Joy, so if my days included venturing out into another part of Istanbul, then I knew I wouldn’t get any decent coffee. Naturally this meant that top of the important criteria for finding our new apartment last year, was to be within walking distance of Cup of Joy, which I can confirm is the case, and we happily trot down there several times a week. Perfect walk for Dave – that’s my excuse.

However, all that has now changed and just like happened in Cape Town, the coffee scene in Istanbul is happening. And I have made it my mission to visit as many of them as possible.

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Coffeetopia in Eminonu

On a recent visit to Kadikoy on the Asian side for Billy’s rugby match (more about that in the next post), Daisy and I made a little detour to find Cekirdek, which turned out to be closed. However, we stumbled across Rafine, a very small little cafe, almost a kiosk really, where the coffee was very good. We spent a very happy half an hour chatting to the owner, a young chef, recently back from London and discovered that he had only been open a month – we were there first! Well nearly.

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Our latest find, however, is Petra, which is in the suburb of Gayrettepe, very close to where Billy plays rugby on a Sunday. You can see where this is going, can’t you? Petra is in a warehouse, that also houses a gallery, which sells a collection of bizarre unrelated things like speed boats, and antiques. However, they are passionate about their coffee and roast their own beans. Last weekend we bought a new grinder so that we can always have a selection of beans on the go, much like you would have several bottles of wine open at the same time…

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Petra Roasting

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