Food has always been, and continues to be one of my greatest passions in life. It must be in my blood. Both of my parents were amazing cooks, although very different. My father was classically trained, perfecting omelettes at the Café Royale in London in the fifties, whereas Mum was a creative intuitive cook, able to rustle up modest but delicious suppers with whatever was in the fridge.
A major part of my love of food, is the sourcing and buying of it, and so I have always loved markets, and many a holiday has been centred around going to the abundant daily markets in Europe. (She says with a wistful sigh…)
Hampshire Farmers Markets have been going for twenty years and it has been interesting to see how our local Winchester market has changed over the years, starting off in the carpark in Middle Brook Street and then in the high street, with a bit of back and forth and now in the Broadway.
The second and last Sunday of the month are firmly diarised in my calendar and it is definitely a highlight of the weekend, getting up on a Sunday morning and heading off to the market with whichever family member feels so inclined. Nothing gives me more pleasure than connecting to where our food comes from, chatting to some of the producers, finding out about new produce and products. It truly brings me so much joy.
Last weekend, I ventured to the pretty Petersfield market which is one of the only ones in a traditional square, as I had missed the previous week in Winchester. Many of the stalls are the same, as the producers travel around to the different towns in Hampshire, but there are a few different ones that caught my eye.
I tried some date coffee, aptly named Dafé, which is a new stall. I wouldn’t call it a coffee substitute as naturally it is caffeine free, so great for anybody needing to avoid the stimulus of caffeine. It is made in a similar way to coffee, by roasting the dates and then grinding them. The result was a light and fresh drink, slightly sweet, and equally delicious with added milk or plain black.
Late spring/early summer is probably my favourite season for the market, as it marks the wonderful arrival of our local asparagus, and at today’s market I wasn’t disappointed. There were several stalls selling beautiful asparagus, but I chose Durleighmarsh, as they are known for their asparagus and at this time of year it is their only crop. I chatted toPaul Abbott, owner of Durleighmarsh Farm and was fascinated to learn some top tips. Whilst I already know you should never cut the end of the asparagus off, but rather gently bend it so that it snaps naturally at the right place, thereby avoiding any wastage, what I didn’t know is that if you find your asparagus a little gritty, then you need to gently scrape the little brown triangular scales that grow on the spears as they can sometimes contain a little dirt! Paul’s suggestion is not to steam the asparagus, but to gently fry it in some butter and olive oil (that stops the butter from burning) for 4 or 5 minutes, perhaps with a little garlic.
But do be sure to load up now as the asparagus season will be over before we know it!
I think I have been to Manchester before some where in my dim distant past, but last weekend Peter and I spent 24 hours there, and thoroughly enjoyed it. We were blown away by the slick service, the sophistication and the fantastic energy of the city.
We went to Manchester to see John Mayer who was playing at Manchester Arena – I have to admit that you cant help thinking about the horrific attack that took place there two and a half years ago, but as I said to somebody, you cant live your life in fear, and the atmosphere inside was certainly fearless and electric.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Leaving aside the six hours it took for me to get to Manchester, when I eventually arrived, we still just about had enough time to get our supper which Peter had booked at Dishoom. What an incredible slick operation – I haven’t experienced service like that for a long time. Despite us being over half an hour late for the booking (we did call to let them know), we were whisked to a table, drinks orders taken and fairly swiftly after that our food order.
Dishoom is contemporary Indian, and I have to say the food was as slick as the service. Our okra fries arrived with our drinks – demolished within minutes. Followed by masala prawns, lamb sheekh kebab, house-style chicken tikka and gunpowder potatoes. Did I mention the service? Super friendly, efficient with plenty of managerial presence conducting proceedings without a hitch. We were in and out within an hour, but dearly would have liked to stay and linger with another glass of wine…
A ten minute walk took us to the Arena and swiftly through (very tight) security and into our seats. A fantastic concert – two and a half hours of all of his best tracks with a super-talented band and backing singers – and of course it doesnt hurt that John Mayer is fairly easy on the eye!
Peter had found and booked us a hotel called Native Manchester. If you havent stayed in a Native before, do yourself a favour and check them out. They are studio apartments in old refurbished buildings or super-cool modern developments or even mews houses, with a great contemporary design and lots of extra details you wouldn’t expect. The one in Manchester is an old converted warehouse in the Northern Quarter and has only been open a month.
In fact, I am pretty sure we were the first to stay in our room, as it didn’t look like any of the bath/body products had yet been opened. We booked the smallest room as we were only there for one night but it was still spacious and edgy with the original girders and brick work. But wonderful design details – a little table attached to the end of the sofa, a discreet drawer under the sink in the bathroom, gorgeous lotions and potions from Bramble, set up by somebody from Cowshed. Every studio apartment has a little kitchenette which had the basics you would need to cook something simple but everything was quality, even a Sabatier knife!
We got a late check out as it was all important rugby World Cup quarter finals in the morning, so whilst Peter languished in bed watching England thrash Australia, I nipped down to the oh-so-cool lobby and fetched us some cinnamon rolls and flat whites – it all felt very New York.
Rugby over and we had a lovely wander through Manchester. Those of you who know me, know that no outing is complete without a stop for coffee, and of course this was no different and top of our list. We found a Scandinavian artisan coffee house called Takk – they actually have three outlets in Manchester, and like our whole experience of Manchester, it was slick, sophisticated and plenty of substance.
Escaping for a few days R&R has given me time to reflect on the past few weeks. Goodness, you can’t underestimate the power of a little bit of downtime, always so difficult to allow, but the effects are huge.
It’s been a tumultuous few weeks, and whilst there is still so much to do – probate forms to fill in, estate agents to appoint, the house to clear out, when Peter announced last week that he needed to go away for a few days for some business research, I jumped at the chance to go too. Always up for a road trip, but right now, more importantly, I realised that I needed a change of scene, and a chance to unwind, even if only for a couple of days.
We stayed the first two nights at the Cow at Dalbury Lees, in Derbyshire, which I booked following an article in the Times on Saturday morning, very fortuitously for us, about the best summer pubs in Britain. It is quite literally in the middle of nowhere, but a real gem. It is newly refurbished, and uses lots of reclaimed wood and recycled items, such as old polished milk churns for bar stools. Our only negative was that we were put in a room right above the bar, so our first night was fairly noisy, but when we mentioned it the next morning, we were moved to a delightful room at the back of the pub.
As regular readers of my blog will know, coffee is always at the forefront of my mind, and what a pleasant surprise, when a fabulous flat white was served up at breakfast yesterday. I don’t think pubs are usually renowned for their coffee, but the barman at the Cow certainly knew how to make a good one. In fact, everything they served was on point. The chef clearly knows a thing or two. Produce was fresh and everything cooked really well – simple and of the moment.
In fact we have been blown away by the wonderful quality of produce and service everywhere on our trip so far. How times a-change. Lunch yesterday was at Bear in Derby, again lovely contemporary concept – lightly battered cod bites and pulled pork in soft tacos with slaw and avocado, and good flat whites.
Now sitting here in the wonderfully named ‘Medicine Kitchen and Bakery’, this cafe reminds me of some of the fabulous places in Sydney, large airy open spaces with lots of big wooden tables, for lingering over. And whilst I may presently get the probate forms out, it is still wonderful to be in a different environment. Somehow it just makes me feel lighter, less burdened, less sad.
But I am keeping my promise to Mum, wherever I go, she comes with me. I look out of a window, and for a split second, imagine that phone call, where I describe where I am, what I am doing, what I am about to eat or drink. And then I remember, all too quickly, that of course, I can’t do that. But this morning, when those thoughts popped into my head, I smiled, because I realised I was keeping my promise. Of course I will never forget you. I will think of you every day. Forever in my heart, Mum 💜
Last week was certainly a week for winter warmers, if ever there was one, and I, for one, loved every moment.
Whilst our temperatures here in the South of England plummeted to a freezing -6C for several days, the snow fell and our already beautiful countryside looked even more magical. This was indeed an unexpected pleasure, as having had magnificent snowfalls in Istanbul over the past four years, it is not such a regular occurrence in Hampshire.
But back to the winter warmers – this sort of weather definitely calls for warm and hearty fare, usually meaty as far as we are concerned, and gave us all the inspiration we needed for some delicious suppers all week.
Sunday: was a traditional roast rib of beef, as Waitrose had one last rib going cheap (always an eye on a bargain), which we decided to roast using the untraditional reverse sear method, taking inspiration from Jess Pryles and her Hard Core Carnivore book. That means, instead of the usual sear in a pan to brown all over, and then whack in the oven for a short time, you cook it in the oven at a low temperature first, and when it has reached the right colour of pink for your taste, achieved by using a meat thermometer, you rest the meat for a while before searing in a hot pan, which gives it a gorgeous colour as well as wonderful caramelisation. The result was a beautiful even pink throughout with no grey bits around the edges where the meat has cooked a little more. We had this with roast potatoes and roast purple sprouts doused in walnut oil. A triumph, as Thomas would have said.
Monday: Cold rib of beef, of course! With sweet potatoes and horseradish creme fraiche.
Tuesday: A warming and divine Bengali chicken curry from Peter’s new cook book, Indian Kitchen by Maunika Gowardhan. I was full of cold and requested a warming curry from Peter, and he certainly delivered!
Wednesday: was the remains of the rib of beef made into a very warming and hearty ragu, which we had with fresh tagliatelle and a winter salad of red cabbage, little gem, goat cheese,broccoli and walnuts.
Thursday: we managed to nip out to Waitrose for a quick stock up before we became completely snowed in, and bought some beautiful fresh Cornish hake – might not sound hearty, but with the addition of chunks of chorizo, and crunchy cubes of potato, it certainly worked for us!
Friday: after several days of being confined to our cottage, with heating and fire blazing, we decided to break out and head to the local pub with some lovely friends and neighbours, and had a gorgeous homemade steak and ale pie in a rich gravy with light crispy pastry.
Saturday was homemade pizza – well, the kids were home from school, what more can I say? Topped with yet more chorizo, and local Laverstoke Farm buffalo mozzarella. Perhaps our least hearty meal of the week.
Sunday – we rounded the week off with a magnificent venison chilli – local venison cooked with several different types chilli, using a fantastic recipe again from Hard Core Carnivore. This was superb – rich, unctuous, with lots of flavour from the sweet chilli, but never overpowering. We ate this spooned in soft tacos with dollops of creme fraiche. This probably wins the vote of most hearty dish of the week.
Usually we try not to drink alcohol during the week, but sometimes you have to throw reason to the wind, and these suppers cried out for full-bodied rich red wines, from a Barolo, to Rioja, to a Southern Italian Primitivo. I have loved our winter week full of snow and hearty food, but I think my waist line will appreciate the spring weather when it arrives!
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…
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Day Two with Emma and Sam was a trip to Sultanahmet which is massively touristy but gotta be done. We started off in 2 taxis but the roads are always jammed down the coast from Ortakoy to the Galata Bridge which then leads over to the old district, so we all jumped out and onto trams instead which were not only faster but much cooler too.
The Hagia Sophia, once a mosque and before that a church, is now a museum and quite stunning. We glimpsed the blue mosque and had fun bargaining in the Grand Bazaar for some Turkish lamps and then had a few rounds of cards while sipping on Turkish coffees.
For lunch we returned to an old favourite of Billy, Daisy’s and mine that we last visited when we were in Istanbul in May, Konyali Lokantasi. It’s a real gem of a restaurant that’s been going for years and years and welcomes both local workers and tourists although when we were there, it was mostly locals. It’s self-service cafeteria but overwhelmed with the choices, we were immediately helped by super friendly staff.
And this is where our first introduction to doner kebabs came in – I don’t think I had ever had one before – and billy and daisy certainly hadn’t but we loved them. Beautiful succulent meat carved from the main spit into what looks like a dustpan but then served either on cubes of bread with a tomato sauce and a large dollop of yogurt, or the ubiquitous chips and rice.