Restaurants

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!

 

The London Coffee Scene

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Turnip

 

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!

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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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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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Konyali Lokantasi

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.

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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.

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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.

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Emma and Sam

So Emma and Sam have arrived for a ten day holiday with us in Turkey, spending the first few days in Istanbul. We wanted to show them as many different aspects of life in Istanbul – from one of Peter’s high-end Mac health clubs, to a local market, to the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet (the old quarter).

But of course most importantly we had to give them a flavour of what Istanbul has to offer in terms of food.

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We were lucky as on the first day we stumbled across our local market in Ortakoy (the suburb where we live and literally 10 mins walk from our apartment) and later found out it was one of the best neighbourhood markets.

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Once again fabulous food stalls piled high with beautiful vegetables – but also the most amazing street food. Fantastic Gozleme (turkish pancakes) filled with spinach and cheese and cooked on a sort of enormous skottle which were so light and crispy and absolutely delicious.

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And some gorgeous dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) that the lady proudly showed us.

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We got some homemade walnut baclava but we took those home for pudding!

4 Reasons Hotel

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.

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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.

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Kuru (or Billy’s favourite restaurant)

On our last day in Istanbul before heading off down the West coast on holiday, we had our first Turkish lesson, as I found that as the week went by, I was getting increasingly frustrated at not being able to communicate effectively, especially in shops, even in the most basic way. I realised that in the last 20 or 30 years, I can hardly remember a time when I was in a country where I can not make myself understood or understand what’s being said to me.

So, it seemed to me there was one answer – start those Turkish lessons and get learning! Billy was the star of the class and seems to be able to retain the information well, whilst Daisy got board of the lesson after an hour and had serious attention deficit for the last half hour, but we got the basic greetings sorted plus how to ask for stuff in shops and restaurants and learnt our numbers to 100.

We then persuaded Peter to come out for lunch with us and stopped at one of the many basic cafes where you see tables of mostly men tucking into traditional Turkish fare.

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The most popular seems to be a sort of mixed grill where you get a sis (pronounced shish) kebab, a kofte and a piece of chicken with various garnishes of tomato and cucumber salad. We decided to order a plate of chicken, a plate of kofte and and a plate of sis and all share, as well as being adventurous and trying the famous kuru – a Turkish version of baked beans – homemade of course.

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And much to all of our surprise, they were delicious and we all love them.

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Do it like a local

Day two saw us venture down into Ortakoy for a wander and to have our first sample of what is on offer here in Turkey.

We tried borek – fried Turkish pastries stuffed with cheese and spring onions – and some kofte – Turkish meatballs – which have become our staple lunch, especially for the male in the family.

Most importantly, Billy had several firsts – his first game of backgammon, and the first time a random Turkish man has kissed him on both cheeks – am sure that is the first of many as they are a very demonstrative race!

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