It’s been a dream of mine to visit Turkey for a little while and I had resolutely decided that 2014 was definitely going to be the year that I was going to get there. As I planning my Turkish adventure over the Christmas holidays, I had started to look through TripAdvisor to familiarise myself with things to see and restaurants to visit whilst I was staying in Istanbul.
Arriving in Turkey in the early afternoon, it was my first Saturday night in Istanbul and I hadn’t eaten all day and I was starting to feel hungry. My knowledge of Turkish cuisine revolved around pides, Turkish bread, donner kebabs, strong coffee and mezze platters and I was looking forward to my first taste of authentic Turkish food and wine. I had flicked through my TripAdvisor app and my hotel was located somewhat near a modern wine bar called Solera Winery that I liked the sound of, so I attempted to memorise the route and started off on my new food adventure.
Having never been to Istanbul, I was enjoying discovering the European architecture in my little neighbourhood and I got carried away walking along the winding, cobblestoned streets and was ambling and peering into cafes and restaurants slowly making my way to my intended destination. As I was walking past, someone just ahead of me had stopped outside a busy restaurant with a big wooden door and cosy lighting coming through the windows to read the menu and suddenly on a whim I thought that I might take a look too. I looked up to see what the restaurant was called and saw “Istanbul Culinary Institute”. It was one of those light bulb moments where I remembered that I had seen that name before, either when I was researching cooking classes to do in Istanbul or on TripAdvisor and before I knew it, I had pushed open the big wooden door and went inside.
I nervously asked for a table and was seated right by the front door at a table that seated four people, but I felt a little awkward sitting on a large table by myself. There was a table on the mezzanine level that had six chairs and I could see a couple seated on the end of that table having dinner, and in my jet lagged state, I just assumed that it was a communal table. However on reflection, I don’t think that concept exists in Turkey and so when I asked the waiter if I could sit up there on the mezzanine and free up my table for other customers, there was a slight pause and then he went and asked the couple if I could sit on their table. Thankfully, they just smiled and graciously let me sit on the other end of their table and I had an elevated view of the whole bottom dining area!
Looking at the menu, I found that “Enstitu” is the name of the working restaurant within the Istanbul Culinary Institute where third-year students have an opportunity to experiment, practice and showcase their new knowledge and skills using fresh, seasonal produce to create contemporary Turkish cuisine. There were so many delicious sounding items to choose from, but it was hard to go past the Tasting Menu for the month which sat proudly on the front page, consisting of several different courses and matching Turkish wines for a mere 100 Turkish Lira or the equivalent of $50 Australian dollars. In the spirit of culinary adventure, I chose the impromptu degustation option.
Tasting Menu for February 2014
Chestnut soup – My first meal for the day and I was ready for a warm bowl of soup. Although chestnuts are prolific where I grew up, I can’t say that I’m overly familiar with the taste and texture, but this soup was delicious. Almost with the same consistency of pureed potato but with a slight taste of roasted vegetable and nuts. The presentation was fabulous with wafer thin shards of chestnut on the top, a dollop of cream and a drizzle of oil. Contentment in a bowl.
Enstitu made smoked salmon, celeriac horseradish sauce, citrus salad – Uniquely presented with a selection of herbs and pomegranate seeds covering the citrus wedges, smoked salmon and a large serving of a fluffy, mousse-like horseradish cream. It was great but the proportion of horseradish to salmon and citrus didn’t really compute, particularly when the sauce came with a small wafer and I’m not sure I could detect any taste of celeriac in the mixture.
Homemade ravioli with spinach and ricotta cheese (matched with DLC Sultaniye Emir) – I was ready for my first taste of Turkish wine and although I prefer red wine, this wine was fruity and crisp. Emir is a native Turkish grape with fresh fruit and citrus flavours. The ravioli dish was a little lukewarm and the pasta was a little tough and hardened at the edges, but it was still delicious with the touch of cream, toasted pine nuts and wilted spinach.
Grilled octopus, beetroot tabbouleh with fresh herbs – I’m starting to slowly fill up but this dish looked and smelt wonderful, and on reflection, the most memorable dish of the evening. A delicious aroma of barbeque brought wonderful flavours to the fresh, chargrilled octopus but the taste sensation was the small portions of beetroot added to the tabbouleh salad, which also had the usual elements of fresh parsley, tomato and spring onion and lemon, but the beetroot added an element of creaminess and sweetness to the softened bulghur. A wonderful tasting dish and I almost wished I could have this every day. It’s got to be healthy, right?
Lamb karsky, siyez bulghur pilaf, eggplant cream, lamb jus (matched with DLC Öküzgözü) – I’m finally at the main course and my long awaited glass of red wine. Öküzgözü is another grape native to Turkey and literally means “ox eye”. Smooth in texture, medium bodied and light red fruit flavours; a little bolder than a Pinot Noir but doesn’t have the depth of a Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. The lamb loin was delicious, cooked medium-well but I wasn’t quite prepared for the kidney also served on the skewer, so I carefully pushed that to the side and took a big gulp of wine – I’m sorry but offal isn’t my thing. But I do love eggplant which is a big part of Turkish cuisine and the eggplant cream was delicious. The bulghur was light and all the elements of the dish worked together.
Dessert sampler platter: Mini orange and chocolate macaron, lavender profiterole, mini quince dessert and vanilla ice cream (matched with Banana Liqueur) – The end is in sight with small portions of dessert to finish with a glass of banana liqueur and a café latte. Another wonderfully presented dish with the quince elegantly poached and spiced with cinnamon, and a dark chocolate sauce to accompany the lavender profiterole.
It’s amazing to think that the chefs are still considered to be students when each of the courses had been assembled with meticulous detail and a focus on flavour. I’m so glad that I wandered off course and decided to see for myself what was hiding behind the big wooden door.