Enstitu – Istanbul Culinary Institute, Istanbul, Turkey (Tasting Menu for March 2014)

Having thoroughly enjoyed the February tasting menu on my first night in Istanbul, I was keen to come back and try the new tasting menu for March at Enstitu. “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.

It’s the last night of my Grand Tour of Turkey and our tour group has arrived back in Istanbul without any formal dinner plans. I had mentioned the restaurant to my new-found friends Jay and Margaret from Dublin, and they were willing to dine at Enstitu, particularly as their son is also a third year culinary student back home. After nearly two weeks of buffet breakfasts, buffet lunches and buffet dinners, it almost seemed like a novelty to enjoy an à la carte menu again. I had raved about my previous dining experience at Enstitu and had talked my travelling buddy and gourmand partner-in-crime, Jane into eating there too.  Jane deserves a special mention as she was giving up alcohol for Lent and I was worried that a six-course degustation with matching wine may be too much temptation, but she was keen to give it a go and so we made a dinner reservation that afternoon.

Upon arrival, we were seated at the upstairs dining area as the bottom section where I sat on my previous visit, was full. Our waitress for the evening was a young lady who seemed eager to attend to us, although I think her enthusiasm became short-lived when we started to encounter language difficulties and our inability to communicate in Turkish.

To kick off our evening, we ordered a bottle of Sarafin 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from one of Turkey’s premier wine producers. A pale lemon colour, with orange blossom and lychee detected on the nose, the wine was crisp, dry with light acidity and citrus on the palate. A lovely way to start our celebration of our last evening in Turkey together.

Tasting Menu for March 2014

Mushroom consommé – I’m not a fan of mushrooms at the best of times, but I didn’t find this soup too overwhelming, although my friends commented that it was very “mushroomy”. It tasted like a typical consommé should although the soup was a little lukewarm when served.

Seabass ceviche with citrus, cucumber and avocado sorbet, celery stalk salad, carrot puree with coriander – a visual masterpiece but I think the hit for me was the cucumber and avocado sorbet which is a little complex to describe. Served on a bed of flaked almonds, the sorbet had a creamy texture on the palate which was attributable to the avocado but with a crisp, fresh cucumber finish. The creaminess of the avocado meant that the sorbet had more of an ice-cream consistency and texture but it was a taste sensation. The other highlight of the dish was the ceviche which again, had a smooth texture with sweet flavours. A delicious dish which was well matched with the Sauvignon Blanc.

Homemade ravioli with fennel and artichoke, fried artichoke (matched with DLC Sultaniye Emir) – another well presented dish although the pasta seemed a little dry and bland after the spectacular fish course, however the fried artichoke garnish which incorporated flaked almonds added a nice crunch and textural element to the dish.

At this point, we asked for our serving of red wine earlier as it is specifically matched to the beef dish, however from prior experience, the wine servings are generous and almost impossible to finish with the matched dish.

Duck leg confit, mini apple tartin, baby spinach with chilli, duck glaze – I loved this dish although we all agreed that the duck, while perfectly cooked, tasted extremely salty. The apple tartin was the surprise element with the sweetness of the baked apple cutting through the rich duck meat. The spinach was a perfect accompaniment although I didn’t detect any chilli on my palate but that may have been overshadowed by the strong flavours from the duck and apple tartin.

In hindsight, we were glad that we asked for our red wine offering earlier as the wine was an excellent accompaniment to both the duck dish and the beef dish. The red wine was extremely smooth, and beautiful to drink. With a light floral aroma and red fruit flavours, the DLC Öküzgözü had the softness of velvet on the palate, with faint hints of oak and vanilla. Almost as delicious as the duck dish.

Pan fried beef tenderloin, potato puree with parmesan cheese, oven baked root vegetables, red wine sauce (matched with DLC Öküzgözü) – a beautifully styled dish. The beef was cooked medium to medium-rare. The potato puree was nice but the dish was let down by the undercooked vegetables that didn’t look like they had visited the oven on that particular evening. The beetroot tasted as though it had been pickled and the sharp flavour was a little strong on the palate.

Dessert sampler platter: Orange jelly, mini pumpkin macaron, sour cherry ice cream, chocolate mousse cake – The dessert dish was a spectacular array of colours and flavours. I love rich, creamy desserts so my highlight was the chocolate mousse cake, closely followed by the delicious mini pumpkin macaron which had hints of spice, predominantly nutmeg. The sour cherry ice cream was a little sharp for my palate and I had a mouthful of the orange jelly, which was nice and simple but not my cup of tea.

Usually this dish is served with a liqueur, unfortunately for some reason this was not available on the evening that we visited. With our waitress unavailable for assistance, the head waiter downstairs was extremely obliging and offered us other refreshments as a substitute.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged, that when you convince your friends to come and try a restaurant that you have raved about, it is not going to live up again to your expectations. We had a lovely, memorable evening enjoying our friendship and celebrating good wine, food and each other’s company. However our dining experience was little marred by our waitress who went from enthusiasm at the start of our evening, to total avoidance as we progressed through our tasting menu. Whilst the language was a barrier, at all times we were polite and friendly and obliging, cognisant of the fact that we are dining in a training facility. That being said, if I ever have the good fortune to visit Istanbul again, I will certainly come back and visit Enstitu and enjoy another culinary adventure.


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