Mikla Restaurant, Istanbul, Turkey

After I had posted my impromptu degustation adventures at the Istanbul Culinary Institute on Facebook, my friend Paul recommended that I should also try Mikla. I promptly started researching where Mikla was located, and was pleased to find it was very close to where I was staying.

The next day, I went to the Marmara Pera hotel to make a dinner reservation for my return stay in Istanbul, however as it was a Sunday, the restaurant was closed and unable to take bookings at that point in time. The hotel staff recommended that I come back the next day. Unfortunately I was about to depart for a thirteen day tour of Turkey, so that suggestion wasn’t practicable however I was given an email address to request my preferred date and time for dinner at Mikla. The next day I wrote an email, however I did not receive a reply. I wrote again the following week, and still no reply. By this time, my tour had nearly finished and I had arrived back in Istanbul and at the same hotel I had stayed previously. When I had a spare moment, I walked back to the Marmara Pera hotel and made another request for a dinner reservation. My preferred dining option was for the Saturday night, which would be my last night in Istanbul. But of course, despite my best efforts to secure a table for that evening, the restaurant was fully booked. Thankfully, fortune was on my side and there was one table available which would allow me to dine the next evening. There was just one slight problem … I was also doing a gourmet food and market tour the next day. Ignoring the pain in my stomach, I decided to accept the booking.

The following evening, making my way into the lift to take me to the top floor of the hotel, a huge wave of excitement started to well up inside of me. Upon arrival I was escorted into the dining room with a modern and contemporary elegance, and to a table with beautiful night time views of the Golden Horn and the Blue Mosque in my line of sight.

Mikla Restaurant, Istanbul, Turkey
Mikla Restaurant, Istanbul, Turkey

Looking at the menu, there were various dining options available including a three course prix fixe à la carte menu for 160 TL (AUD $80) and a seven course tasting or degustation menu for 240 TL (AUD $120) with six glasses of matching wines for an additional 120 TL (AUD $60). Despite the effort in securing a table for the evening, the thought of eating seven dishes was not going to be a pleasant or enjoyable experience.

I decided to compromise and select the three course dinner option which would allow me to select my own dishes for each course, and I could use the degustation menu as a guide. The added advantage with the prix fixe à la carte menu, is the opportunity to enjoy three glasses of wine that are matched to my selected courses for 70 TL (AUD $35), which was excellent value in my opinion.

The seven course tasting menu comprised of the following dishes:

  • Vegetables & Zeytinyağlı – Zeytinyağlı, Raw and Other Vegetables
  • Balık Ekmek – Crispy Hamsi, Olive Oil Bread, Lemon
  • Dried Tenderloin & Humus – Salted and Dried Beef Tenderloin, Humus (sic), Antep ‘Birdshit’ Paste
  • Grouper – Slow Cooked Grouper, Sunchokes, Green Lentil, Whole Wheat Erişte, Halhali Olives, Chive-Fig Vinaigrette
  • Lamb Shank – Trakya Kıvırcık Lamb Shank, Smoked Eggplant, Stew of Kayseri Sucuk & White Bean
  • Cheese & Honey – Anatolian Raw Milk Cheese & Honey
  • Pumpkin – Crunchy Candied Pumpkin, Antep ‘Birdshit’ Ice Cream, Sesame Paste, Grape Molasses

Birdshit! I could count three dishes on the entire menu that had a reference to that word. When my waiter came over to ask if I had any questions about the menu, I bravely asked what it meant and discovered that it was a pistachio mixture or paste. Interesting.

Salted and Dried Beef Tenderloin, Humus, Antep ‘Birdshit’ Paste - Mikla, Istanbul, Turkey
Salted and Dried Beef Tenderloin, Humus, Antep ‘Birdshit’ Paste – Mikla, Istanbul, Turkey

My first selection from the menu was the Dried Tenderloin & Humus. To quote my friend Paul, Turkish wines are a revelation! They are indeed. While I was waiting for my meal, my matched wine was presented and poured – a glass of Plato, 2011 Kalecik Karasi, which proudly displayed a medallion on the bottle announcing that it had scored 90 points at the 2012 Master of Wine (Istanbul). A smooth, dry, medium-bodied red wine with hints of chocolate on the nose. Kalecik Karasi is a Turkish grape variety, which means “black from the small castle” and comes from Aegean wine region of Denizli.

The entrée was delicious but had an interesting presentation. The rocket and other leaf served on the plate looked somewhat out of place with the other elements of the dish, particularly as it was bitter to taste. The birdshit paste was indeed a finely ground pistachio pesto, and did resemble fresh bird dropping when smeared across the white plate. The hummus was a slightly red colour with a creamy texture and went well with the thick cut beef medallions, which were delicious and easy to cut. They were not too salty and looked fresh and full of flavour.

Slow Cooked Grouper, Sun Chokes, Whole Wheat Erişte, Halhali Olives, Chive-Fig Vinaigrette - Mikla, Istanbul, Turkey
Slow Cooked Grouper, Sun Chokes, Whole Wheat Erişte, Halhali Olives, Chive-Fig Vinaigrette – Mikla, Istanbul, Turkey

Those who know me well, know that I dearly love lamb shanks and I would certainly proclaim that smoked eggplant is one of my favourite things, but I was looking for a lighter option and something that is a little less familiar and so I chose Grouper for my next course.

The wine match was an Anfora 2010 Chardonnay Reserve again from the Denizli region, near Pamukkale in Turkey. A beautiful golden yellow colour, the wine was served chilled, and had a glorious bouquet on the nose. I kept thinking that this was one of those wines where you wish you could bottle the perfume and savour it again and again. It smelt of honey, pears, roasted nuts and the toasty flavours of French Oak, indeed an excellent match for the thickness and rich flavour of the fish. This wine regularly features on the best Turkish wine lists.

A lovely tasting meal with a myriad of ingredients and flavours working well together. Chives and fresh lemon zest on top of the grouper, thick green olives in a sauce thickened by thin strips of pasta (or eriste) and the beautiful flavour of fresh dill, which is a staple ingredient of most Turkish cuisine.

İhsangazi Siyez Bulghur Ice Cream, Confit Malatya Apricots - Mikla, Istanbul, Turkey
İhsangazi Siyez Bulghur Ice Cream, Confit Malatya Apricots – Mikla, Istanbul, Turkey

And finally the dessert course. The dessert selection on the tasting menu didn’t appeal as I had indulged in cheese and candied pumpkin on my food tour earlier in the day, so I opted for the healthier sounding option of Apricot & Bulghur which consisted of İhsangazi Siyez Bulghur Ice Cream and Confit Malatya Apricots.

The apricots were fresh and had a wonderful natural sweetness. From their slightly brown colour, you could tell they were preservative free with the confit cooking method helping to soften their texture and retain their moisture. The ice cream was served on a bed of finely crushed pistachios which added a little extra crunch and flavour, to the fine granules of burghul wheat in the creamy mixture. It was a lovely dessert and I’m glad I chose a dish that was elegant in its simplicity and taste.

The matched wine was a Doluca Safir 2011 Semi-Sweet White Wine, again from the Aegean region and made from Muscat grapes. Sweet to taste, the wine had hints of lime and lychees on the nose and was pale lemon in colour and was another excellent choice.

I enjoyed my dining experience at Mikla and am glad that I had the opportunity to enjoy a modern interpretation of Turkish cuisine, complimented with a selection of beautiful award-winning Turkish wines from the Aegean region and outstanding views of Istanbul. Thanks for the tip Paul!


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.


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

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.