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.
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.
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.
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.
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!