Posted by - 16 December 2009 - No comments

Modern Turkish food

Breathtaking views of the Bosphorus from Topaz
When I think of Turkish food, the image of kebabs springs to mind.   Not the nice kind where you eat from a plate with a side of salad and rice, but the dirty kind,  Pittas filled with non-descript meat.  It's the stuff most Brits only indulge in on a Friday night when they're inebriated and don't know better.    Which is a shame when you consider that there's so much more to Turkish cuisine and also kebabs than a greasy doner.

Modern Turkish cuisine
Turkey's unique position, bridging Eastern Europe with the Middle East, has fused the best of Mediterranean diet - fresh ingredients: vegetables, fish and meat with the spicy, sweet and nutty flavours which are characteristic of Middle Eastern cuisine.   This melting pot of smells and tastes has resulted in a culinary tradition which started in the Ottoman era and one which the Turks are staunchly proud of.

Hamsi crisps served with lemon foam
Nowadays, modern Turkish food has come to encompass influences far beyond the countries boundaries.   Mikla is an example of a new wave of modern Turkish restaurants that are challenging preconceptions of Turkish food.   The restaurant which is located at the top of the tired looking Marmara Pera Hotel in the Old Town, serves Turkish cuisine with a Scandanavian twist.  The two countries couldn't be more geographically set apart, so like I did initially, you may baulk at the combo but strangely the fusion works.

Dried beef with Kars Gravyeri
The food at Milka wasn't amazing, but then it wasn't bad.   It was the type of food you expect to be served at fine dining restaurant located in a luxury hotel.  Although I wasn't completely bowled over by the food, there were some inventive additions to the menu which really caught my taste buds like the hamsi (anchovy) crisps and lemon foam and dried beef served with Kars Gravyeri, which were light, crispy and extremely moreish.  The dried beef resembled shrivled carpaccio, was incredibly tender and the light and subtle gruyere-like cheese perfectly off-set the salty slices of beef. 

Beautiful views
Moreish bread selection

Once you've eaten in some of the Istanbul's top restaurants, you'll notice a trend emerging about the locale of all these fine establishments.   All of them command the best views of the city.  Topaz and 360 are two restaurants which offer the most breathtaking views of Istanbul.

Topaz is situated in a spot Gummussuyu close to Taksim Square.  The outside is not much to look at, and the restaurant is located on a busy main road, however, the inside is a different matter.  Ceiling to floor windows run across the length of the room, to reveal one of the most breathtaking views of Istanbul and the Bosphorous strait.   Apparently the designers took "inspiration from the calming and ethereal characteristics of the Topaz stone, relaxing a nature inspired backdrop to complement the beautiful views of the Bosphorus".  It's definitely a place you should visit in the day just for the views.

Smoked salmon, avocado and courgettes rice paper rolls
The food is a fusion of Mediterranean and Ottoman delicacies, and includes modern takes on these two culinary traditionals.  I enjoyed everything on the menu, except the starter an Asian inspired dish of smoked salmon, avocado and courgettes wrapped in rice paper.  I found the fishness of the salmon overpowering and the rice paper slimey and quite salty.  It was just wrong.   

Smokey goats cheese & aubergine salad

I enjoyed the rest of the meal and was particularly impressed with the bread selection - I think you can always tell the quality of the cooking at a restaurant by the bread they serve.  The selection included tomato, wholemeal and seeded rolls.

Beautfiul people


With equally beautiful views of Istanbul, 360 is a restaurant/bar/club located in the penthouse of a 19th century mansion house on a busy shopping street in the Begoglu, that commands 360 degree views of Istanbul "all the way up close steeple of St Antoine's Church and across the Bosphorous strait to the Hagia Sophia Mosque and out to the sea of Marmara." 

360 degree views of the terrace bar
The restaurant is hidden in a mansion block called the Misir Apartments which is positioned on a busy shopping street in Beyoglu.  From the outside of the building you wouldn't even know it exists, as there are no signs indicating the treasure of a restaurant inside.   To get there you have to take a tiny private lift to the 6th floor, before walking up some stairs to a large door, through some velvet drapes which open up in to a modernist looking room filled with Istanbul's beautiful people. 

East meets West steak fillet
The bar area is very sleek looking and surrounded by large projector screens playing which old Turkish movies.  There's also a stock ticker running the length of the bar with the words 'fromo'.  Short form for frozen mojitos, the bar's signature drink.   Outside running around the permeter is a terrace. 

The food at 360 is a fusion of South East Asian and Turkish cuisine.  Starters comprised a selection of tapas style dishes and finger foods, including juicy grilled Moroccon style spice green onions; crab chickpea falafel, prawn and oyster mushroom tempuras, salmon and avocado sushi and seasame crusted hellim.   

Devillish:  Death by chocolate

All very yummy, but incredibly filling so go easy on them, as you'll miss out on some great mains and deserts.  I had the aptly named East and West steak fillet with mushroom.  A delicious  tender and perfectly cooked piece of meat.  While  my dessert: Death by Chocolate would have meant instant death if I'd eaten any more than a mouth full of the devillish dessert, which include selection of milk and white chocolate puddings.

I really loved 360.   It was incredibly buzzy and the sort of place I'd hang out in if I lived in Istanbul.  The drinks aren't cheap, but that's a small price to pay for breath-taking views, a sleek interior and a great service.  It's a must-visit if you're in the city.
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