Monday, 30 September 2013

sabrina ghayour's persian supper club - review

I know a great local Indian (where Indian people eat too, believe it or not). Also a fabulous Thai, a wonderful Turkish mangal joint (obviously) that also does a mean buffet breakfast, and even my favourite places to go for Korean (which is New Malden in general as it has the largest population of Korean ex-pats in Europe and is a 10 minute drive from my home - a wonderful coincidence, I know). 

However, I don’t believe I can say the same for my local Iranian (or Persian, if you like). I don’t think I have a local Iranian. In fact, I think I’ve been to one Iranian restaurant ever, which was actually pretty good if I recall correctly. But my point is, unless I live in the wrong part of town or have been a bit slack in my dining establishment observations of late, I just don’t think there are that many Iranian restaurants out there.

The thing is, I know I would really enjoy Iranian food. Partly because it sits next to Turkey to the east which means a delightful mingling of ingredients, dishes and techniques across the border in both directions (and we all know how much I love Turkish food). Partly because food from the rest of the Middle East is some of the best out there - think labneh, hummus, falafel, manakeesh, baba ghanoush, fattoush. And partly because as I understand it, Iranian food is based around meat, fish, rice and vegetables often with the use of fresh green herbs, fruits and nuts, and characteristic flavours such as saffron, dried limes, cinnamon and parsley, and what’s not to like about all of that.

Whether there are great Persian eateries out there or not, I need little excuse to snap up the offer of a three-course-eleven-dish home cooked Iranian extravaganza, executed with all the love and attention of someone out to impress the in-laws by wowing them into submission.

And that’s pretty much what Sabrina Ghayour knocked out of the park at one of her Persian Kitchen Supper Clubs, held in her apartment in West London last week. While she toiled in the kitchen, persuasive aromas penetrated our olfactory bulbs moments before plates with equally impressive aesthetics were delivered to the table.

A huge platter of feta swimming in lemon, herbs and shallots required all the self-control of a recovering addict to prevent me from picking off every last cube - zingy, creamy and salty and a joy smashed onto the warm lavash flat bread, then dragged from rim to rim to mop up the divine marinade dregs. Aubergines were dealt with in that way that anyone who has eaten them like this wishes for them to be dealt with forever more, with flesh disintegrated into smoky magnificent mush after the fruit is held against a naked gas flame until the purple skin chars and blackens. Combined with garlic, tomatoes and eggs, this produced an exceptional aubergine dip which will in one way or another almost always involve itself in a Middle Eastern spread.

Regular readers may recall my vocal distaste for the fresh hell that is liquorice and all associated flavours: aniseed, fennel and so on (see my post the 10 most hated foods of the nation). Well, turns out that is no longer entirely accurate. Sabrina presented us with a fennel and Sicilian orange salad with a fresh dill, sumac and lemon dressing and it was, well, utterly gorgeous. Crisp raw vegetable, zippy dressing and the aroma of orange all up in my grill, mastication punctuated with bursts of the ruby jewels that are pomegranate seeds. The presence of aniseed was mild with any hard edges softened by the citrus. Turning what I thought I knew I liked right on its head, thanks Sab.

With these were spiced lamb meatballs with fragments of sour cherry wallowing in a rich San Marzano tomato sauce, so tender you could squash them between your tongue and the roof of your mouth with negligible effort. And because Iranians, Turks and everyone else over that way are at the complete mercy of yoghurt, there were bowls of it thick with dried mint, golden raisins and rose petals making the rounds.

Mains consisted of three handsome whole trout packed with a citrus-spiked herb and pine nut stuffing, and a slow roast shoulder of lamb dark with a concentrated spice blend and readily shedding its flesh from the bone at the whisper of a fork. Hunks of tangerine coloured squash topped with a vibrant green pistachio pesto, crumbled feta and piquant red barberries provided splashes of colour, while the steamed basmati rice with sugar, almonds, pistachios, sour orange peel and barberries was one of the most aromatic dishes I’ve ever waved my nose over and an entirely novel and delightful way to consume this otherwise very ordinary carbohydrate, even if the citrus peel was just a little too bitter for my preference.

The evening soon reached a point where myself and the other eight guests were floundering in our digestive juices, with only one able to entertain the dessert of spiced carrot, pistachio and almond cake at the table - the rest of us opted for a doggy bag to enjoy the next morning post food coma and with a very necessary strong coffee.

I’ve been to a handful of pop-ups and supper clubs in my time, but this was my first experience of dining in someone’s home, on their turf, in their personal space, with a bunch of people (bar a friend I brought with me) I’ve never met before. But it’s a superb format - like-minded individuals with an appetite for the unrivalled accolades of home cooked food who are after an evening of good chat, good wine (BYO of course) and an introduction to a cuisine and style of cooking they may not have been exposed to before. 

Not to mention all this was cooked in someone’s kitchen, in their home, with a normal domestic oven and hob and cupboards and plastic green chopping boards like the rest of us. Which leads us to believe that perhaps we could cook this stuff too. Which I’m sure is part of the whole point of Sabrina’s endeavours - to bring Iranian cooking to the masses and into our lives.

Sabrina has worked in some of London’s finest 5 star hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants and top catering companies, and has since turned her had to running her own events and catering business, teaching private cookery classes, and of course hosting these increasingly popular dinner evenings from her home. She has a whole host of other supper clubs coming up over the next few months covering a range of cuisines. I strongly suggest getting in touch with her to find out what and when and how to get in on the action. You can reach her on Twitter @SabrinaGhayour or drop her an email at

My rating: 4.5/5

Cost: £40 (please note this may vary)

Afiyet olsun.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

beetroot and pecan brownies - recipe

Putting a vegetable in a cake is nothing revolutionary. Naturally sweet root vegetables add lightness and aid moisture retention during cooking, and who doesn’t like a fat slice of carrot cake. Hell, I’ve even made a parsnip cake in my time. And as the nights draw in and we up our duvet tog counts, this time of year demands sustenance to satisfy the sweet tooth in all of us. The addition of beetroot to these brownies provides an earthy undercurrent that works so well with dark chocolate. Throw in toasted nuts of your choice for added texture and you have a perfect accompaniment to a vat of tea.

The recipe for these are based on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal's from his book Every Day, with a few changes.

Beetroot and pecan brownies

Makes about 20

250g fresh beetroot

250g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces (I used Lindt Excellence 70% Cocoa Bar)
100g dark chocolate with a touch of sea salt, broken into pieces (I used Lindt Excellence A Touch of Sea Salt)
3 medium eggs
250g golden caster sugar
A pinch of sea salt
150g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
50g toasted pecans, roughly chopped

First prepare your beetroot. Cut away the stalks but leave the beetroots whole and boil until tender. Drain and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, use a teaspoon to scrape off the skin which should come away easily. Finely grate the beetroot and set aside - I used a hard cheese grater.

Grease a shallow baking tin, approximately 20 x 25cm, and line the base with baking parchment. If you prefer, you can grease the base with butter and dust with cocoa powder which will also prevent the brownies from sticking.

Put the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl and melt. I do so in a microwave for about 30s at a time, giving the contents a good stir each time. When almost everything has melted, keep the microwave times shorter, say 10s or so. If you overheat it the chocolate will split.

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl until thick and pale and then beat in the melted chocolate and butter until smooth. 

Combine the salt, baking powder and flour, sift them over the chocolate mixture, then gently fold in with a large metal spoon. Now fold in the grated beetroot and pecans – be careful not to over-mix or it will make the brownies tough.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for around 1hr or until they are done. When a knife or skewer is inserted in the centre it should come out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Don’t be tempted to overcook them or they will be dry. 

Tip: If the batter rises like a cake sponge, take the back of a ladle and compress it down - you’ll still obtain the familiar brownie appearance.

Remove the tin from the oven and leave on a wire rack to cool before cutting into squares. 

Keep these airtight and they’ll remain moist and wonderful for a good week. Enjoy with a hot drink and a comfortable armchair.

Afiyet olsun.

Friday, 27 September 2013

crispy moroccan lamb pastillas

It seems my love of lamb and treating it with spices has not raised its hands and waved them about completely unnoticed (I wonder if the several lamb entries in my Top 10 Things to Eat in Istanbul had anything to do with this..). So much so that the nice folk at Jamie Oliver HQ have been kind enough to send over a pretty awesome sounding recipe from this coming Monday’s episode of Money Saving Meals for me to share with you all. They’ve even given me a gorgeous shot of it too.

So here you have it, hot off the press, here on this humble blog before being published on and before its TV airing on October 30th, I present to you something wonderfully fitting for Monday and a perfect way to use up leftover lamb from Sunday, Jamie’s brand-spanking-new recipe for crispy Moroccan lamb pastillas - ta daa!

Crispy Moroccan Lamb Pastillas

Serves 4

100g couscous
2 onions
4 cloves of garlic
60g sultanas
Olive oil
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp cumin seeds
250g leftover cooked lamb
70g feta cheese
4 large sheets of filo pastry
1 tbsp flaked almonds or sesame seeds
1 heaped tsp icing sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
4 tbsp fat-free natural yoghurt, to serve
1 tbsp harissa or chilli oil, to serve

Pop the couscous into a small bowl, just cover with boiling water, then put a plate on top and leave for 10 minutes. 

Peel and finely chop the onions and garlic along with the sultanas and place in a large pan on a medium heat with a lug of oil, the turmeric and cumin seeds. Fry for around 15 minutes or until softened, stirring occasionally. 

Finely shred the lamb, add to the pan and cook for a further 5 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. Fluff up the couscous and stir it through the lamb mixture with the crumbled feta, then season to perfection, going heavy on the black pepper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. 

Working fairly quickly, as filo dries out easily, lay out the pastry sheets on a clean work surface and brush with oil. Divide the lamb mixture between them, laying it along the shortest edge of each sheet. Roll each one up halfway, fold in the sides, then continue rolling up like big cigars. 

Place them on a non-stick baking tray, brush the tops with a little oil and crumble over the almonds, or sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Sieve over the icing sugar and cinnamon from a height, then bake for around 25 minutes, or until golden and crisp.

Serve with yoghurt rippled with harissa or chilli oil for dipping. Delicious with a simple green salad on the side.

Tip: feel free to mix any leftover meat with these beautiful Moroccan flavours – whatever you’ve got will be delicious.

Taken from Save with Jamie, published by Michael Joseph
Recipes ©2013 Jamie Oliver Photography ©2013 Jamie Oliver Enterprises Ltd. Photos by David Loftus.

To watch it executed by the thrifty chef himself, tune into the show on Channel 4 at 8pm on Monday. It's also worth checking out the rest of the Money Saving Meals recipes as there are some real corkers.

If lamb is your thing (who’s ‘thing’ is it not? - vegetarians need not respond), you can take a look at more lamb recipes from JO and some of my own with Mediterranean / Eastern twists: Turkish spring lamb with green beans, lahmacun (Turkish street food), moussaka, Mauritian butter bean curry.

Afiyet olsun.

Friday, 20 September 2013

CUTS - a forza win & the ginger pig pop-up - review

Red meat is not something I indulge in too frequently at home. Partly because if I did, it would be quite an expensive habit (when I do entertain it I’ll splurge on high welfare free range), and partly because handsome hunks of loins and rumps take a decent amount of time to cook and are therefore, in my mind, best reserved for the slower pace of life weekends are so good at. 

So when the opportunity arises to have not one but three glorious and often underused cuts of marvellous muscle sourced from none other than The Ginger Pig cooked for me to succulent perfection by tong-tastic bearded professionals in a single evening, I’m jumping at the chance like a frog on fire. Did I mention they’re cooked outside over coals? Exactly.

For a hotly anticipated and select 30 days over the summer of 2013 that was, supper-club stalwarts Forza Win teamed up with beloved butchers The Ginger Pig in a gathering of flesh and fire, pork and panzanella, rump and rib-eye, cocktails and coals and a lot of people chowing down on some seriously good dinner.

Each Thursday to Sunday between 25th July and 22nd September saw piles of salivating punters following their nose to locate the disused East End pickle factory hosting the carnivorous carousal, guided by wafts of quality meat browning on hot grills. Around a vast communal dining table constructed from salvaged wood, 70 clientele were seated each night to enjoy four courses of Tuscan inspired dishes cooked with expertise, executed simply and presented on beautiful big sharing platters passed round and picked off. 

Commandeering the custom-built sustainable English firewood and charcoal burning behemoth was chef Nick Fulton (previously of The Orchard in Brockley), along with a little help from his friends.

Large mixing bowls of panzanella accompanied the meats, full of multicoloured ripe tomatoes, lightly pickled red onions and oily crunchy croutons. The meat marathon began with juicy hunks of 80-day Longhorn beef rump (from the top of the rear leg) served with polenta croutons hardening from the post-Parmesan melt, a deeply flavoured wild mushroom confit, and plates slashed with drizzles of garlic cream.

Round two presented itself as slices of lamb neck fillet (textured and muscular from the top of the backbone) tenderised to the touch of a plump baby’s thigh thanks to an overnight marinade in rosemary and lemon, and served with a vibrant sweet pea and marjoram purée, whole firm peas and fresh pea shoots. A wonderful pea-off to accompany the luscious lamb.

Tender pork rib-eye (boned-out shoulder from the front leg) rounded off these class cuts, a blackened exterior encasing succulent flavoursome flesh within and my favourite of the three meats; served with firm Italian beans slow-cooked with fatty lardons and a side of grilled bitter treviso lettuce. 

Delicate silken panna cotta flavoured with lavender and served with blackberry compote, espresso and homemade biscotti bark concluded the evening’s delightful proceedings.

CUTS was a novel dining affair in an unusual setting and with a communal and sociable format that many won’t have experienced before, not to mention the food was utterly delightful. It’s had it’s run this summer but due the runaway success, I would put good money on seeing this collaboration resurface at some point in the future. And if it does, you surely must go.

My rating: 4/5

Afiyet olsun.

This review can also be found on the Your Local Guardian website.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

imam bayaldi - turkish stuffed aubergines in olive oil

Any dish named after a tale involving an Ottoman cleric going weak at the knees due to its outstanding flavour is doing pretty well in the self-promotion department. Which is the case for imam bayaldi, literally translating from Turkish as ‘the imam swooned’. A physical reaction I often experience myself when consuming something great, so I totally get this guy.

Aubergine is one of the most revered ingredients across the Middle East, and this popular zeytinyağlı (olive oil) dish is one of the favourite ways to eat it in Turkey. It pulls no punches when it comes to the inclusion of the light green nectar; it is unashamedly oily and all the superior for it. 

Consisting of braised aubergines stuffed with an onion, tomato, garlic and herb mix and cooked in olive oil, its form breaks down to that characteristic and incredibly flavoured oily mush that this glossy purple fruit does so well. Different nuances of this style of eating aubergine can be found across Turkey and the Middle East and is almost unanimously adored by all who reside there; it's surely the best way to consume these tear-dropped treats.

On a recent trip to Istanbul (see my 10 Things to Eat in Istanbul post), I actually had this dish for the first time (how I had managed to avoid it until then I'm note entirely sure) and indulged in a bit of swooning myself. It was however sitting in a pool of olive oil and to conserve all of our arteries, I've used quite a bit less in my recipe than the purists would be happy to let slide, I suspect.
Imam bayaldi is normally eaten as a mezze (starter) and traditionally would accompany other small dishes to whet the appetite prior to the main meal. Therefore, half an aubergine is considered as one portion here. Should you wish for it to take soul centre stage, then accompany it with some quality bread to help mop up any remaining oily goodness.

Imam Bayaldi

Makes 6 starter portions

3 medium aubergines
6 small tomatoes
3 small white onions
4 cloves of garlic
2 tsp sumac
2 tsp dried mint
2 tbsp lemon juice
Extra virgin olive oil (a fair amount)
Sea salt (a fair amount)
Fresh flat leafed parsley (not included in these photos as I didn't have any, but do get it)

Wash the aubergines and peel alternating strips of the skin with about an inch thickness. Put them in a bowl, coat with sea salt and leave for 20-30 mins. The salt will draw out the bitter liquid from the fruit, and the stripes allow the aubergine to absorb more flavour during cooking.

In the meantime, make your stuffing mix. First you want to peel the tomatoes; the easiest way to do this is to lightly score a cross at one end of each tomato, plunge it into a bowl of freshly boiled water for a few seconds, and when you take them out the skin will easily peel away from the cross.

Finely slice the onions and grate the garlic and gently fry these in a very generous glug of the olive oil until they begin to go translucent. When cooked, put these in a bowl and combine with the roughly chopped skinned tomatoes, sumac, dried mint, lemon juice, salt and pepper and a good glug of extra virgin olive oil. Combine thoroughly. If you do have the parsley, roughly chop a good handful and combine with this mix. Set aside.

When your aubergines have had their 20 - 30 minutes simply wipe away the salt with kitchen paper. Peel off the little green bits around the base of the stalk. Slice the aubergines in half lengthways and try to slice right through the stem so half a stem remains on each portion. On the fleshy sides, cut a cross but do not go all the way through to the skin, and stop before you reach the edges of the aubergine.

In a couple of large pans, coat the bases with a very generous glug of olive oil and when it's hot, add the aubergines. You want to cook all sides so they obtain colour and begin to go soft. You may need to add more olive oil if it all gets absorbed.

Preheat the oven to 180C (fan).

Pack your aubergine halves into an oven dish, fleshy side up. Stuff each portion with some of the mix - try to push it right into the crosses. Pile any remaining mix on top of them. Drizzle with a further generous glug of olive oil. Add a splash of water to the base of the oven dish, and cover tightly with kitchen foil. Cook in the oven for 1hr 15mins to 1hr 30mins - it really depends on how soft you like your aubergine flesh.

When cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool. This dish should be eaten at room temperature, so if you keep it in the fridge do take it out before hand to warm up prior to serving. Eat with other mezze dishes (perhaps some dolma), with quality warm bread and perhaps a little strained yoghurt.

Afiyet olsun.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Danny McCubbin's San Patrignano Supper Club

When you first hear about the good that takes place in San Patrignano and the transformational effect it has on the lives of thousands of people, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. 

I recall the first time I heard about this place; it was during an episode of Two Greedy Italians where the travels around the country guided by the culinary delights on offer, had Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo stopping off at San Pat. Gennaro is a pretty emotional guy at the best of times (watch for the tears that pool in his eyes as he fondly recalls his mama’s cooking during the series), and when he speaks to some of the residents and they reveal what this lifeline of an establishment has done for them, the emotional response is similar. And it carries through to those viewing - that I can testify to.

Located in Rimini on the Adriatic Coast in Italy, San Patrignano is a life-affirming mix of many things: a drug rehabilitation centre, an alternative to a prison sentence, an alternative to Government offerings of more drugs to get off the existing drugs, an opportunity to re-learn how to become a fully functioning and contributing citizen, a producer of quality products made by the residents and sold at prestige retailers around the world, a vocational training centre that grows and nurtures skills, a practical educational method for learning to live in respect of others, a charity, a family, a community, and home to around 1300 adults and children.

It is a centre that operates thanks to 109 volunteers and 313 collaborators and consultants; 32.5% of whom followed a rehabilitation programme there themselves. Through disciplined routines, an immersion into their chosen vocation (cookery, carpentry, graphic design, plumbing, patisserie to name just a few of the 50 plus sectors), support from staff and family, participating in community activities, gradually increasing responsibility and accountability, and generally learning how to live the life of normal civil coexistence in respect of oneself, others and the environment, the percentage of people who fully recover after completing their rehabilitation programme at San Patrignano is over 72%. The individual is not considered afflicted by an ‘illness’ and therefore, pharmacological treatments to combat drug abuse are not used. Try to find a similar pharmacological-free alternative in the UK, and you would be extremely hard pressed to.    

Danny McCubbin has worked with Jamie Oliver and the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation in various roles for a number of years, and is also an avid evangelist of, and volunteer at, San Patrignano. Along with a host of others including Danny’s friends, financial contributors, other bloggers, Fifteen staff, San Pat volunteers, and current and past residents of the centre, I was invited to a supper club held above the space of Fifteen near Old Street to help raise awareness of this exceptional cause. 

We were treated to a wonderful four course meal consisting of various bruschettas, mushroom risotto, a meat stew and a panna cotta and berry dessert (cooked by the visitors from Italy) along with free flowing bottles of wine. Danny gave some insight into the guests around the table, as well as talking fondly and with passion about a place unquestionably very close to his heart. We were shown a 9 minute video providing real insight into the world of San Patrignano (do have a watch to obtain a true understanding of just what happens there) and spent a rather wonderful evening with all those involved.

This post is me playing a very small part in helping raise awareness of this inspiring cause. San Pat is free for all residents and no funds are received from them, their families or the Government. With a focus on becoming self-sustainable, the goods produced and services offered at San Pat meet about 50% of community needs. The remaining funds come from donations. Should you wish to contribute to the cause, you are able to very easily via the website.

Danny is also training for the New York marathon where he and others are running for San Patrignano. For more information on this and how you can support this specific project, see here.

Many thanks to Danny and all those involved for the wonderful evening hosted, and long may San Patrignano continue providing unrivalled support to those often otherwise cast out by society.

Afiyet olsun.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

TURKEY: 10 things to eat in Istanbul

The world is a large place, and there is a lot of it to see. So many images of wonder and beauty to drop jaw over, new cultures to plunge into with head submerged, historical figures and events to get acquainted with, and new faces to smile at. And so when the yearning resurfaces during the year to explore what this rather glorious planet has to offer, more often than not it’s the yet unchartered (by me) corners that find their way onto my shortlist. But there are two cities in particular whose majestic beauty and ethereal qualities, each quite unique, stave off the beckoning calls of new lands and repeatedly have me coming back for more. They are Paris, and Istanbul.

The city of Istanbul is quite simply, like no other. One of complementary contradictions, transcendent beauty, unrivalled history and a welcome with arms thrown wide. Traditionally dressed worshipers frequenting statuesque mosques live in harmony alongside atheists and agnostics and those respectfully revelling in the happening nightlife. The repetitive chants of market traders, endless car horns and scooter revs contrast against the entirely bewitching and seemingly divinely intervened dulcifying tones of the call to prayer, carried by the warm breeze. Even the thousands of stray dogs in Istanbul are tagged, regularly immunised and receive medical treatment when needed, such is the accepting nature of this city.

The only city in the world to traverse two continents, the fertile waters of the Bosphorous dissect the metropolis from north to south, a channel of cobalt joining the Sea of Marmara and The Black Sea and acting as the boundary between Europe and Asia. It is the largest city in Turkey (albeit not its capital) and over a course of 16 centuries has served as the capital of no less than four separate empires: the Roman (330–395), Byzantine (395–1204 and 1261–1453), Latin (1204–1261), and Ottoman (1453–1922). 

Such a rich tapestry of old renders the very cobbles of the streets saturated with palpable history. And whenever a city has such a vibrant past, an eclectic international populace along with an exceptional cuisine is sure to follow. Istanbul is a veritable treasure trove of delights that can feed both the body and soul. I’ve collated a few recommendations I would strongly advise entertaining for the former when you next visit. Note, ‘when’.

10 Things to Eat in Istanbul

1) Simit

Wander the streets of the city early enough and you’ll see stocks of freshly baked simit being transported across the city (often piled high on trays perched on heads - is there an easier way to move a load of bread?) from bakeries and into mobile carts where they are sold on almost every street corner.

A ring of slightly chewy bread covered with sesame seeds, it is almost bagel-like in it’s quality. It is traditionally eaten plain with a çay (amber tea grown in Turkey and served without milk) to help wash it down, or at breakfast with the addition of peynir (cheese), perhaps some domates (tomatoes) or salatalık (cucumber).

Archival sources show the production of this bread in Istanbul dates back to 1593. Utterly ubiquitous across the city, you will be unable to avoid them. A perfect and very cheap snack to fill the voids between the exceptional eats that will punctuate your visit and a wonderful example of the staple that Turkey does exceptionally well - bread. If you can, eat from a freshly baked batch for unrivalled flavour.

Address: Everywhere

2) Türk kahvesi (Turkish Coffee)

The ritual of drinking Türk kahvesi and the product itself is quite different to the Americanised chain offerings. There are no venti vats of searing hot muddy water, burning any hints of real coffee flavour that may have been present into the depths of Hades with the excessive temperatures of boiling water used. The coffee is in fact made slowly on a stove over a very low heat, and served in espresso sized cups.

A vessel designed specifically to make Turkish coffee is called a
cezve (prn. [jez-veh]) and designs can range from traditional copper ones to more modern stainless steel offerings. The end product is 
unashamedly strong and  leaves a sediment at the bottom of the cup. Stop drinking before you reach this to avoid a gum line of grit - it’s not meant to be consumed.

There isn’t really a coffee that tastes like it anywhere else, and it’s to be enjoyed with companionship and over conversation. It can round off glorious meals or be enjoyed as a pick-me-up during the day. You’ll find this dark nectar served in every restaurant and cafe across Istanbul, but for the very best visit
Fazil Bey in 
Kadıköy where they roast and grind their beans on site. This was quite simply the best I’ve ever had - silky smooth with hints of cocoa. 

Related post: There is a rather lovely blog post from Delicious Istanbul called 
5 Simple (Yet Little Known) Rules to Enjoy Turkish Coffee - do have a look.

Fazil Bey, Serasker Cad. No1 A Tarihi Kadıköy Çarşısı Phone : +90 216 4502870

3) Kahvaltı (breakfast)
Cast your mind back to the history lessons of your youth, recall the huge banquets typical of Tudor meals, and you’ll have something close to how the Turks often treat the first meal of the day. Forget bowls of spiritless cereals or slices of granary and marmite inhaled as the front door slams behind you, breakfast time in Turkey is a pretty big deal. When done to its fullest, you’ll be met with a dizzying spread of fresh produce that will often keep you going until dinner time, perhaps with a small snack (simit? see above) somewhere in between.

There are some very typical dishes that can be found at the Turkish breakfast table and to experience the full works, Van Kahvaltı Evi in Beyoğlu delivers in spades. Run by a team of young Kurds and replicating the breakfast joints prolific in the city of Van in the east (not far from Turkey’s border with Iran), the spread includes typical Turkish breakfast appearances (such as tomatoes, cucumber, olives) along with cheeses from the city of Van itself, eggs, pastries and more.

Here’s what you can expect from the Serme Kahvaltı (Breakfast Spread) menu - this is the bad boy:

Peynir - cheese, several different types
Kaymac ve bal - clotted cream served in a dish of honey, quite exceptional
Tereyağı - butter
Zeytin - an assortment of olives
Murtuga - local to Van, bread coated in egg and flour and fried in oil
Kavut - local to Van, ground wheat, black pepper and sugar simmered together in butter
Pekmez - fruit molasses
Tahin - tahini
Reçel - jam
Haşlanmış yumurta - boiled eggs
Domates, salatalık - tomatoes, cucumber
Sınırsız çay - unlimited Turkish tea
Ekmek - endless baskets of freshly baked bread

In addition to this set menu, you can (and should - come hungry) order extras which simply cannot be missed. These include menemen (scrambled eggs cooked with peppers and a bit of spice) and gözleme (very thin and fresh bread dough folded around a filling such as spinach, potatoes or cheese and cooked on a flat griddle). Round off with a Türk kahvesi (see above) and possibly a nap.

Is it acceptable to have breakfast three times a day? It should be.

Van Kahvaltı Evi, Defterdar Yokuşu 52/A, Cihangir, Beyoğlu
Phone: 212-293-6437

Related posts: 

  • There's a place in Fulham that makes a very decent attempt at a traditional Turkish breakfast. Did I mention it was buffet and only £7.95?
  • Here's my own menemen recipe if you want to try it at home. The purists out there will shout at me for not scrambling the eggs, but I just can't resist a cascading yolk.

4) Lahmacun

The words ‘freshly made’ and ‘bloody gorgeous’ do not often associate themselves with those of ‘fast food’, but in Istanbul the only way to have the latter is by involving the former. Lahmacun (prn. [luh-muh-jun]) is a hugely popular and very typical example of that thing the Turks do so well - quick and tasty bites that blast golden arches and ‘having it your way’ right out of the picture. 
It is comprised of a thin dough topped with a mix of wonderfully spiced minced lamb and finely diced peppers, blasted for a minute in a scorching pizza-type oven, dressed with fresh parsley, drizzled with lemon, rolled up and devoured. 

Chains are not all bad and certainly not in Istanbul. Halil Lahmacun have many branches and do these so fantastically well. A dough master separates small balls of dough from a large mass keeping them in a pile on the side ready for an order. When one comes in, he rolls out the ball to a paper thin layer. A second person tops this with the mince mix whilst also commandeering the oven. By the time you've sat down and taken a swig of your ayran (yoghurt drink - works wonderfully with the spice, get it), your plate presents itself before you. 

I’m not entirely sure it gets much better. Oh wait, it does (see next entry).

Halil Lahmacun, Guneşlibahçe Sokak 26, Kadıköy
Phone: 0216-337-0123

Related post: My own lahmacun recipe - try it at home.

5) Durum
Part two of unrivalled fast-food in Istanbul comes in the form of durum. Dürümzade was visited by Anthony Bourdain himself in his Istanbul episode of No Reservations (which is how I know about it) and described them as ‘tastebud torpedos’. The flavour sensation from these rolled up beauties has the pleasure receptors going into overdrive. Quite simply, some of the best tasting food you will get your chops around in this city. 

Oustandingly well flavoured and spiced lamb mince is manipulated around skewers and cooked over coals (you can tell this is onto a winner already). The flat breads are squeezed around the skewers for a few seconds to absorb the meaty juices (be still my beating heart) and placed over the coals until blistered from the heat. When the meat is cooked, they’re placed on the bread along with red onions, tomatoes, parsley and very importantly, sumac (a sort of citrussy spice - I can’t think of any other flavour more fitting to Turkish cuisine). They are rolled up, served with pickled chillies and on their own provide wonderful heat.

Salty, meaty, spicy, citrussy - you need these in your life. One of these alone warrants a plane journey.

Dürümzade, Kalyoncu Küllük Caddesi 26/A, Beyoğlu
Phone: 212-249-0147

6) Fasulye (beans)
If when asking for the menu in a restaurant you are presented with a response of ‘it’s just beans and rice’, you know you’re onto something good. Any restaurant that can sustain business over multiple years by serving just two things must do those two things really, really well.

Beans (fasulye) and pulses in general are a huge part of Turkish cuisine and can be found at most table spreads, either in the form of mezze (starters) or part of main dishes. Erzincanlı Ali Baba can be found on a street full of fasulye based restaurants that hugs the side of the statuesque Süleymaniye Mosque, and this is one of the best. 

Ladling out bowls of beautiful and simply cooked Erzincan-style baked beans with a soupy tomato base that includes onions and chilli pepper, and fat white creamy pulses. Along with this, order a portion of al dente pilaf (you’ll still be given bread - it's not possible to have a meal without it in Turkey) and treat yourself to a wholesome and meat-free plate of comfort. 

Erzincanlı Ali Baba, Prof. Sıddık Sami Onar Caddesi 11, Süleymaniye
Phone: 212-513-6219

Related post: Here's a very simple Turkish recipe to try at home, this time involving green beans and lamb.

7) Içli köfte

These bulgar wheat shells housing ground meat, onions, parsley and spices have been served from this street side trolley on the arterial pedestrianised road of İstiklal Caddesi for years. Made and cooked five flights up in the Sabırtaşı restaurant itself where they are served boiled, the al fresco offering is instead fried to a golden perfection and all the more superior for it.

Crunchy shells broken to reveal full flavoured and moist contents within, they’re quite perfect to fill the void between walking from one end of the street to the other. An excellent example of Istanbul’s street food scene.

İstiklal Caddesi 112 (across from YapıKredi Bank), Beyoğlu
Phone: 212-251-9423

8) Bal (honey)

If you didn't already know, Turkey produces some incredible honey and Etabal in Kadiköy glows a warm amber from the street-side from this single ambrosial product it specialises in. Glass cases house colossal slabs of honeycomb sitting in pools of golden nectar. Walls are lined with jars of honey and honeycomb of all different grades, such as special Karakovan honey from the Kaçkar mountains, or honey with Propolis (thought to be a natural antibiotic).

This is a perfect place to purchase some delicacies to enjoy back home. But if you’d like some of the sweet stuff for the road, they sell little pots of fresh yoghurt with a generous scoop of honey from those glass cases ladled over them. A warm glowing beacon ready to devour and enjoy. It was sublime.

Eta Bal, Güneşli Bahçe Sokak No.28/A, Kadiköy

9) Fırın Sütlaç (baked rice pudding)
Simply put, this is one of my favourite desserts I’ve ever had from anywhere. And as is often characteristic of the best plates of food, it is the very epitome of simplicity. It’s a light, milk based dessert with rice and sugar and sometimes flavoured with rose water. It’s thickened with a bit of corn starch and this (fırın) version includes a bake in the oven.

It should be noted that a lot of places serve this dish and they do seem to vary quite considerably. Most are generally good, but the ones served in the quality dessert chain Mado remain in my opinion unmatched by others, and I eat sütlaç everywhere that serves it.

Mado’s offering tastes like nothing else I’ve ever had - delicate, milky and actually with very little rice. A beautiful brown skin on top concealing creamy contents within, a glorious wobble when you give the plate a shake, and topped with chopped toasted hazelnuts. It’s cool, calm, coating in its qualities, not in your face, not too sweet; simply exquisite and I just can’t get enough of it.

This chain is prolific - lucky us. Take a look here for Istanbul branches.

10) Künefe 

It’s no secret that salt and sweet make a beautiful pairing and one the Turks embrace at every given opportunity, usually with the salt provided by cheese. Creamy white cheese is often served with sweet ripe melon and eaten with honey or jam on bread (halloumi and strawberry jam sandwiches were one of my favourite packed lunches - my classmates would turn their noses up, uneducated in the delights of such a taste sensation - try it). I also dip my McDonald fries into my milkshake for a similar effect, but the less said about that the better I suspect.

So it comes as no surprise to me that the Turks would include cheese at the centre of what is essentially a gorgeous slab of shredded filo pastry cooked in butter and soaked in syrup (much like baklava). A new dish to me introduced on this latest visit to Istanbul, and one I’ll certainly be returning to. Again, I tried a couple of these while out there and the one at Sur Ocakbaşı (famous for their lamb cooked in a pit incidentally - have that for mains) won hands down.

Crisp golden outer edges and base, softer pastry inside all sweet from the syrup, coupled beautifully with melted salty cheese at the centre, and topped with vibrant green chopped pistachios. Like hot, sticky and buttery Shredded Wheat with a hint of savoury. Really very excellent and a worthy contender for my second favourite dessert in Istanbul.

Address:Sur Ocakbaşı, Zeyrek Mh., 34083 FatihPhone:+90 212 533 8088

And there you have it, my humble offering of the direction you should send your taste buds towards when in Istanbul. In all fairness, there is a hell of a lot of great eating to be had in this enchanting city - follow the locals to make a list of your own and you won't go far wrong.

But do be sure to visit - I guarantee you'll fall hard for the place.

Afiyet olsun.

print button