Aylin Öney Tan - firstname.lastname@example.orgExpect the unexpected! This can be the new catchphrase of Istanbul these days. Every other day we hear of a new place opening in an unusual corner of the city; there seems to be more and more facets of this ever-changing town to explore.
As the construction boom goes on ruthlessly, the skyline of Istanbul changes almost constantly. There seems to be a new angle to view the city every other day. Some neighborhoods are dramatically changing; Haliç, aka the Golden Horn, is one of them.
The change in the gastronomic scene is nothing short of unexpected surprises. Every other day another international celebrity chef visits Istanbul; some to explore the local cuisine, some to open up a new branch of their own restaurants and some as guest chefs to cook and perform their own culinary masterpieces to a small group of lucky people. Recently, there was such an event in an odd corner of Istanbul, on the shores of the Golden Horn, at the newly opened Mövenpick Golden Horn Hotel. Renowned Swiss chefs Robert Speth and Wolfgang Weissert produced an unforgettable Swiss menu savored at the Pruva Swiss Grill Restaurant. It was a silent occasion, not promoted loudly in the press, but it needs a mention here as the level of satisfaction exceeded expectations. Thanks to the guest chefs, every single morsel was meticulously prepared to perfection.
The transformation of the Haliç area is fast and vast. Chatting with a group of expats on the 10th floor terrace, we were amazed by the colors created by the glittering windows of Istanbul’s silhouette at the sunset hour and astonished to see Istanbul from a very different angle we had never used to see previously.
The days when one could not even stand the stench of the Golden Horn were like remote history now. The presence of this new modern building designed with sophisticated technology is a tale of how fast things are changing in Istanbul. When Turkish Akgel Real Estate Investment had the idea of creating a sustainable and innovative hotel in this unusual corner of the city, they had to be convincing to persuade their future partners to have their latest branch of the chain here in Haliç.
General Manager Frank Reichenbach stresses their goal to make their Golden Horn corner renown for unforgettable gastronomy and quality. The Swiss night proved to be so, as it was focused on high taste rather than showing off. It was definitely not locavore, but it was not meant to be. It was for demonstrating Swiss tastes at their very best and the target was definitely hit. Michelin-starred Chef Robert Speth of Chesery Restaurant in Gstaad, also named “Chef of the Year 2005” by Gault/Millau, was keen on picking the best of the best Swiss produce; the velvety Saanenland veal was flown in to Istanbul just for the occasion, as was a very special cheese, “Chalet de Chesery,” a Brie de Meaux filled with truffles. The last one was pure poetry.
Just as I was writing about this dinner, a few days later, in another odd corner of the city, there was the gala dinner of the Friends of the Kitchen Association on the 34th floor of Bomonti Hilton with Chef Yannis Manikis, who while Greek in origin, was raised in Australia. His inspiration was the earth and the sea, a surf & turf combination bringing the breeze of the Aegean Sea to land in Istanbul, and his menu righteously carried the name of the Aegean breeze, “Meltemi Tastes.” Contrasting the heartwarming rich Swiss tastes, his was a menu carrying the freshness of the sea, with earthy contrasts of wild mushrooms and root vegetables. My excitement was to have a resident executive chef from Greece in the heart of Istanbul; having Yannis Manikis as the chef for their most important event of the year was a friendly gesture by the Friends of the Kitchen Association to take a further step to bring two sides of the Aegean closer to each other. I would never think about going to those new buildings in those unfrequented corners of the city if it were not for the occasion of the gastronomic events. Surprised by the unexpected panorama of both hotels, the changing dynamics of the culinary world in Istanbul keeps adding new facets to the gastronomic scene.
Bite of the Week
Fork of the Week: Another unexpected taste in an odd corner of the city is Virginia Angus, a steak and burger haven. First opened in the winding streets of Mercan, downhill from the vicinity of the Süleymaniye Mosque and the Grand Bazaar on Uzun Çarşı street, theirs was not a place to sell prime burgers and dry aged steaks. Don’t think about another international chain taking over Istanbul; it is purely local, and they have a funny story. Burak Altay goes to study in Los Angeles, but his American dream is cut short by his father’s abrupt visit. As they agree to turn back to Turkey, they have a final dinner at an Argentinian steak house. Impressed and obsessed by the meat he tastes, he wants to have the same thing in Turkey. Years later he follows his passion, goes to Argentina and the U.S., decides to import the Black Angus variety to Turkey, and establishes his own farm and starts selling the meat to high end restaurants in Istanbul. Finally, to have the meat or burger to cook to his own taste, he opens this little place in a family owned shop. Actually, the location was not his first choice, but there was interference from his father again. He said if you manage to survive here, in this odd corner of Istanbul, and sell your burger to the fellow chaps around, that will be an indication that you can succeed in business!
Cork of the Week: The gala dinner at Bomonti Hilton had a nice surprise. Two of the wines served were of the Ergenekon brand, a recent comer to the local wine scene. Many wine connoisseurs in Turkey are already familiar with the name, as Şeyla Ergenekon is one of the leading wine experts in the country. She has three books on Turkish wines and grapes, so it was good news to see that she started her own winery with her husband Çağatay Ergenekon. They used to tend their own vineyards for years, but acted as a supplier to other wineries, but now they have taken it a step further and started to launch their own bottles. Both of their bottles, Boğalı 2012 and Bona Dea 2012, are worth trying.