Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

We arrived at Goreme in Cappadocia around 8am.

The town is simple with only tour agents, hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. So we headed straight for the South Tour:

Second day we woke at 4am for our hot air balloon ride. Speechlessly beautiful.

Then we had breakfast at the cave house before starting the North Tour:

The underground city was impressive, I thought the North Tour was much more interesting. The 8 levels of underground compartments were mind-boggling. It's not for anyone with claustrophobia though. Some taller fellow travellers began panicking after passing through a 40m tunnel on their all fours.

Some freshly deep-fried potato chips outside the underground city. I loved it.

I have to say all restaurants are fairly similar in the little town. Old Cappadocia Cafe was particularly pleasant with live music and an outdoor fire. I found all their local dishes absolutely delicious, especially the one with beef cubes and rice on a hot pan.

It's a 12-hour overnight bus from Istanbul to Goreme in the Cappadocia region. One could fly, the price of domestic flight would range between 65-250 Euros, buses cost 28 Euros. I braved the long bus journey as it was hitting the 250 mark when I booked, and I could max out on the activities instead of airport transfers. Genuinely will not do it again. I was in limbo the entire day. The coaches were fine, but the series of stops with full-on lights, frequent cigarette stops when half the bus came back smelling like ash trays, the guy coughing his lungs out, the woman yapping on the phone... jeez it wasn't an easy night to get through.

Then it was 9 hours from Goreme to Antalya, from the bus terminal we took the tram into the city centre.

Can't say there was lots to do in Antalya, especially with the thunderstorm over our heads. I know people come for the beach and book all-inclusive packages at the hotels, but it's not world-class kind of resort... I spent a day sleeping for 16 hours, waking only for dinner. Highly recommend Parlak in Kalekapisi area near the old city. The aubergine mash / salad was mixed with tahini and to give it a nutty flavour - absolutely delicious.

The clouds cleared on second day and we strolled around the old city, nothing much to look at really. Then soaked up some sun as we headed down to the marina. 

We bought a doner kebap at Topcu for lunch, super juicy. It's 30% more expensive than the other stalls, but there is a good reason why they don't need a tout in front of their shop.

We took the bus to Duden Falls; good park to hide from the sun.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is a massive city - I know I wouldn't see all of it in 3 days. Given I'm not much of a city girl when it comes to travelling, I was happy to just stroll around to sample good kebaps, baklava and turkish delights, before hitting the road for Cappadocia. 

Thanks to Guberk's ad Hande's suggestion, I stayed in Taksim - the trendier, younger side of the city where I felt the younger locals actually hang out in the area. We spent the first day strolling down the busiest road, Istiklal Cadessi. As a rule of thumb we almost didn't eat anything at the tourist hotspots, except for trying some baklava Saray, which was my fault because I got too excited.

Really not good - soggy filo pastry with chewy nuts; the bird nests were teeth-breaking. We found Karakoy Gulluoglu just off the Galata bridge, and their baklava were out of this world. Minimum purchase was 500g, we opted for a mixed selection. The filo pastry was crispily brittle, not overly sweet,  top quality crunchy nuts, which were beautifully roasted to released their aromas. I thought half a kilo was a lot of sweets, we went through the whole box in one evening.

Branching off from the main road, however, we were recommended some good Turkish restaurants. Our highlight was a hidden gem in the basement called Cukur Meyhane that specialised in meze dishes (see separate post). Dinner at Ficcin was okay, lamb in a crock could do with a bit of seasoning but the kofte was good. 

Then Turkish breakfast at Fermantasyon. The 'omelette' was more like tomatoes garnished with eggs, it was nice but I was craving for eggs...

Hafiz Mustafa was a dessert house. Their baklava looked beautifully but we didn't get to try any. Instead we had rice pudding and pistachio milk pudding, which were both way too sweet, even for people that live on sugar drip. Their delights were definitely in the upper quartile range though.

There were also a lot of street eats:
Turkish burgers near Taksim Square
These steam-sodden burgers had a thick lamb meatball with a smear of tomato sauce. Quite a morish snack with the strong lamb tang and oozing meat juices.

Deep fried mussels near and around Cicek Pasaji were missable. While Turkish ice cream itself wasn't spectacular, the show they put on totally worth the money.

Mackerel sandwich under the Galata Bridge was a massive hit, mainly because of the price I suspect - 5Lira for a sandwich with a mackerel fillet and salad. 

Sultanahmet is much more tourist-centric, and things are generally 15-30% more expensive. Like all sights, good weather always helps. We took the tram to the Blue Mosque and had lunch in the market behind the mosque. 

Doy-doy restaurant had a rooftop terrace that allowed good views over the Blue Mosque. More importantly we saw lots of locals eating there. The turkish pizza, almost like a flat calzone, was delicious, and aubergine became our main staple. I think it was good enough we went back.
The Grand Bazaar

The Spice Market

I preferred this smaller market, because there were so much delights and spices. My logic is that if the stall sells anything else apart from delights and sweets, then they are probably not specialists and the sweets probably came from a factory in boxes. 

Istanbul is a busy city, traffic jam is a norm rather than exception, prices in the centre are very much for tourists and everything needs bargaining. It's hectic, but people are incredibly friendly. It's a beautiful city, but I am well ready for Cappadocia.

Cukur Meyhane, Istanbul

Cukur Meyhane specialises in meze / small dishes as opposed to the usual grill meats around the city. It's on one of the roads that branches off the main street, in the basement, and flooded with locals with their bottles of raki. 

Raki is a very strong liqueur that the locals drink. I thought it was quite similar to the Greek ouzo, which I hate just as much. No matter how much ice and water I add, it still tastes an awful lot like cough medicine. But it's obvious the locals love it. We ordered 8 dishes in total, purely out of greed. Every single dish has a slightly twist to it

Mackerel with Mustard
Thick chunks of fatty mackerel covered with a beautiful tangy mustard dressing.

Yoghurt with Garlic
The garlic-strained yoghurt was also mixed with celery roots and purslane, and the complexity of flavours were beyond words.

Aubergine Salad
We had an aubergine dish for every meal we had in Turkey, and this was simply the best. The aubergine was smoked before mashing, and the oaky, woody tones were so pronounced even as a cold dish. This was addictive.

Shrimp with Blue Cheese
It doesn't look much, but the cheese was crazily strong. Then the thickness was broken up by bits of celery crunch and shrimp sweetness, it was a little plate of ingenious.

Grilled Haloumi
This would be my least favourite dish of the evening. The haloumi was slightly too salty to my liking.

Fish Ravioli
It wasn't immediately obvious this was fish, I think it was mixed with spinach and some cheese to give it a mushy texture that absorbed the thin yoghurt sauce on top, plus gentle heat from paprika.  

Aubergine with sauce and Pepper puree
There was a good kick in the pepper puree, but quickly balanced by a subtle sweetness from the veg. The tangy sauce with the aubergine dish reminded me of a good ratatouille. 

The only thing I thought could have been better as the bread basket. While the bread was deliberately toasted and served warm, I would prefer the soft Turkish bread with sesame seeds. I had for breakfast every morning and fell in love with the bread.

This place is not as well known as Lemon Tree, perhaps because it's not made for tourists, and the prices reflect that. With all that food, 2 beers, bill came to around £12 per head - Crazy. Easily the best meal of the trip, and it was meatless too!

Cukur Meyhane
Kartal Sokak 1/A
Tel: 212-244-5575

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Long Wait at Dabbous

When did I make this reservation...? Ah Last September. It's crazy. Their automated message at the moment is that they are booked up to October for weekday and till end of year for weekends. Yea, I know.

Dabbous was an instant hit since last January, but the waiting list is ridiculous - I went through 2 relationships since I made the reservation, only to secure a late lunch seating at 2:30 on a Saturday. But it all made sense when I saw the restaurant only seats 35 covers max. It makes sense.

Sourdough bread came in a bag, still warm, and freshly churned butter. Perfect.

Mixed alliums in a chilled pine infusion
I read this a few times and still had no idea what it was. Seeing James went for scallop, I had to go for the alternative.

It turns out to be a clear soup with basil extractions with two types of onions (alliums). The infusion was nice with a pleasant acidity that got the palette going, though it wasn't spectacular.

Scallop tartar with eucalyptus
Just when I thought I knew what scallop tartar is supposed to look like, this arrived. Under blanket of shaved milky ice were diced cubes of soft scallop, which was relatively subdued in flavour as the oyster emulsion roamed in with its distinctive minerality. The combination was very refreshing, unlike the more trial and tested addition of cucumber for coolness, the milky ice did not carry an earthy tone that could intrude the delicate shellfish. It was deliciously clever.

Coddled free range hen egg with smoked butter & mushroom
Ah I loved it. It was a spoonful of scrambled egg in half a spoon of butter with another spoonful of concentrated fungi fragrance. The egg was indulgently rich and smooth, I could do a dozen.

Barbecued grain-fed beef short rib with mustard & molasses; dill pickle
This reminded me of the short rib we had at Dinner by Heston at Mandarin Oriental, which pretty much sums up how good this was. My knife effortlessly cut through the muscles like a hot knife slicing through butter. There was a thin layer of fat and another thin layer of melt-in-mouth cartilage, the texture was decadent. Flavours were controlled and structured; the subtle sweetness from molasses balanced well with the punchy mustard, which amplified the smokiness of the rib, just as an undertone leaving an aromatic oaky aftertaste. An incredibly sophisticated creation.

Poached cod with palourde clams, artichokes, basil & mustard
Just how I like it, a tad uncooked and glowingly translucent, soft and flakes off to submerge in the sauce. It's a very crisp dish with cleaner and purer flavours. The sauce was thin and almost broth-like, slightly acidic with mustard seeds. The clams were meek, which was somewhat disappointing, I was hoping for concentrated shell fish juice, but these were more for decoration purposes. It was nice, but I preferred the short rib.

Warm buckwheat waffle, smoked fudge sauce & sour cream
Waffles are often seen as a rather juvenile sweet treat. The insanely smokey fudge sauce brought it a few levels up and added elegance and finesse. The smokey fudge was so much fun too, the unlikely pair made us question our taste buds while savouring the lingering smokey essence. Ingenious.

Camomile brioche, crushed apple, almonds & clover
It was like a reversed apple crumble, where crushed apple replaced the heavy, crunchy crumble and the buttery brioche soaked up the custard. The clover was a beautiful touch to lift the sugary weight. This was less exciting by comparison, but still scrumptious.

Dabbous reminded me of Roganic when Ben Spalding was still heading the kitchen. I'd say it's haute cuisine - contemporary, elegant and experimental. What I loved was the intimacy in the atmosphere paired with sophisticated, elaborate recipes. Every dish had a unique touch, a bit of quirk, a bit of cheek and a healthy dose of vitality.

Now that you have heard me yapping on about food you won't get to taste for another month, I'll feed some good news. Ollie Dabbous is looking to open his second restaurant to cater for the hungry waiting list. It was still in the planning stage a couple of months back, let's hope he makes up his mind soon.

39 Whitfield Street
Tel: 0207 323 1544