Archive for December, 2012
In a recent post I described what I’d do with a leisurely day left to my own devices, and in it one of the places where I said I’d finish my day was Cochine. On Saturday night, however, I was able to put the place to the test with 15 friends for dinner and drinks. From now on, If I have my way, I will never veer from eating out anywhere but owner-operated kitchens. It makes all the difference. Food preparation is a kind of alchemy. It’s not just the ingredients, or the measurements, it’s the spirit of the people putting it together that determines whether or not they create gold. There’s a lot of gold at Cochine, located on Kumbaracı Yokuşu, thanks to the complementary talents of its owners Melis Onderoglu Maxwell (pictured immediately below) and Chris Maxwell.
It would be all to easy to walk past Cochine’s discreetly marked doorway. From the street you can’t see inside and the entrance is just around the lane with a heavy door and buzzer monitored by a camera. But don’t be intimidated by the speakeasy appearance of the door or the decrepitude of the graffiti-spattered street. Inside is a welcoming interior put together by the owners, exuding their charm and good taste, bathed in golden-red light. The staff that greet you offered the kind of relaxed welcome you want when the heavy iron door swings open. Now don’t waste anytime. The first thing you need to do is order one of their signature Earl Grey martinis, without a doubt my new favourite cocktail — and don’t be deterred from trying it even if you don’t like the tea of the same name. It’s the best way to shake things up a little before dinner.
And the verdict on the food? In a city where disparate far-east Asian cuisines are all too often lumped together and served under the same roof — Japanese-Chinese-Thai from one kitchen? — it’s nice to see one small but adept kitchen focusing on providing food from one region, in this case, Vietnam. Chris Maxwell, who originally hails from New Zealand knows his way around the world of food. His years travelling the globe and working in some of London’s top kitchens have paid off. The vote at our table of 15 was unanimous. The food was a sensation we all wished to repeat. True alchemy. Now all I have to do is find out where they source my favourite vegetable in the world — Pak Choy.
By the way, if you don’t yet have plans for New Year’s this year, there are still some seatings available. I know I’ll be spending many hours in 2013 seated in Cochine. Oh yeah, and before I sign off … Happy New Year!
Tomtom Mahallesi Kumbaracı Yokuşu, Camcı Fevzi Sokak No. 36/A, Beyoğlu, Istanbul
+90 212 243 92 81
Well here we are again, in the midst of yet another holiday season. How do the years slip away so effortlessly? One of the best things about being a parent is rediscovering the magic of this holiday through someone else’s eyes. For me, Christmas still has some magic, but it’s best spent on the young, rather than trying to recreate the illusions you had when you were a child. It’s even somewhat weird to be the guardian of a tradition you have such mixed feelings about, and yet, despite the doubts and the stress, it’s more than just the atmosphere. There’s something to it. Perhaps Like a magic trick, you’re better off not deconstructing it, and rather letting it be. I hope you find your magic this season.
Sometimes you’ve got to overdo it to do it right. One might even say ’tis the season. Once you’ve accomplished all there is to accomplish, it’s time to live it up. So here’s my agenda for the perfect day of moderating the moderation, and lounging about before it’s time to get all ambitious again for a new year.
Start by finding yourself a good breakfast. You can’t go wrong with a mid-morning breakfast at either Auf or Unter, currently stealing my heart with the beautifully appointed interiors, honest food and fantastic staff. You’ll get a great cup of coffee and something really satisfying from Zeynep’s bakery or Esra’s kitchen. These two love food, and so do their people. It’s a welcoming way to while away the bleary morning hours. When you’re done, maybe amble your way towards Nisantasi and finish off the last of your seasonal shopping, and check out the over-the-top street decorations. They’re a big hit with someone I know.
This time of year, I don’t think lunch should be rushed. Lunch should be a long, lingering affair, to the extent that maybe you never make it back to the office. That is if you’re unfortunate enough to still have to go to one. Arrange to meet friends, lots of them, somewhere exactly like Park Samdan, and splash about a bit of wine, between courses. Eat too much chocolate. You’re going to get fit in the New Year, remember?
When things start to get a little dim, don’t worry, it’s not you. The days are short. It’s not the end of the world — sorry, Mayans. It’s either time for a nap, a hamam or a new venue. What better venue for the early evening than a cheerful pub? Head to the Bosphorus Brewing Co and sidle up to the bar and get yourself a proper ale, or a homemade ginger ale, if you haven’t yet overindulged sufficiently. Phillip Hall and family have pulled out all the stops to bring the refreshing taste of real ales to Istanbul. Judging from the enthusiasm of both Turks and foreigners, the Hall family are here to stay.
Once you’ve done with the ale aperitifs, It’s time to slink into a dark corner. Make yourself a reservation at Cochine on Kumbaraci Yokusu in Beyoglu. This secluded spot was once the den of four artists, and it’s now the place to quench your nighttime appetites in the seductive, low warm light. Owned by chef Chris Maxwell and partner Melis Onderoglu Maxwell, an incredibly charming couple who met in London and decided to move to Melis’ homeland to open up this swanky nightspot, featuring French-influenced Vietnamese food and their signature earl grey martinis, it’s a cozy little spot to keep indulging until you can indulge no more. Chris and Melis are fantastic hosts — it’s not just the fireplace that exudes warmth. This young couple have a feel for old world charm.
Any questions? If so, you now know where to find me. Happy holidays.
At first it’s hard for me to believe. It’s been only 1 year! So much has happened since I first launched this site December 19, 2011. I’ve been introduced to so many incredible people, I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to have these experiences and share them. I’ve learned so much about so many different people thanks to starting this site. It’s helped me find a vehicle for my natural curiosity, and voice my constant state of wonder. I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life — launching this site isn’t one of them. It’s allowed me to record my small keyhole view of local history and share it with people all around the world. Being an immigrant, you never lose your roots, but it makes the dislocation a little easier when you can simultaneously share your new home as you explore it with people you miss and the people you’re just getting to know. It’s also allowed me to make as much sense as I might out of this crazy yet wonderful city — which I’m not sure if I chose or if it chose me. There is no way I can sufficiently thank all the people who have helped this site. I owe a lot to people like Paul Cavanaugh who designed and directed many of the details, as well as Erol Işık, who programmed it. I also owe every one of you who follows it. Thank you for sticking with me and listening to my stories. I only hope you’re seeing a continual improvement in what’s written and in the photography presented, and that you’ll feel free to express your ideas to me, and comment about how it all makes you feel, as well as suggest what you’d like to see in the future. I’d also like to thank my daughter who continues to remind of the importance of experiencing something new every day. Nothing slows time like adopting a child-like curiosity. I urge everyone to try it.
Today was a truly miserable, wet day. On top of that, the weather was bad. Perhaps on days like this there are few better refuges than the world of books. Fortunately, I had a chance between meetings wandering through Beyoğlu to pop into this fantastic pasaj just off the Balık Pazarı. This place is crammed full of interesting books, documents, newspapers and media from another time — to such an extent that you could totally lose all sense of the here and now. A good thing, in my opinion, especially on a day like today.
Galatasaray, Beyoğlu/İstanbul 34435
Yesterday I had a fantastic opportunity to go into the kitchen and bakery at Auf and see magic being made. Talk about talent. Talk about love. The heat in this kitchen wasn’t only radiating from the ovens, it was glowing from a passionate love affair with food. The people I met on Esra and Zeynep’s team were so alive, and so full of ardour for what they were doing — a philosophy graduate who would rather bake, a former English teacher who’d prefer to create — all working really long hours and pulling it off with incredible smiles. Every day the women (and man) in the kitchen create a new menu, based on seasonally available produce and ingredients which might change anywhere up to 15 minutes before the lunch crowd storms in. Yet this is not a tense environment, and I don’t think simply because there was a yabanci in the house. My sense was that Esra and Zeynep have created a remarkably democratic environment where everyone’s opinion, as well as talent, counts.
These guys are true, dedicated foodies. The concentration, the vigour with which prepare a meal is really inspiring. Despite having a big hairy guy pointing a camera in their face, no one missed a beat. Like many I’ve harboured a fantasy for years about owning a restaurant, but now I have a new appreciation for the type of dedication it takes. Read More…
At 79A Kumbaracı Yokuşu, the street that falls from Istiklal Caddesi to Tophane, exists a portal into a another world. This is the dükkan of master craftsman, Nihat Usta. Every day Nihat Usta boards the early morning motorboat to make his way from Anadolu Kavağı to his Pera workshop where he restores the most incredible furniture from another era. From his shop emanates a glow. Is it the materials like mother of pearl and wood that he works with? Or the aura of a man who can create something that much of us only dream of? In any case, there’s something vital as well as timeless (at least, I hope so) about this place. Let’s hope that businesses like Nihat’s thrive for years to come. They are something that keep the spirit of places like Beyoğlu from becoming artificial or feeling gentrified. Thanks for keeping it real, Nihat Usta.
Sometimes I like to trace the trajectory of my life, wondering if (and when, if so) I would have met all the people who are now in my life, if you took out a few key lines. There are two people I should definitely mention on this blog as it’s dedicated to my daughter. The first year I spent in Turkey was a turbulent time, full of highs and many lows. However, despite all the personal setbacks two people (pictured above) made all the difference by welcoming me into their home, both literally and metaphorically. On Friday night it was Zeynep’s birthday. I first met your mother on Zeynep’s Birthday seven years ago. We didn’t start dating until about five months later, but that night changed everything. Whether life is random or determinined is something that’s hard to decide. Whether your life is better for knowing such people, is not. I believe much — if not most — of my happiness led to the lucky encounter and subsequent friendship with Zeynep and Emre. The fact that they introduced me to your mother, also meant they introduced me to you. What greater gift could I ask for? And it was given to me by the birthday girl, herself. Thank you, Zeynep. I mean it.
Colours saturate. Dull broken pavements suddenly glisten, slicked with rain. Vapours rise. Damp tobacco burns without the tiniest crackle. Exposed bulbs buzz, haloing in the rain. And all the while people migrate from one island of artificial light to another in the sudden fall of Karaköy night.