• cochine

    December 20th, 2013

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    cochine diptych

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    corner seat

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    Chris and Melis

    Just wanted to share with you a sample of some photography I recently did for Cochine in Beyoglu. It’s a cozy spot halfway down Kumbaracı Yokuşu I first mentioned in a separate post last year that serves French-influenced Vietnamese cuisine and is run by a super great couple, Melis and Chris Maxwell (immediately above). This year there’s a new menu and some fantastic new talent in the kitchen, which is why they called me in to take some shots.

    I really love the place as it’s one of the few venues in town I will continue to hang around in after a great dinner. At most places, you might eat a good meal but won’t feel an inclination to linger once the plates have been cleared. That’s not the case here. With live music on many an evening and some quite nice cocktails being whipped up behind the bar, it’s easy to get into (and stay into) a Cochine kind of mood. In fact, if I were persuaded to go out New Year’s Eve, this is exactly the sort of place I’d head.

  • çukurcuma colour

    May 15th, 2013

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    The cat’s expression at the top of this post says it all. It’s been a while, so I’m trying to get back in the swing of things by tramping around Çukurcuma, peering up, down, backwards and sideways as well as into windows to reignite my creative spark. Not much luck, today, I’m afraid. I’ve retreated to Holy Coffee to see if some java can reignite my curiosity. Some days you just have to trust that Istanbul is keeping her real treasures curtained for a purpose that is beyond your ken. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. That, and the day’s, not over, right?

  • printemps’ last late night

    April 19th, 2013

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    Last night was the final late night of Printemps Des Artistes 2013 and offered some its most enjoyable moments. Opening night was so busy you could hardly move, let alone appreciate the art on the walls. A particular high moment was watching Takayoshi Sakabe perform his Butoh dance. It was truly dramatic — and not simply because I thought he was going to knock some of my work off the walls. The man not only knows how to produce the most delicate brush strokes as a painter, he knows how to convey a series of really powerful emotional movements. It’s impressive to see such motion/emotion in  a gallery which can feel so otherwise restrained environment. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the exhibition there’s still this evening until 8pm and tomorrow until 8pm at Sainte Pulcherie Fransiz Lisesi. Thank you to everyone who came by. It was a great experience.

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  • serdar-ı ekrem sokak

    March 26th, 2013

    Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak

    When I first moved to Istanbul I rented a flat in the Galata neighbourhood which was scruffy but interesting area on the city map. Later, like a lot of Beyoglu, it became a bit disillusioning. As we all know, economic progress doesn’t necessarily benefit a neighbourhood’s character or hospitality. Especially when the new businesses and residents decide to do a sad or cynical interpretation of someone else’s culture for the benefit of non-residents. So it became easy to give the Galata neighbourhood a miss without missing anything at all. However Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak seems to have undergone a mostly positive transformation, comfortably mixing old and new and featuring design businesses and small boutiques which draw on the local culture and architecture as much for the benefit of Turks — at least so it seems from the people sitting in the street-side cafés and coffee joints — as for outsiders. Change is an inevitable consequence of urban life just like human life. Fortunately it’s not all for the worst with businesses like Georges Galata, which in my opinion has the ultimate night time supper terrace, summer or winter, as well as Sntrl Dükkan and Mavra, which provide good street-side perches to people watch in the company of your friends and neighbours while sipping a glass of wine. On this Sokak, at least, it feels good to be back in Galata again.

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    Sntrl Dükkan

    Sntrl Dükkan

    Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak

    Georges Galata

    Sara Tabrizi _Executive Chef, Georges Galata

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  • şişhane sweetspot: the kamondo mansion

    February 27th, 2013

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    If I were to plan an indulgent escape for adults, without leaving the city limits, I would stay in the slightly spooky, somewhat spare restoration of the Kamondo family’s 19th Century mansion. Home to the Adahan Hotel, Comedus, Baylo and Gram, there’s something particularly louche about this street corner, especially in the evening hours.

    18:00 – 18:15 …
    check into the Adahan Hotel.

    18:15 – 19:45  …
    for your discretion. adult only content.

    19:45 – 20:05 …
    compose yourself, make yourself respectable — at least briefly.

    20:15 – 20:30 …
    go down to Comedus and stock up your room with some essentials (for later).

    20:35 – 21:00 …
    take in the view at the Adahan restaurant upstairs with an aperitif

    21:00 – 23:00 …
    enjoy some more Mediterranean delights. restrict yourself to those on the menu, for a while, anyway.

    23:00 – 02:00 …
    indulge at Baylo, a New Yorkistan style bar that knows how to make a drink.

    02:00 – 02:05 …
    stumble back upstairs to your Adahan suite room

    02:05 – 04:00 …
    this is when your supplies from Comedus will come in handy. once again, adults only.

    04:00 – 10:30 …
    get a little bit of sleep. especially before the sun rises.

    10:30 – 11:30 …
    coffee and late breakfast at Gram.

    11:30 – … ?
    get some fresh air already! some sunlight! resume the healthy living. for a while.

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    baylobottles

    gramweights

    gramchef

  • Dilapidated doorways and detailing in decay

    February 18th, 2013

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    How’s that for an alliterative title? I really wanted to call this piece: a diminutive demonstration of dilapidated doorways and decadent details in decay … but it wouldn’t fit in the headline space my template allots. Still, I probably managed to go purple enough with my prose style to describe the beauty of these passageways and halls which have lost none of their magic despite the neglect. Or has the neglect only enhanced it? The hallways and doors of Beyoglu, may go unnoticed in terms of restoration, but they still turn my head.

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  • Istanbul’s Irish pub

    February 6th, 2013

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    Sometimes life doesn’t feel real enough. There’s socializing and then there’s socializing. One type involves trying to impress people, another involves sharing in a good drink and an honest conversation. For the latter, there’s few more genuine places to than the U2 Irish Pub just off Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoğlu. Owner Leo is a true innkeeper and proof that you don’t have to come from the British Isles to operate a proper public house. A pub is a place that should offer welcome to any class of lady or gentleman, and Leo does just that. At little more than four metres square it’s also proof that some of the best pubs don’t need to be big. He’s been open for about six years and leaves a friend or regular in charge on the few occasions when he needs a holiday. The smoking lounge is essentially the stairwell connecting to the street to the upstairs lavatory, a genial place to indulge a nicotine urge and chat with the latest stranger you’re about to turn into a friend.

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    U2 IRISH PUB
    Bekar Sok. No 21, Beyoğlu, Istanbul / +90 212 2434045 / www.u2istanbulirishpub.com

  • Adahan Hotel

    February 4th, 2013

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    Today I had a chance to get a glimpse of a really interesting renovation in Beyoglu. While it might feel somewhat sparsely furnished with the cavernous ceilings, the ample light, and raw feel of the materials gives this place a real beauty. I’ve seen many Beyoglu buildings restored, but nothing quite like this. Its feel, and the amount of wood make this something special. The other feature which makes it special is the fact that its owners refused to use any concrete in the restoration process. Sedat Sırrı Aklan, who supervised the renovations, is adamantly opposed to the use of concrete on moral grounds, because it is both anti-artisan and only used for profit motives. One of the things I really appreciate is the light touch they’ve used, leaving some of the beautifully weathered surfaces exposed. Here’s a glimpse of this vastly different hotel. I’m eager to check out their rooftop eatery too which may well bear further investigation.

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  • Go Galatasaray!

    January 3rd, 2013

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    The football club bearing the above name may be having a lousy season this year, but the neighbourhood in Beyoğlu is winning hands down on several counts. I’d like to list a few ways this colourful intersection between Taksim and Tünel currently scores as the number one place I’d maroon myself in the unlikely event that I ever be forced to maroon myself somewhere. Following are four reasons to go to the Galatasaray Mahallesi right now …

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    BEST COFFEE. Let’s start with the most important drink of the day. After nearly eight years and countless kilos of bitter beans, thousands of litres of scalded milk, and several burnt lips I have finally tasted caffeinated perfection. Or the closest thing I’m going to find to it in Istanbul. Kronotrop in Galatasaray, the “Espresso Blend Atelier” wins hands-down, without a doubt, absolutely, definitely — sorry if I’m overselling this — for the best espresso and espresso drinks in town. Camera-shy Çağatay Bey’s tiny little shrine to espresso is the genuine deal. Having long fostered the suspicion that he wasn’t getting his money’s worth when he had his morning brew, the Ankara-born owner has dedicated the last couple of years to researching the art of the espresso. This isn’t just about getting the correct bean (though he’s done that with direct trade, organic coffee). It includes using the right water, sourcing farm fresh milk and treating his trade with the respect it deserves. He’s also got a nice little selection of foreign newspapers and magazines for sale. But forget those for now — this is really about the coffee. I started off with a simple, unadulterated double espresso. No sugar, no additives. It was a true delight. Not bitter, but beautifully balanced. I normally drink Americanos because I find most espressos in this city too bitter. This wasn’t the case. Then I moved on to have not one but two separate flat whites made with farm-fresh milk. And another nice feature, despite all the coffee I drank … no jitters, no palpitations, no awful acidic stomach. The only problem with Kronotrop is that it’s diminished my ability to enjoy coffee elsewhere in the city. There may be more vibrant, funkier coffee joints, but in terms of taste no can touch Mister Çağatay’s espresso. Just don’t ask him for tea or Turkish Coffee. This place is devoted to the patronage of “Coffee Snobs.”

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    BEST CHEAP LUNCH/SNACK. Next up is the best damn wrap in town. Since being featured in Anthony Bourdain’s television series, Dürümzade has become a local legend. Deservedly. This is without a doubt the best grilled sandwich maker in town. Serving up a perfectly spiced, crisply charred wrap this is easily 2013’s champion for most satisfying 5tl lunch. Just thinking about the texture, taste and aroma makes me famished. The ustalar are a really jovial bunch, which just goes to show that fame doesn’t necessarily need to go to your head.

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    BEST FOOD MARKET. In fact to avoid overspending at the most entertaining food market in the city, go to Dürümzade first. On an empty stomach you can easily burden yourself with so many groceries at the Balık Pazarı, you’ll be in danger of dislocating your shoulders. Despite its name this market isn’t just about fish, though there’s plenty of fresh daily catch on offer. Crisp produce. Exotic poultry. Pickled delights. Scary animal parts. You name it, they’ve got it. Except for Kolhrabi / Yerlahana. That I couldn’t find, much to my disappointment. Still you can’t have everything, right? Oh yeah … to the man who remarked to his friends that my sartorial style was “Italian Villager”, there are plenty of yabancı who speak Turkish, though, perhaps I’ll give you first prize for the most original of comment I wasn’t supposed to understand.

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    BEST RUMMAGE. Then there’s Aslıhan Pasajı, which juts off the Balık Pazarı, and which I covered in an early post, which is probably the best vintage book rummage in town. There are so many fascinating glimpses into 20th Century Turkey here that it’s a must see. Especially if the weather isn’t clement you can warm your fingers thumbing through the wonderful magazines and periodicals for sale here. It’s well worth a peruse.

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  • Istanbul’s Vietnamese Speakeasy

    December 30th, 2012

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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!

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    COCHINE 

    Tomtom Mahallesi Kumbaracı Yokuşu, Camcı Fevzi Sokak No. 36/A, Beyoğlu, Istanbul
    +90 212 243 92 81