• 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

  • Sometimes at Hepsi Hikaye

    January 13th, 2013

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    There’s nothing quite like a good conversation over a meal between friends. These days, however, it’s not always easy to find the time or the right venue to make such a thing happen. Restaurants can be too loud or too impersonal. Hosting at home requires you to make a serious commitment in terms of preparation and work, and can take you away from the friends you want to get close to. Fortunately, the Bebek club of ideas, Hepsi Hikaye (Everything’s a Story) is now hosting intimate, multi-course dinners on Friday and Sunday nights, dubbed “Bazen” — meaning sometimes in Turkish, and is also a combination of the two Organizers, Banu and Zeynep’s name — with a menu designed and prepared by chef Melih from Alaçati’s well loved restaurant, Agrillia. If you’re looking for an alternative to the typical night out, it’s definitely worth a look. The food Friday night —prosciutto fagioli soup, lor cheese and lentil salad, cottage pie, porcini papardelle, and beautifully prepared beef — possessed all the warmth of a home cooked meal without the burden of dishes. The wine was truly excellent too. It was a different kind of night out. One well worth having.

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    BAZEN at HEPSI HIKAYE
    +90 212 263 22 29   / +90 212 2630985

  • 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

  • Festive cheer about town

    December 22nd, 2012

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    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.

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    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.

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    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?

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    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.

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    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.

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    Any questions? If so, you now know where to find me. Happy holidays.

  • Behind the scenes at:

    December 13th, 2012

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    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.

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    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…

  • Getting behind the bar

    November 29th, 2012
    It’s been busy, busy, busy  for me since my return to Istanbul. I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to devote to the blog. However, I’ve been having a lot of fun working to help the gang at the Bosphorus Brewing Co get things going with their website, writing, shooting and occasionally being used as a “beer test dummy!” — Phil the brewmaster’s words, not mine. Anyway, even though I haven’t had as much time to hit the streets, it’s been a pleasure to interact with everyone here because one thing this place doesn’t lack is personality. Whether it’s out on the floor, or in the kitchen this place is bursting with flavour. Here’s a taste of who and what I’ve been working with over the last week or so, as well as what you’re missing if you haven’t paid this place a visit yet. BTW: there’s some nice dark beer/stout and new IPA on tap but the special brews are going fast. So if you’re lover of real beer, get behind the Bosphorus Brewing Co.
     
     
     
    TÜRKÇE: (+90) 0212 274 87 13 / ENGLISH: (+90) 0212 288 64 99
    info@bosphorus-brewing.com

  • Bosphorus Brewing Co. leak

    November 2nd, 2012

    Once upon a time I decided I would never, ever work again in advertising or branding unless it was for something in which I believed wholeheartedly. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I believe in good beer. Better yet, I believe in good beer and good food. Happily I have made the acquaintance of the Bosphorus Brewing Co., an interesting new venture involving craft beer by a delightfully eccentric brewmaster named Philip Hall. He and his family have been living in Turkey for several years now and have decided to invest themselves fully into something which they too subscribe to — real ales and honest food. Well, my friends, I can tell you that I have sampled both now, and the golden nectar they serve is the genuine article. The entire menu at the Bosphorus Brewing Co. has been developed to pair perfectly with its select brews and is the work of a former Turkish airlines flying chef teamed with Philip’s wife. It is great. Here are some test shots that I took today. I couldn’t wait to share them with you and hope I don’t get in trouble, but this is something you need to see. Better yet, this is something you’ll need to taste. It’s only a matter of a few weeks before Istanbullu can drink some real ales, and I couldn’t stop myself from spreading the news. By the way, the fishcakes are the best I’ve ever eaten.

  • Spilling into the street: café culture in Istanbul

    October 23rd, 2012

    I recently composed a half page piece for the Globe & Mail, one of Canada’s national broadsheets regarding Istanbul’s café culture, and my pick for the best coffee joint in the city. It was nice to see they used my photography as well. I must say I had a great time researching the piece, as drinking coffee and people-watching seems to be one of favorite pastimes. They didn’t edit or alter much of what I submitted. I had hoped to include a link to their website, but the piece has only appeared in print. To read the full text please follow the link below the article picture.

    Read More…

  • Sokak Style at Holy Coffee

    October 19th, 2012

    A good café needs a cool street presence. In fact, it’s not just about the coffee, it’s about the vibe, which is all about the people, the kind of character and the community you draw. Holy Coffee in Çukurcuma not only brews a decent cup, they attract a lively crowd, happy to spill into the street, whether it’s for a smoke, a chat or to soak up the nice warm autumn light. This place has a friendly, lively vibe and it regularly fills with some of my favorite people. I have to say, I’m feeling the love.