• hydra … our summer’s first and last port of call

    November 1st, 2017

    As stated before, I love islands. At their best they are little capsules of bliss. On an island you accept the fact that there is a disconnection from all that mainland hustle and bustle. You’re cut off. Which is a pleasure …  and while I am happy that there are more far islands left in this grand world to discover, my current favourite is Hydra. I am not alone. Far more distinguished company have resided or worked here – Leonard Cohen, Jurgen Teller, Sofia Loren among others. We had a celebrity sighting with a Game Of Thrones star. I’ve been twice and predict a return at the next earliest date.

    Although the amphitheatre arrangement style of the architecture of the port may be overshadowed by Santorini’s iconic and relentlessly photographed scene, Hydra doesn’t lack for charm. Strict codes preserve it from crass developments and ugly architecture. This is, for my money, exactly what I hope for on a Greek island. The fact that the port-side town lacks motor vehicles or even bicycles is a huge plus. Want to lug your bag up the hill, you have two options: shoulder the burden or hire a mule who line up, truculently, each morning to assist in the unloading of various goods at the port. They might not be the happiest islanders but their toils are greatly appreciated by a snap-happy generation of instagrammers as well as seven-year-olds who delight in being given a ride to the hotel along with overstuffed suitcases which don’t easily roll along on cobblestone streets.

    Given its proximity to Athens, (1.5 hours on the Flying Dolphin, 2.5 by Flying Cat) it’s a big favourite for casual weekenders as well as the elite traveller. The full spectrum of hospitality is available. We sampled two distinctly different properties. The rather grandiosely titled, Hydrea Exclusive Hospitality (at which the first four photos of this post were taken), located on the western edge of the harbour, is a magnificent perch, everything a romance seeker could expect style-wise from a design hotel. We also stayed at Miranda, an old captain’s mansion, which has its own old-world charm and much less “exclusive” prices, and where our welcome included another ubiquitous four-legged islander: a white and ginger street cat, we very creatively dubbed, Ginger. Hydra probably has the friendliest and most well cared for population of cats we have encountered so far, also much to the delight of the seven-year-old set.

    In terms of quality food and drink, you don’t have to wander far. Good, honest fare abounds. Side streets, in particular, offer a host of family owned and operated options. Eat whatever is featured on the daily menu. Fresh produce and other close-to-source ingredients make such dishes sing. Also sweet, sun-kissed tomato sauce with a hint of cloves make dishes such as rooster in sauce, or meat balls and sauce a daily craving. A side of fresh cut potatoes never hurts either.

    The most difficult question of the day is where to dip ourselves into the Aegean. There are fantastic places arrayed cliff-side to drink, take in the sun and plunge into Poseidon’s blessed pool. Yet some mornings the wind picks up and forebodes the need for a sheltered cove, in which case there are also beaches, usually requiring a 20-30 minute stroll, or a shuttle boat – if you don’t feel the need to exert yourself. When we wanted a beach our preferred choice was the Four Seasons (not the chain), which also comes highly recommended as a boutique hotel. It’s about 45 minutes on foot but the westerly walk features plenty of scenic places to stop and enjoy a refreshment or two. If speed is of the essence, there’s a regular shuttle boat every 30 minutes. While we can’t attest to the suites — having not stayed there — the food and the cheerful staff constantly deliver. Personally, I prefer to remain closer to the harbour, and so, from 10:00 AM most mornings, our favourite was the cliff-side, Spilia (pictured two frames above), where the super-friendly and talented bartender-barista, basketball aficionado Aggelos (pictured immediately above), hosted us with such natural good grace we almost felt like locals.

    As the sun moves westward, we almost always find ourselves at Hydronetta (shots 1, 3, 4 , 5 below) which means mermaid, for aperitifs. Just around the point from Spilia, the sunsets are a thing of legend. And despite some occasionally melodramatic playlists, we never felt the need to break with tradition. The sheltered cove was perfect for a dip on all but one evening where only yours truly felt comfortable venturing for a swim.

    After nightfall and a good dinner at somewhere like Kryfo Limani (Secret Port) or Pardosiako (Traditional) there’s always time for a digestif or two at Amalour, or you can head back to the port and enjoy a perennial favourite, Pirate Bar. But the music is really good at Amalour (immediately below) so don’t rush. In terms of atmosphere, the western portside Papagalos (Parrot), right below Hydrea E.H., is also good place to zone out next the gently bobbing yachts.

    While the season is now over for most of our preferred haunts, we’ll be kept warm with memories of a summer bookended by Hydra’s eternal magic. Thank Poseidon for the welcome tide that brings you ashore on Hydra. We now look forward to our return.

  • winter feast

    December 28th, 2013

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    Sometimes I find it hard to think of a more satisfying adventure than the sharing of food. The sight of the table ready, the expectation of guests, the stories that will be shared, the glances hovering over the cheese and charcuterie, the beginning, the rich wine and garlic aroma wafting from the oven, the clink of the glasses, and the slow, steady devastation of the table that follows are all as important as the food itself. May the New Year bring us many such a feast.

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  • cochine

    December 20th, 2013

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    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.

  • duke istanbul

    October 1st, 2013

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    Last week I was invited to lunch by Duke, Istanbul as I have been producing the words and photography for Marie Claire Türkiye’s Deluxe Mekan section for several months now. I must admit I was a little unsure of what to suspect. Duke is in Trump Towers in Mecidiyeköy — a region of the city which does not rank high on my list of preferred destinations. As many people now know, we’ve had a few issues in Istanbul regarding urban space, retail spaces and which direction one of the world’s most historically significant cities is headed. Mecidiyeköy “functions” as a business, transport and shopping hub. To say it does so gracefully would be something of a stretch. So I wasn’t necessarily prepared to like what I saw. To reach Duke you must enter Trump Towers and pass through the usual security inspection. You’re immediately doused with the usual hubbub of mall noise. About 15 metres from security you take an elevator to a separate floor on which the massive new restaurant unfolds. This experience of separate spaces within larger malls reminds me somewhat of Tokyo and its high rises, where you might enter an office building in order to reach an upmarket hotel like the Conrad or Park Hyatt. However, once inside you’re in a different place altogether.

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    Duke is a co-venture between Borsa, Doğus and lastly, D&D London, the English capital’s largest restaurant management company. However, Duke Istanbul, despite an upmarket appearance and old school, professional-looking servers is actually designed to give the current players in the mid-market dining experience —The House Café, Kitchenette and Big Chefs a run for their money with their take on contemporary English cuisine and quality versus quantity. This is quite possibly Istanbul’s largest restaurant, with a huge kitchen and sprawling terrace where the planters are bursting with herbs and garnishes which are dressed into the food.

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    And the verdict on the food? High marks. As you can see in the photos, I focussed on the seafood side of the menu. The house-smoked salmon is excellent. The grilled octopus with lentil, fennel and potato salad, equally excellent. The fish (seabass) and chips, good, but not as strong as the appetizers. The desserts, in particular the sticky toffee pudding and home-made ice cream, I tried were exactly the kind of sweet you want at the end of an indulgent meal. If being sent to Mecidiyeköy means an opportunity to dine at Duke, I’ll be less reluctant.

  • five years fresh … den

    September 20th, 2013

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    Years ago (almost five to be exact) I had a favourite morning hangout. I used to huddle over my laptop on cold winter mornings by the misted window, deeply embroiled in a novel I was working on at the time. After a while I finished the novel and moved to Yeniköy in anticipation of the beautiful daughter that came into our lives. At first Yenikoy was missing something, though I couldn’t quite say what. I established my mobile writer’s outpost at Caffé Nero which had all the mod-cons I needed. Personality, I guess you’d call it, was lacking. The staff were nice, but they came and went regularly. It wasn’t the same experience as saying hello to the owners at Den.

    In the last year, perhaps a little more, I started meeting my friend — and all around man of good taste — Maxime, for lunches at my haunt of old, Den. He liked good food but had tired of another nearby establishment’s snooty attitude. Was I ever in for a nice surprise. While the food at Den had always been decent during my novel-writing days, it was not something I craved. There were only a couple of go-to options on the menu. Over a couple of years they changed quite a bit. Today I’m spoiled for choice. Den’s partners and chef haven’t taken in the last half decade. In addition to some interior design changes, they overhauled the menu, adding ingenuity and innovation to some classics. Dishes like the Spicy Eggplant and Buffalo Mozzarella Penne, are the perfect comfort food with that little bit extra you’re looking for when you choose to dine out. They’ve also added thin crust pizzas and a range of appetite-whetting delights, including a damn fine Mille-Feuille. Here’ a glimpse of their labours. I can only wait to see what they’ll cook up over next five years. If the first five are an indication, it will be tasty.

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    Mim Kemal Öke Caddesi No 12 , Nisantasi, Istanbul / Telephone: 0212 224 2470

  • cup of joy

    September 2nd, 2013

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    Do you understand the difference between a flat white and a latté? Do you know what an aeropress is? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you owe it to yourself to find a narrow little pasaj in Bebek and visit Cup Of Joy. Despite a serious coffee addiction, I have to say I began to wonder about the value proposition of spending 8TL for someone to ruin an espresso drink. A local chain recently delivered me an americano with a taste that more closely resembled burnt popcorn than coffee. However, there’s no danger of that happening at Cup Of Joy, where coffee is taken rather seriously. They don’t believe in Americanos here and will more likely suggest an alternative, which might make you look at filter coffees in a whole new way. They also don’t scald the daily milk they use for the lattés and flat whites they brew. There’s also a full range of machines and paraphernalia for the serious home brewer, from Siphons and the aforementioned Aeropress as well as some pretty fancy looking kettles. Though I might not be able to indulge on a daily basis, there’s now one more reason to visit Bebek regularly.

    Cevdetpaşa Caddesi 53/5, Bebek-Istanbul +90 212 263 0006 / www.cupofjoy.com.tr

  • the farm store: 83

    August 20th, 2013

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    Farmer’s markets are something special, something not to be missed if you love food. But somewhere between Hirshtals and Hjørring in a place called Tornby in Jutland, there’s a long gravel lane crowded by soaring pines which leads to a store which looks fit to supply Valhalla. Fresh doesn’t do this farmer’s market justice — food is plucked from the ground or the vine about 100 metres from where it’s sold. It’s also displayed in an eye-catching, uncluttered way, on broad tables in colourful clusters, dirt still spilling off the root vegetables, while in among the produce are imported and local delicacies, such as French lemonades, gourmet English potato chips and local craft-brewed bottles of beer. Meanwhile, lightly humming coolers are stocked with everyday staples such as milk, butter and cheese. Here they grow potatoes worthy of a potato sandwich — and a sandwich is serious business to a Dane. At closing we were lucky enough to be given a tour by the farmer herself.

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  • garden of earthly delights: asma yaprağı

    April 30th, 2013

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    Down a village alley, pumpkins stacked in a barrow. With bowed heads the wayfarers pass through the gate. They raise their faces to the shelter of a fig tree swelling with fruit which filters the last hot light of a dying day. The crunch of white gravel underfoot, the skitter of stones. A cat watches, superior, slanty-eyed from its vantage up on the surrounding stone walls. Blue chairs, baby tubs bursting with pink flowers. Candles being lit. They are greeted by a woman in black, her face as warm as the late day sun. Platters crowd the long table. Gleaming white counters. Pots hanging from hooks. A village woman works the stove. Another stands just back waiting to plate the wayfarer’s food. The day’s menu is displayed, artichokes with lentils, nettle salad, marinated beets, minced meat in vine leaves, stuffed courgette flowers … everything crisp, and vibrant as if the Aegean soil has just been brushed away. A young man, the son of the beaming woman, uncorks a Sultaniye, places it a vintage cooking pot crackling with ice. Back at the table the wayfarer’s clinking glasses catch the day’s final, glinting light. More guests duck under the gateway. A perfect evening has just begun.

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  • the fish auction

    April 28th, 2013

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    Saturday morning. The sun burns white above, bleaches the earth below white. A man with a resplendent white moustache and an immaculately pressed shirt weighs and sorts piles of fresh catch under a covered structure. On the long glistening marble table hundreds of fish of numerous shapes and hues, lobsters, prawns, shimmer in numbered lots. Craggy faced men, and sunglass-wearing women crowd around the table and ready themselves for the first bid. Mustafa Kemal’s steely blue eyes overlook the gathering from a large wall hanging. It’s 11:00 AM. The man in the striped shirt, the auctioneer, now holds a metre stick with which taps the table immediately below his nose. The first bid is for over 100 TL for a pile of fish. It being the weekend, a woman who runs one of the local restaurants or hotels motions and no one challenges. The fish are immediately bagged and the sale recorded. Apparently the local men seldom, if ever, challenge a woman’s bid. During the next hour over a hundred lots will be auctioned off, the first, best lots going to the restaurant and hotel owners and local gentry, then gradually decreasing in price and quality for the less well healed among the crowd. A day before, before the weekend population surge, towards the end of the proceedings, a man storms off after a vociferous outburst which seemed to end and then abruptly resume at 10-metre intervals. “Yeter, Agabey!” (Enough, brother!) is shouted back at him several times. He doesn’t quiet so much as allow his increasing distance to swallow his uncontainable surges of annoyance. There is some laughter. Today there are no disputes, but there is plenty of excitement, some mild confusion, as the fish is snapped up. After about an hour and a half the lots that will sell have been sold. The morning’s excitement is over. Village life, the large bazaar, and the beach all beckon.

  • kantin dükkan bebek

    April 17th, 2013

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    There’s not much I miss about living in the Nişantanşı area, except perhaps when it comes to the lunchtime value of an eatery like Kantin. What always impressed me about this lunchtime spot was the quality of its ingredients and its clean, flawless service. That same level of professionalism has now been brought to its take-out store opposite Bebek Park. The same thoughtful presentation, incredibly clean kitchen environment — and most importantly — delicious food are all available. As for seating … the park awaits, and if the weather ever decides to cooperate, there are few better places than the seaside Bebek Park to take an impromptu picnic. Don’t forget to sample the homemade ginger ale — it’s been added to my list of elixirs.

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