Sunday, November 19, 2017

Tugra. Ciragan Palace

Tugra is the fine and main restaurant of the Kempinski Ciragan palace hotel at the Bosporus in Istanbul. Located on the first floor of the historical building, if has two connected dining rooms with high windows and views to the Bosporus and the Bosporus Bridge. For the hotter months of the year there is an open terrace with tables and uninterrupted view of the sea.

According the the hotel's website the name of the restaurant Tuğra describes the Ottoman sultan's calligraphic signature used like a letterhead or imperial seal.

We went on a rainy evening of October so we had to sit inside. The square tables were quite small but well spaced out while the decor is palatial with high ceiling and a big blue chandelier in the main dining room. From there you can see an open cellar with many bottles of wine as also some digestives and liquors.

The Bosporus scenery (which I keep recalling, as it is so majestic), is paired with Ottoman and Turkish dishes by the executive chef of the hotel, Sezai Erdogan. The chef has inspired from recipes found in the archives of historic sites such as Topkapı Palace. like the coconut kadayıf, a popular dessert served to foreign palace visitors in the 1890s. There is only an a la carte menu with no set menus and as I wrote above most dishes are inspired from the past. Traditional recipes and dishes that have been served to the sultan or his guests or the palace. 

We started with oven-hot bread and a trio of two butters, plain, goat and a red pepper hot sauce. An amuse bouche of eggplant puree with minced meat in a tomato sauce base on top was tasty. 

Tuğra Mezze Platter
Consisted of 9 small dishes  each one with a different mezze inside. İskenderun prawns “pilaki”, olive marinated anchovy “mastave”, fresh broad fava beans with dill, lentil “köfte” with Yedikule lettuce, sauteéd Aegean greens ‘haydari’, organic Circassian chicken with walnut, eggplant “kaygana” with yogurt, homemade hummus with virgin olive oil, rose flavored “Kırkağaç” melon and “Ezine” cheese in the bigger bowl in the middle. 

Traditional İskenderun Prawns Casserole 
Sauteed fresh prawns casserole with wild mushroom, fresh onion, garlic, sweet peppers, tomato from Canakkale, butter, green lemon juice topped with “kaşkaval” cheese. The prawns had very nice depth of flavor and the result whilst the odd combination with  the cheese was very tasty. 

Testi Lamb Casserole
Shoulder of lamb with tomato sauce, potatoes, shallots, wild mushrooms, peppers, garlic, thyme and vegetable stock served on a ring of Turkish rice. This is the signature dish of the restaurant, an ottoman traditional recipe from the past. Testi in Turkish is the clay pot, used for carrying water from wells to the houses, but later also found use in cooking vegetables and meat over the fire or in stone ovens. To these days the pots used in the restaurant are hand made from red mud. Traditionally the cooking process of the deboned meat and vegetables which are sealed with dough requires 6 hours of cooking. The waiter told us that even though the restaurant is not capable of as much cooking time, they still cook it for 3 hours. The result is a tender flavorful meat in a tasty very sauce, while we also found the rice to be very aromatic. 

The waiter brought the sealed clay pot to the table and then broke it with a brass pestle, before carefully putting the content on the rice ring on to the plate.  An excellent rustic dish that I suggest you to order. 

Beef tenderloin served on smoked mashed eggplant and chestnut puree, Aegean wild herbal pancake, grilled tomato with sumac,  red onion relish and pomegranate jam. The beef was tender but had not remarkable flavor as it was cooked closer the boiling, rather than any Maillard reaction, cooking method. 

Lamb and beef minced meat kebab with herbs, pickled onion, peppers, tomato and red pepper salad, herb yogurt and lavash bread. It came medium cooked as it was ordered. It was of good quality meat, tasty but not remarkable. 

Ciragan palace pudding
Imperial chocolate pudding with gold leaf decoration and crushed pistachio. The chocolate creme was covered by a solid chocolate layer under the gold leaf. A traditional dessert of the past served during holidays and ambassador feasts. It was very tasty and well balanced in the sugar. 

Oven baked mastic pudding
Pumpkin paste and roasted walnuts, Turkish style rice with milk, sugar and cinnamon or as you may commonly say rice pudding. It was pretty good, refreshing and nicely paired with the spicy pumpkin paste. 

The wine list has wines from Turkey, France, Italy and other countries while I counted 5 white wines by glass, 4 red wines and 2 different glasses of Champagne (Louis Roederer at 20 to 25euros per glass). We went for a glass of excellent full bodied Merlot Esser from California at 11 euros per glass. 

I would suggest you to visit this restaurant even though it is pricey, especially the wine list, as the decor of the dining room and the view are majestic, while service is professional friendly and attentive. This is not michelin starred food as you may expect in the top hotels of Europe, but more like a more rustic cooking of traditional recipes from the past, skillfully prepared using good quality ingredients.

The restaurant is open Monday to Sunday from 19:00 to 00:00.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Le relais de l'entrecote, Paris

I never liked restaurants with huge menus that serve every kind of dishes and cuisines. It had to be a seafood place, a meat place or Italian, Chinese etc

A case where a restaurant serves just one dish is kind of intriguing for me, and that is exactly what Le Relais de l'entrecote is about.

It all started in 1959 from Paul Gineste de Saurs in the Porte Maillot with the opening of « Le Relais de Venise-Son Entrecôte ». Soon after the Relais de l’Entrecôte opened as a bistrot in Paris keeping up till today with the same recipe. 

We visited the Marbeuf bistrot near the Champs-Elysees while other addresses do exist in Paris (Benoit and Montparnasse) and one more in Geneva. The decor is typical Parisian with small tables and bamboo chairs outside, wooden inside close to each others. Wooden panels cover the walls, red cloths are on tables with white paper cloths on top and yellow cotton napkins. 

As I previously said, this bistrot serves only one dish, entrecote with french fries, you don't get a regular menu but rather just a simple question, ''how would you like your steak cooked?''. We opted for medium. Truth to be told you get a wine menu and a dessert menu. 

At first we were offered some pieces of freshly made baguette with an extremely hot mustard, along with a green salad with walnuts and radish which is complimentary with the steak. Then the steak arrived in a big platter, enough to fill the plate of each dinner for 2 times. The meat, tender and juicy and the fries crispy were then poured with an amazing green sauce. You can look on the net for the secret recipe, I did and found some different versions with spices and herbs even anchovies. Whatever was in the sauce the result was simply amazing. 

We had a bottle of Chateau de Saurs from Vignoble Gaillacois, north west of Toulouse, which was ok and priced as much as other restaurants-bistrots in Paris charge for just a glass. So definitely you shouldn't skip wine here. 

At service there was a lovely Italian lady, very friendly and chatty while also pretty fast. 

Don't expect to make a reservation for this bistrot. We had to wait almost half an hour to be seated, but it was totally worth it. Not only everything is so tasty but also very fairly priced and with excellent value wine. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Hytra, Athens ( * )

Hytra  means terracotta vase, a utility object from ancient Greek times. Opened in 2004 in Psiri, in the historical center of Athens, then moved 8 years after to its current location on the sixth and seventh floor of the Onassis Cultural Center. It holds a Michelin star since 2010.

The restaurant looking over Syggrou with views from the upper floor to the Acropolis, the Lycabettus and the Athenian skyline offers classic Greek cuisine with modern techniques, reaching to the molecular gastronomy field.

The head chef Tassos Mantis after being the sous chef of the 3 Michelin star Hof Van Cleeve restaurant of Belgium, took over from Nikos Karathanos in 2014. The decor is modern in earthy colours with yellow lights and a big bar in the center of the salle which is separated in half from a glass wall.    

There is an 8 course menu, a vegetarian one, a 14 course and the a la carte option. We went with the first.

We started with Spanakorizo, a thin rice cracker with spinach, dill and lemon. It was tasty but didn't remind me of the casual Greek food spanakorizo or rice with spinach cooked in the pot.

Beetroot, walnuts, yogurt and rocket flowers was a piece of beetroot that was firstly placed in a dehydrator and then slightly cooked having interesting texture and earthy nutty flavors. We were suggested to place it the vinaigrette that was placed in the big bowl. The roasted walnuts added more texture to the dish although I found the acidic vinegar to be a bit overpowering.

Bread came very hot on a piece of wood with extra virgin olive oil infused with oregano, some thyme and fleur de sel. Simply amazing.

Our farm's egg, salsify wild mushrooms and acorn scented mushroom consome. A poached egg on top of lightly cooked salsify pieces with amazing mushrooms was overall very aromatic and had great flavor. The rich consome worked very well with it.

Quail, spelt wheat, chestnut, fresh truffle and xinotyri from Naxos island. A nicely cooked juicy piece of quail breast (I would guess sous vide) with spelt wheat cooked like a risotto. The raw chestnut adding some texture, the apricot some sweetness and the xinotyri took the place of Parmesan. If I hadn't tried this dish I wouldn't believe wheat could be that tasty.

Back to roots, rooster with celeriac, parsley root and burdock. This dish was the star of the evening. Two pieces of perfectly cooked rooster breast (again I would guess sous vide), the meat having remarkable flavor and was accompanied by a row of good preparations. Shiitake mushrooms, intestines in pannacotta form, burdock puree and celeriac pieces. Chicken, let aside rooster, is hard to cook and because it is one of my favorite meats I have tried it in many restaurants some even being 3 Michelin starred and I will easily say this one was one of the very best.

Yogurt, honey infused with chamomile, walnuts and bee pollen. yogurt was made in different forms, as pannacotta , icecream and crunchy bites. This was pretty refreshing but the portion was very small, so it was more like a predessert rather than the full dessert.

Traditional ''Loukoumi'' scented with fatourada and Marshmallows with pine flavor were presented in a tin nice tin box of Suchard chocolates.

Wine was a bottle of Kikones Estate from Thrake, made by the Chianti Italian grape variety, Sangiovese.  A full bodied, great full flavor wine with medium tannins that I will surely go and buy. There is also wine pairing and cocktail pairing with each menu.

Besides the regular Hytra Michelin starred menu there is also the ''Hytra Apla'' choice. Started 4 years ago it is a collaboration with the famous Greek chef Chrysanthos Karamolegos and consists of casual street food made in a high level at friendlier prices.

The service was very very friendly, attentive and relaxed. Of course I would suggest this restaurant for anyone who wants to taste modern Greek flavors with good quality ingredients that are skillfully prepared and presented. A drawback might be the title of the menu, which is not an 8 course menu but rather a 4 course with two amuse bouche and 2 mignardises.

For further information and prices you can look at hytra's website