In the days around New Year’s Eve, I traveled to Istanbul for the first time. For a variety of reasons, I am very excited about the city on the Bosphorus. Not least, of course, because of the cuisine, which is not only omnipresent in the megametropolis of 14 million inhabitants, but also consistently at an extremely high level. Turkish cuisine is a great melting pot of very different influences. Mediterranean cooking traditions, of course, play a major role, but so do influences from Indian, Persian, Islamic-Arabic cuisine, as well as dishes and traditions of the peoples of the Caucasus, such as Armenian, Aramaic or Georgian.
Everywhere in the city, delicious aromas of chestnuts and fish or meat grilled over charcoal drift through the streets. Almost on every corner there are merchants offering small delicacies. Baked, sweet, salty, fresh juices, shellfish, fruit, corn and of course kebab skewers are spinning everywhere. We didn’t miss the chance to try perhaps the most famous kebab in town – the nearly 50-meter-long line in front of the rotating spit speaks volumes.
For the actual culinary highlight of the trip, however, I made reservations several weeks in advance. I became aware of Maksut Askar‘s new restaurant project, Neolokal, through an article by Claudio del Principe – and as it turned out in the evening, we are connected anyway through mutual friends from Hamburg, the Kitchen Guerillas.
Neolokal is based on the principle of strictly regional and seasonal cuisine, combined with the diverse culinary traditions of the country – but reinterpreted. Whereby the novelty does not necessarily have to lie in a creative new preparation, often it is simply the ideal products that develop a dish further, sometimes it is also more or less radical change of ingredients that make a classic seem completely different.
Unsurprisingly, I opted for the large menu. Alternatively, the guest can resort to a more compact menu or order á la carte. A series of cold and warm mezze will start the meal, which will gradually find their way to our table with a short introduction by Cem Ekşi, Chef Tournant of the house. Accompanied, by the way, by a wonderfully crispy sourdough bread baked daily in house.
Shrimp with butter and garlic is a very big classic in the region. The Neolokal’s version shows the attention to detail that is so evident throughout the evening: The crustaceans are sautéed in a crustacean butter drawn from the shells, heads (and a bit of garlic) and served with a sweet satsuma cream, a beet jelly and a few leaves of sorrel. Add to this some of the crustacean butter already mentioned. Simple, but wonderfully balanced by the beautiful interplay of sweetness and acidity.
A great local fish from the shadow fish family. As, by the way, all the fish fished in the neolocal. The bartumber is pan-fried and served with yellow lentils cooked in fish broth, zucchini and flower.
I posted a photo of this dish on Facebook and Instagram directly in the evening – and it hailed questions. It is a variation of a very traditional dish. (In this case) Beef cooked very long and slowly in duck stock and duck fat. Classically served with bread (tirit), but in this case as a millefeuille. And an explosion of flavors.
As we gradually worked our way through our menu sequence, I naturally didn’t miss what was being served at neighboring tables. And often I saw small fish. Due to my great curiosity and the subsequent conversation with Cem, we inserted a small special course just before dessert. With just these small fish. Anchovies bathed in the sourdough already described at the beginning and then briefly deep-fried. A tribute to the many fishermen, the “Fish of Fisherman”. Served on a wallnut cream. Wonderful. I am very glad to have escaped this tragic um-one-hair miss yet. When we crossed the Bosphorus the next day it was clear to me what was the inspiration here…
When it comes to desserts, I’m particularly taken with the crunchy, sweet pumpkin. Maksut explained that this dish combined many of his childhood memories. The pumpkin, which in Turkey is eaten almost exclusively in sweet varieties, and the tahini paste typical of it. In addition, a sesame brittle that reminded him of the street vendors of his childhood, because the stalls for pumpkin and brittle were direct neighbors, so this combination formed regularly while snacking and thus formed the basis for this combination.
However, creativity at Neolokal does not end in the kitchen or in the dining room (with a fabulous view across the water up to the mosque), but is also evident in the concept. In the coming weeks, the menu will change and in the future, dishes that are no longer on the menu will be posted online and the recipes and ideas behind the dishes will be made available as open source. A bold, unusual step. But very fitting for a bold, exceptional restaurant.
in the Salt Gallery
Karaköy 34420 İstanbul Turkey
Phone: +90 212 244 00 16