Fine Dining in Istanbul – Topaz Restaurant
Last week I was invited to review Topaz, a favorite restaurant haunt of Turkish businessmen, looking to entertain foreign associates; the elegant paired down interior design and the cleverly constructed menu that caters both to the more conservative Turkish customer with up to date versions of Ottoman classics and his / her more bold international counterpart with adventurous, playful and very modern creations built around the very best Mediterranean ingredients; everything at Topaz is beautifully geared towards providing flexible fine dining for the perfect business lunch.
When I first visited Istanbul seven years ago; long before I made the move from London four years ago, a Turkish friend showed me several bars and restaurants thatave me an instant impression of Istanbul as an interesting stylish metropolis; the one thing that all of these places had in common was the Bosphorous view. When I went back to London recently the Thames looked so small and muddy in comparison. The owners of Topaz are lucky that they have found a prime location near Beyolu and Nisantasi with such a fantastic view of the Bosphorous. The serene dining room that goes with the view is a direct contrast to the busy street outside; waiters drift around effortlessly, the lunch time crowd is winding down; everything as I enter the dining room reeks of class and affluence without being garish or vulgar. The interior design is cool, modern and deeply functional. The wood tones provide much appreciated warmth and reassurance as I settle down to two hefty degustation menus. The owner was eager for me to try both the Ottoman food and the Mediterranean food so he kindle recommended the Degustation menus that accurately show case the restaurant's food concept.
The soups which kick off the menu were not available; something about the chef doing eleventh hour alterations before the degustation menu launch the following day. We progressed to two rather excellent starters; John Dory with beetroot puree and kiwi minted sauce from the Mediterranean and Stuffed Tomato and Courgette flower cooked in Olive Oil from the Ottoman.
The John Dory was clean tasting and dead fresh and combined beautifully with the vineyard beetroot and the sweet kiwi; when I get my hands on a good piece of John Dory I will invariably try to make this at home. The Ottoman starter was an expertly crafted modern version of an old Aegean favorite; You can bet that next time a friend comes to Istanbul I will be taking them to Topaz on the strength of this dish alone; the rice inside the veg was perfectly cooked and the presentation was flawless. Next up was Grilled Octopus with lentil puree and truffle oil; I seem to remember some caramelized effects thrown into the mix as well; and Turkish Puf Borek stuffed with mince meat. The grilled Octopus was very tender and married well with all of the above, particularly the sweet onions. The Puf Borek was authentic but a little light in the mince department; the mince was so good I could have done with a bit more; other than that no complaints. The sauteed Goose live with mango and caramelized onion and the Stuffed vine leaves with cherry that followed were both very appealing dishes that could not be more different personality wise; The goose liver was very modern and certainly not traditionally Mediterranean; complete with the bright vibrant flavor of the mango and the French style presentation this is a direct contrast to the very traditional earthy vine leaves that would not offend even the most conservative Turkish palette.
Out of these two well understood dishes the Turkish wins out as the mango was a little too acid to be paired with such an expensive, subtle ingredient as foie gras; If you are going to pick fruit, peaches are usually best in this case. For the main course I was presented with the very heavy braised beef searches with spinach and mushroom lasagna and olive sauce and the deliciously delicious and what I am told is the largest seller on the menu; grilled lamb loin with smoked aubergine puree, minted onion relish, and smoked wheat pilaf. The problem with the beef is there is too much going on on the plate; all the flavor components are very good in their independent forms; when they come together the end result is too robust for a modern fine dining menu. The grilled lamb on the other hand was exceptional; the marriage of beautifully grilled meat, smoky aubergine and a very light, refined onion relish was made in heaven; I can not say enough good things about this dish- I felt like bursting into the kitchen and thanking the chef.
Both of the deserts were very good; the Crème Brulee with Kumquats was an interesting flavor combo that really works; I was keen on the presentation as well. The Turkish Kadayifi with fresh clotted cream reminded this writer again because when the world is against you there are always Turkish deserts to fall back on. Could Kadayifi be the ultimate comfort food!
Topaz is a special restaurant venue; the type you only tend to see in Istanbul; with a breathtaking view of the Bosphorus, classy food and service and an extensive wine list I am inclined to take anyone who will go with me; friends, family and business associates alike.