A trip to the Asian side of Istanbul always brings with it, a sense of adventure and excitement. Will I find the place I am searching? Will I be able to figure out how to get home after a night out? On this occasion, my destination was the Marriott Asia Hotel to sample the food and wine on offer at the Orange Southern Mediterranean Grill Restaurant.
After a peaceful ferry ride from Karaköy to Kadıköy, my adventure began with trying to locate a dolmuş to the Palladium or a bus to Ataşehir. As usual, the local hospitality didn’t disappoint with several Turks becoming my guides, trying to point me in the right direction. Finally, with the right bus, I hoped (the 19E) I was on my way. After 20 minutes, the driver, the conductor and the lovely lady from the bus stop were all indicating to me that it was time to exit at the next stop. Out I stepped with a wave of thanks and a sense of achievement. Expecting to have to walk a little further, I turned around to find the Marriott tower looming in front of me like a beacon. I spotted Marc, my dinner companion, and together we approached with excitement.
As we entered the lobby, we were greeted by Alp Numanoglu, the Food and Beverage Manager and Fikret Özdemir, the Executive Chef. Hearing about the vast experience of Chef Özdemir, I anticipated an evening of dining to remember. An extensive tour of the hotels luxury facilities followed, wetting my appetite for the impending soirée.
The ambiance and carefully chosen decor immediately grabbed my attention as the waiters seated us at our table of choice in the Orange Restaurant. The spiral staircase lights surrounded by lampshades of copper colored fabric created a modern and chic style. The chairs upholstered in thin stripes of orange and red continued the theme of the restaurant.
The Food and Beverage Manager provided two choices of red wine for tasting. The first an Egeo 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon had an aroma of blackberry, desirable for this style of wine. However, it had a bitter edge to the flavour with a high level of acidity overtaking the palate, and the length was surprisingly short. The boasted chocolate tones were a little more like burnt toffee to me!
The second wine sampled was the 2007 Selection Oküzgözü-Boğazkere from Kavaklıdere. Unlike the first wine, the bouquet was very subtle with no hint of berries. Unfortunately for my developed Australian palate, this wine was simply too light, without the complexity desired in a red.
Chef Özdemir appeared with a cheese platter to begin the dining experience, explaining his unique creation, the fig and mustard paste. The platter included a selection of smoked, blue, Gouda and white cheeses and a selection of beautiful breads. After studying the wine list, I chose a 2007 Sarafin Fumé Blanc to compliment le fromage. The highlight was of course the chef’s amazing figue et moutarde paste, what a wonderful taste explosion! This delicate melange of sweet ‘gooiness’ balanced by the spice of the mustard, worked incredibly well with the blue cheese. The Sauvignon Blanc presented a wonderful citrus and lime bouquet and was perfectly balanced, neither too sweet nor too dry. On to the appetizers…
The usual Mediterranean mezze plate was on offer for 26TL however the Seafood plate (26TL) and the Cracked Wheat Meatballs (16TL) took my fancy. This quartet of seafood included portions of smoked salmon, bonito fish, scallops and marinated prawns, well presented on beds of garden greens. The standout was the prawn, perfectly cooked and extremely fresh with a char grilled aroma, followed by the soft and juicy scallop. Perhaps a little heavy handed with the greens but all in all a very good starter.
When the second appetizer arrived, the meatball was sitting center stage in the shape of a mini temple on top of a slice of lime. With a slightly crunchy exterior created by the cracked wheat, this opened up to an interior of delicate ground beef, light and without a trace of oil, mixed with the ground walnuts. The condiments of minted yoghurt and ‘citrus-y sweet’ cous cous created a perfect combination of flavours for my taste buds.
A petit pause in proceedings gave me time to peruse the menu some more. Salads ranged from 20-24TL, Aegean, Halloumi Cheese and Smoked Veal. Pizza and Pasta dishes started at 18 and ranged up to 24TL. Vegetarian options, besides the salads, included pastas of spinach and porcini mushrooms, however only one main course was included, a vegetarian crepe with tomato sauce. A little disappointing for ‘vegos’ and an area for improvement!
For meat lovers, grilled beef, lamb and chicken kebabs offered little creativity in their descriptions from the traditional street restaurants however the Oven Baked Orange Marinated Chicken with Caramelised Onion and Tunisian Cous Cous sounded more like it! For me, the Oven Baked Rib of Veal was irresistible and the Fındıklı Kebap with Pistachios offered a welcome deviation from the regular beef kebab and worth a ty.
The veal arrived with a pyramid of lightly fragranced saffron rice and Moroccan flavoured spinach. The meat was ‘melt in your mouth’ tender and flavoursome with a mild creamy tomato sauce. The combination of the spinach and the rice created enough interest, but I was expecting a little more visually and gastronomically. The pistachio infused kebab was crunchy, giving each mouthful of ground beef a textured finish. I particularly enjoyed the sumac sprinkled onion, the slight bitter taste taking me back to one of my favourite Greek experiences in Melbourne (we do have the biggest Greek community outside of Athens after all!) The bulgur rice turned my attention back to Turkey.
I have neglected to mention that the main dishes were matched with a Californian Terra Zinfandel. This red had a wonderful nose of berries and the balanced combination of tannins and acidity lingered for a very pleasing finish. Now for dessert….
How could one resist the Dream of Orange dessert in the Orange restaurant and the Chef’s suggestion of Soufflé au Chocolat? The Dream trio included, Orange and White Chocolate Brownie, Orange Crème Brulée and Orange Sorbet and the Soufflé arrived with a brandy snap-like basket with creamy ice cream.
Firstly, the chocolate combination brownie was light and ‘chocolat-y’, the richness balanced by the sharpness of the citrus sorbet. The crème brulée was subtle with a smooth slight crunch and the presentation was outstanding. Of course being a lover of all things français, the soufflé was to die for! A light crusted baked shell welcomed you into the liquid creamy centre and the crisp basket of praline added a crunchy sweet texture with a smooth ice-cream finish. Yummy stuff! If that wasn’t a high to finish on, Chef Özdemir brought us an Ottoman Şarap as a ‘night cap’. This combination of pomegranate, sugar, orange juice and water was a very interesting and refreshing drink fitting for the end to a VIP evening of dining.
Throughout the entire meal the waiters were attentive and helpful, answering questions and providing excellent service, expected of a luxury business and leisure hotel. The difference in my opinion was that they were not only knowledgeable and professional, but also genuine and friendly.
Meeting Chef Özdemir, and being treated to his menu explanations was the cherry on top! For these reasons, I would return without hesitation and would like to encourage others to take the relatively easy journey to the Asian shore to share in this pleasurable hotel dining experience. I might even pop back and team it with a pre-dinner facial or massage!
Amatrice de bons crus et grande cuisine
Istanbul Marriott Hotel Asia
Kayisdagi Caddesi No 1/1
Phone: +90 216 570 00 00