“The cuisine at La Torre restaurant is not classical but rather, creativity is paramount”, food and beverage manager Tarkan Özdemir told us.
Let’s face it, getting anywhere on a Saturday night can be problematic in Istanbul. However, as long as you have a working knowledge of the transport network you can ‘t go wrong. With an invitation to dine at La Torre Restaurant inside Le Méridien Hotel in Etiler, nothing was going to stop Foodie Frolics from trying their culinary creations. Coming from Şişli, and my partner in foodie fun, Marc Guillet of Enjoy-Istanbul making the journey from Kadıköy, we both used our Istanbul transport nounce to get there.
Tips to go there
Tip 1: Get as close as you can to your destination via the underground Metro system or by ferry (for me- the Levent Metro Station, for Marc- a ferry to Beşiktaş.)
Tip 2: Try to know the buses along your route but don’t despair when either they don’t come or secondly you can’t get a backup taxi. Walk in the direction of your destination and you will generally find the bus you want.
After walking to Akmerkez from Levent I saw the 43R bus, my ticket to Etiler. Marc, although he waited for the 43R that didn’t come, eventually took the 559C from Beşiktaş. At 7:00pm we spoke on the phone and with our buses stuck in traffic we realised we were both near Akmerkez, not too far from Etiler. We both exited our buses at the roundabout at Cengiz Topel Caddesi and met along the last stretch, walking up to Le Méridien around 7:20pm. There is also the 59RS bus along that route. A taxi ride from 4.Levent Metro is about 13TL.
Art and design a signature of Le Méridien
On first glance the hotel looks like any other, however upon entry it’s clear to see that art and design are important features of the interior design. Linking cuisine, art and culture is the philosophy of Le Méridien, a partnership with the Istanbul Modern museum and many incentives in place for customers (a Komşu-neighbor Card with local coffee establishments just one program.) Other connections, one with a French perfumer who designed ‘the scent’ of Le Méridien hotels and a successful Food & Fashion show in 2013 (the first in Istanbul) demonstrate how essential the link with creativity is, to this member of the Starwood Hotel Group.
With 256 rooms, 60 suites, 9 meeting rooms, 2 swimming pools (one indoor and a 7 metre outdoor) a Spa, two bars (one with a panoramic rooftop view) and a restaurant, Le Méridien is a business rather than tourist hotel. The ambience mould of a hotel restaurant is difficult to break. The light fixtures and segregated booths are a nice touch and all the artwork on the walls and floors (there is a Bosphorus map imbedded into the floor tiles in the lobby) add to the individuality of the hotel.
Creativity is paramount in cuisine at La Torre
When the food and beverage manager Tarkan Özdemir told us “The cuisine at La Torre is not classical but rather, creativity is paramount”, the excitement started to bubble inside me. Could this be the Turkish food I had been searching for?
The wine list is substantial by the bottle, with both Turkish and International Wine selections. The hotel’s aim is to provide affordable wines (given the high taxes) and essentially promote Turkish wines, whilst including well-known International wines on the wine list. I was impressed that there were 3 rosés, 5 whites and 5 reds by the glass but unfortunately the Turkish choices are not what I would call the best representation of Turkish wine.
At the table, I requested the Urla Chardonnay 2011 but in was unfortunately out of stock. Cem Alkaya, the Restaurant Supervisor, brought some other Chardonnay options. The first a Sarafin Chardonnay was way too fruity and more like a Sauvignon Blanc, but the second the Kayra Vintage 2011 Chardonnay was less fruity and lightly oaked, more agreeable to my palette.
An amuse bouche of tuna with sesame and soy opened the evening accompanied by a trio of dips (smoked mackerel, smoky eggplant and olive tapenade) all of reasonable flavour, served with a range of fresh bread. After perusing the menu, the first dish that took my fancy was the Crispy Duck Salad. It arrived among many other morsels selected for us. The duck salad was a little disappointing, the coriander missing and the duck a little overcooked. A mixed appetizer plate appeared with nine creative mouthfuls (artichoke mousse, melon with feta cream, veal pastrami, dolma-stuffed tomato, salmon pastrami, tzatziki explosion, pickled mushroom, eggplant salad, glasswort tarator, topik), an array of pleasant taste combinations. The Tzatziki Explosion was a standout and palette cleanser, the yoghurt sack exploding upon impact in our mouths.
Cold appetisers very appealing
The following cold appetisers included a Foie Gras & Exotic Fruits Trilogy and a Crab Tartar. The crab came in a Soup of Fennel with a Saffron and Chilli Semi-Freddo. A lovely combination of ingredients but crab, which is not something I don’t enjoy was slightly too fishy for me. The foie gras on the other hand, was amazingly light and flavoursome. The first of the Trilogy the Terrine with Mango was an excellent pairing. The Crème Brulée with Figs, was delicious. The sweetness of the fig purée at the bottom of the shot glass balanced the creamy fois gras at the top. The third portion was a Gingerbread Crusted Pan-seared Foie with Jasmine Tea Sorbet all in a cage of spun sugar. Not only impressive in appearance, this concoction of tastes and textures was very appealing.
With each new dish, Tarkan Özdemir (the previous Head Chef) explained each of the plates. Next up, the Modern Turkish Börek Creation exemplified the restaurants philosophy, to provide creative and modern Turkish cuisine.Visually sexy, it consisted of three böreks each using a different pastry. The first a Rose Scented Duck Leg Wrapped with Rice Wafers and Pomegranate Seeds. A duck treat is a delight to have in Istanbul, since it is a rarity. The shredded meat was succulent with a hint of cinnamon that I loved. The tartness of the pomegranate seeds cut through the richness of the duck. The second börek came wrapped in Baklava Pastry with a centre of Sea Bass topped with a Sour Apple Salad. I quite liked this combination as no one ingredient overpowered the other. The third pastry creation was perhaps the most satisfying – Kadağıf pastry with Pastrami and Tzatziki Foam. This pastry usually found in desserts such as Künefe, is crispy and delicious. With the savoury interior the textural combination was lovely.
The Mega Mantı arrived on a bed of yoghurt. Inside it was stuffed with Adana Kebab, a good level of spice extinguished by the yoghurt surrounding it. The pastry however, was a little overcooked. The Pan-Fried Sea Scallops were a surprising hit. Served with an Artichoke Purée, Salmon Roe and Coconut Foam, the taste and texture were incredible, the foam light and buttery. I’m a sucker for creativity and modern cooking techniques.
With a pause to discuss the selection of a red wine, I was happy to converse with Cem on an even par with my five years of self-gathered Turkish wine knowledge. I requested the Tuğra Kalecik Karası considering we would next be sampling fish, chicken and then lamb. The bouquet of the wine was lovely, fragrant and plummy on the nose and medium bodied, well rounded with a lingering finish. A perfect combination with the dishes to come!
Seafood, chicken and lamb trilogy
It was time for a seafood plate, well bottle actually! The Gruper (Dülger) dish came inside a bottle shaped capsule. This ‘meaty’ fish not unlike John Dory came aboard a fasulye-bean paste. An enjoyable dish, mainly due to the variety of fish, which unfortunately was imported.
To finish our savoury exploration, out came the Chicken Wellington and the Lamb Trilogy. Beautifully presented, the lamb plate consisted of a Lamb Shank, Loin and Chop (pirzola) with Quince ‘Beğendi’, Mushroom Potato, Kadağıf Wrapped Pastrami Eggplant and Dry Plum Sauce. Each component complemented the next with the 12 hour slow cooked lamb shank my favourite. The lamb jus was rich and the quince paste added a nice acidity. The chicken was no competition for this dish even with its Pastrami Eggplant and Beluga Lentil Stuffing, Carrot Purée with Thyme and Carob Molasses Sauce.
Dessert: Turkish Coffee Bomb is a showstopper
If all of this was not enough to taste, we were told dessert was on the way. The showstopper was the Turkish Coffee Bomb that made an entrance accompanied by a gloved waiter carrying a flask of liquid nitrogen. As the tiled plate adorned with Raspberries, morsels of Brownies and Croquant Nuts was placed on the table, the Dark Chocolate bomb was doused in the dry ice and dropped onto the plate with a bang! The chocolate exterior exploded to reveal an interior of coffee ice cream. The Mango Pavlova’s entrance was all but forgotten. As I have said before, I’m not much of a dessert freak, but I do love chocolate and raspberries so I was quite happy. Being Australian, Pavlova is a friendly face on any table especially for birthdays and Christmases. This wasn’t chewy, crunchy and soft simultaneously as I have come to expect but the mango sorbet was fruity and fresh to cut through the sugary merengue.
Our Le Méridien adventure was over and there was an air of satisfaction surrounding us. The service was excellent and we felt completely attended to in every way, with Tarkan, Can Erol (the new Marketing & Communications Manager) and Cem to guide us through Le Méridien experience. Although I greatly enjoyed our intimate evening, it would have been lovely to dine with a full house, as it was very quiet and lacked the energy we are accustomed to out in the streets of Istanbul.
The additions of various foams, using traditional dessert pastry in savoury dishes and a touch of gastronomic ingenuity circa Heston Blumenthal, with the use of liquid nitrogen to enhance the drama of the Coffee Bomb dessert, I think this is a good step for Turkish gastronomy. The purist French or Foodie may believe some of the flavour attempts are unusual or go outside the parameters of acceptable French haute cuisine food combinations, but when you have lived here for several years and pine for different foodie experiences, any legitimate attempt to break some barriers of the traditional Turkish cuisine, I personally welcome.
By: Sally McDonald
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