Walking along this restaurant and Hotel strip, the usual street appointed waiters try to coax you into their establishment with annoying persistence. As you approach Constantine’s Ark you are greeted with the smiling waiters who remain inside the restaurant seemingly un-phased whether you enter or not but secretly hoping, with an air of confidence that you make your own decision to try their restaurant. Marc Guillet of enjoy-istanbul.com and myself had a special invitation from Can Bolek one of the owners to try out his two month old eatery. We received a warm welcome and were shown to our street-side terrace table.
Turkish Cheese from various regions.
Being presented with a range of cheeses from different regions of Turkey seemed a great way to start the evening. We sampled the following cheeses:
Ezine from Çannakale (white cheese/beyaz peynir)
Örgü from Diyabakır- braided cheese (stringy cheese as we foreigners call it)
Kaşar from Tekirdağ (sheep’s milk cheese)
Otlu peynir from Van- (herb cheese with wild garlic leaves)
These were presented on a volcanic stone plate with olives, dried figs and apricots, cherry jam and lovely corn bread infused with thyme, dill and onions.
As we nibbled our cheese we sampled a Turkish white wine, Kav Narince 2013 by Doluca. Narince is my favourite white Turkish grape. I regularly explain it to newbies to Turkey (at Foodie Frolics wine tasting events) as “the Chardonnay of Turkish grapes.” When put in oak barrels, this varietal is enhanced even further. Unfortunately, this Doluca wine was not a great representative of the Narince varietal in aroma or taste.
Constantine the Great:
Throughout our cheese starter, we were curious about the name so Can informed us that he had created the name himself. Constantine the Great founded Constantinople during the Byzantine era, becoming the largest and wealthiest European city and the new capital of the Emperor. Being a city on the banks of the Bosphorus, Constantine’s Ark seems an appropriate and unique name. This theme is used throughout the restaurant with photos of sea vessels adorning the walls of the restaurant. The addition of beautifully designed Armenian lamps complete the pleasing décor. With a current seating capacity of 120, Can hopes to increase this to 200 to accommodate the groups from the cruise ships that regularly dock in Istanbul.
Onto the hot starters…we couldn’t resist the Grilled Calamari stuffed with spinach, mozzarella, saffron and topped with a butter and white wine sauce (izgara Kalamar Dolması.) The blend of ingredients worked well together. The calamari was tender and the buttery wine sauce wasn’t too heavy. This dish took me back to a seaside town between Larissa and Thessaloniki during my 2012 road trip in Greece, where I ate a superb tomato based stuffed calamari about three times the size.
What’s so special about tomatoes stuffed with rice, cinnamon and black pepper, you may ask? (on the Mixed Dolma Plate.) Well, as a lover of cinnamon and all things from the ‘Ottoman Palace’ cuisine, this simple dish was a real winner. The best one on the plate, need I say more!
On the advice of Can, we chose three meat dishes. The first was Kuzu Pirzola (lamb chops) with pilaf (rice), grilled tomatoes, green peppers and onions with an eggplant tomato sauce. Great presentation here with the chops stacked up and skewered with a roasted tomato on top. The sides helped add substance but the chops were a little too well done for my liking (a usual problem in Turkey when you like your meat medium rare!)
The next two dishes came dressed fit for a sultan with their copper cloche covered engraved traditional dishware. I felt a little like Hürem Sultana from Muhteşem Yüzyıl (the successful Turkish series The Magnificent Century about the life of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent.) This dish, Sultan’s Favourite (Hünkar Beğendi) combined beef in a tomato sauce served on a bed of roasted eggplant purée and kaşar cheese. A satisfying smoky purée with tender beef strips.
The Çoban (Shepherd’s) Kavurma. Marinated slow cooked lamb shank with baby onions, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, garlic and thyme was my favourite. A hearty dish with melt in your mouth lamb complete with vegetables. So often I tire of meat only dishes. Having the combination of both meat and vegetables adds textures, colours and tastes that complement each other to provide more interesting taste sensations.
All of this meat would not have been complete without a bottle of red. The Doluca Karma Shiraz Boğazkere attempted to fit the bill. Unfortunately, again I find myself unsatisfied with this winery no matter the level of wine (Kav or Karma.) There are so many other boutique wineries that are producing exceptional wine from every region of Turkey. There is too much sulfur in Doluca wines that reaps havoc, causing headaches the next day!
Time for sweets.
Upon first glance it’s always the chocolate soufflé on a dessert menu that grabs my attention, so the Chocolate Volcano Soufflé served with ice cream was my choice. Not being a real sweet tooth, the Figs with Walnuts was the second option and flying the flag for tradition, the Baklava Plate the third. With a grand assortment of sweet goodies arriving neatly presented, we tucked in with whatever space we had left in our stomachs. All dishes were pleasing, good quality and with uniform presentation.
There are certain unwritten rules restaurants are bound by to make their restaurants appealing in particular districts of Istanbul. Due to the high tourist traffic in Sultanahment, a restaurant that ticks many boxes is perhaps more appealing and successful. Providing a wide variety of dishes from local and international cuisines, to catering for vegetarians is a tall order. Constantine’s Ark certainly ticks off all these boxes quite successfully. Over time, I hope that they will reduce the size of the menu a little because the ‘quality over quantity’ theory also attracts people, especially foreigners like Marc and I who have been living in Istanbul for six to nine years.
Likewise, although it was great to see all Turkish grape varietals represented on the menu, I hope the next version of the wine menu includes a selection of wineries from all over Turkey. I would like to see successful wineries such as Suvla, Sevilen, Arcadia, Urla, Chamlija and Chateau Kalpak represented (to name a few) as they are producing world quality wine that would better compliment the food on the menu. (This brought down my ‘taste’ rating below.)
To finish, it would be remiss not to mention the high quality of service provided by Can and his team. All waiters speak English, are attentive, friendly and above all have been trained in professional dining etiquette. You will enjoy your time here as they bend over backwards to please their customers. With a few tweaks on the menus there is the potential to enhance the experience even further at Constantine’s Ark.
Address: İbni Kemal Caddesi No:13. Next to the Gülhane tram stop.
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