Karaköy was once a prominent place of Armenian and Greek traders, businessmen, restaurants, shops and churches. I see new galleries opening, new restaurants popping up in old restored and renovated buildings, and lots of constructing going on. It is becoming a cool new hood very fast.
Restaurant Ferahfeza is the latest example of this ongoing trend. It is the new kid on the block. This place created a buzz since day one, barely one year ago. And it is a huge success story: in the weekends it is always full to capacity. If you want to enjoy dinner there during the weekend you have to make a reservation many weeks in advance. On July 29 they celebrate their first anniversary.
With my friends from our foodie group we checked out the restaurant once again. The location is really superb. In this modern, open rooftop restaurant you have a fabulous view of the Galata Tower from the bar area, and the Topkapi palace and the Golden Horn from the restaurant side!
Former professional dancer Gamze Ineceli, responsible for the kitchen and the menu, is one of the five partners in this restaurant. The expectations were high as the same team is running the Leb-i Derya Richmond restaurant on Istiklal Caddesi.
Mix of classy and easy going
While we were enjoying a green gin cocktail (with cucumber, lime juice and ginger sauce) creative director Gamze explained to me they fell in love with this rooftop location a while ago. “The building is owned by the Chamber of Architects in Istanbul and was empty. We loved the two facades and the high ceilings. They were so high that we artificially lowered them a bit as you see. We decided to have an open kitchen. We wanted to create an atmosphere that is a comfortable mix of classy and easy going. Our philosophy is that we want to share our food: that’s why this open kitchen”.
The name of the restaurant ‘Ferahfeza’ means spacious, open and is derived from a type of note in Turkish music. “It lightens you up”, Gamze says with a smile.
And that is exactly what the restaurant did to us that evening.
Aegean-and-Mediterranean inspired cuisine
I loved the culinary creativity of Chef Volkan Karataş and his team. The four-course menu was excellent with several highlights. Like all food served their cuisine is Aegean-and-Mediterranean inspired. “Not mainly from Greece, but from the whole Mediterranean”, Gamze told me. “From Lebanon to Portugal”. Always seasonal with daily specials. And only with fresh produce from Turkish soil.
We started with smoked artichoke with sea bass carpaccio, roasted eggplant with truffle scented mushroom tapenade, crispy onion smoked Antakya yoghurt, purslane and black sesame seeds.
With these starters we were served Tomurcukbağ Trajan Narince 2011. Only 750 bottles were produced of this white wine, which was faintly golden in color with green tinges, a subtle nose suggested lime and ripe apple while the acidity had tangy citrus fruit. At around 11% alcohol, it was smooth to a short finish and did a good job of washing down our cold starters.
Gamze had told me that she looks at the kitchen ‘as a kind of choreography, as a dance piece’. As a former professional dancer she has talent as a culinary choreographer as well. In all three servings of starters she and Chef Özcan decided to add artichoke in one way or another: smoked, confit and chips!
Warm hors d’oeuvres
We continued with a tray of assorted warm hors d’oeuvres. Octopus carpaccio, citrus marinate, red beet sprouts, orange glazed artichoke confit, mint flavored green pea puree, wild rice, air dried beef, watercress, parmesan, balsamic reduction.
The pairing wine was Tomurcukbağ Trajan Rezerv Kalacik Karasi 2011. An unoaked wine with low tannin, the terroir is easily gauged from earthy and slightly smoky characteristics. It was pinkish-red in color with aromas that were pleasantly floral and fruity while the palate hinted chocolate and cranberry. It went rather well with the equal variety of the warm starters
Our culinary feast went to the next stage with Çanakkale tomato fritters, spiced baby calamari, marinated samphire, baby artichoke ezine cheese fondue and artichoke chips.
As a main course we had red wine braised beef rib, slow cooked to perfection and so soft that it nearly melted on my tongue. It was accompanied by mushroom and vegetable couscous pasta. Plus a red wine from Boğazkere grapes: Tomurcukbağ Trajan Boğazkere 2012. Boğazkere (Kurdish: Şerabî) is a grape variety and a Turkish wine originated from Diyarbakır province near the Tigris river in Southeastern region of Turkey.
Some spices, mint, chocolate, berries and nutmeg mixed with florals were in the aromas of this dark ruby wine with purple tinges. Unoaked with tannins that were moderate and unharsh, it was a good accompaniment to our beef ribs.
The end of our delicious dinner came too soon but was a well thought of finishing touch: peach tarte tatin and lavender ice cream.
Tomurcukbağ boutique wines from indigenous Kalecik Karası grapes
We were lucky to have Tomurcuk Eroğlu accompanying us for dinner. She gave us some background information on the wines and their unique history.
“The grapes of Kalecik Karası were about to become extinct when my father decided 40 years ago to save these indigenous grapes. From three dry branches 40 he created a 10-acred vineyard, winery and wines. Kalecik is a village by the river surrounded by valleys, hills and vineyards.”
The Kalecik Karası grape is grown in its original terroir, the regional characteristic of the most suitable soil and area of micro climatic region of Kızılırmak River and the boutique winery concept, possessing the unique features of the grape. Her father, Sabit Ağaoğlu, named this place after his only child, his daughter Tomurcuk.
All Tomurcukbağ wines are produced with traditional techniques: from its own grape juice by spontaneous fermentation with wild yeast, without using any enzymes or other permitted additives.
We will definitely return often to Ferahfeza and recommend it to friends. We will keep in touch with Gamze too as she is going to invite foreign chefs to cook here for a couple of days at a time. I want to be there to enjoy their dishes too!
Thanks to Rene Ames for the input on the wines