The last time I dined at the Grand Hyatt it was to taste the Asian fare of a visiting Vietnamese chef. Wow, what a metamorphosis! The newly refurbished restaurant simply called 34, has been transformed into an open kitchen design format, featuring traditional Turkish and Mediterranean cuisines. For an avid foodie such as myself, this concept of dining while the chefs prepare the meal in front of you is an exciting surprise and promises an entertaining dining experience.
As we were guided through the kitchen/dining spaces, the attentive staff described each area in detail with the utmost sense of pride. To our left a transparent larder housed 40 different types of Turkish cheese with the addition of Italian Parmesan, need I explain its inclusion!
Next came the appetizer bar (meze in Turkish) where the traditional Turkish meze selections were viewed and chosen to each diner’s preference. All the favourites were displayed, from ezme (tomato condiment with red pepper, hot spices and olive oil) and hummus (spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic) to sea asparagus and dolma (grape leaves wrapped around a filling of rice, minced meat, grains, onion, herbs like dill, mint or parsley and spices). Salad, cheese and mezes can be found under the Charcuterie section of the menu.
Onward we crossed into another sectioned-off dining area, aptly named the Smoke House. Here the grill and oven take centre stage. Kebabs are prepared over hot coals and the slow cooked lamb and pides (thick Turkish bread and the puffed up pappadum-like bread) slipped into the traditional Turkish oven.
Italian Executive Chef
As we were introduced to the Italian Executive Chef Fabio Brambilla, he steered us toward his favourite station, the Kitchen where the pasta and other dishes are prepared. Sparkling stainless steel bench tops shimmered and the sheer size of the work surfaces were enough to conjure up cook’s envy… “If only I had that sort of kitchen at home?” I pondered!
For sweet tooths the next section will have you salivating uncontrollably. A magnificent Turkish dessert display shined before us with nothing left out. If that wasn’t enough, then there was another unbelievably stylish and delectable dessert table sporting international fare such as glorious gateaux, panettone, tarts and macaroons. Separating these sweet delights was a fruit stand for the healthy minded with fresh and dried fruits to sample. Note to self, “try to reserve a place in my stomach for dessert at the end of the meal!”
Lastly, we viewed the Patisserie kitchen and Bakery. I was pleased to learn that wholemeal bread is being made here. It is time for Istanbul and Turkey in general, to embrace wholemeal flour and prepare grainy bread to rival the abundant white flour varieties.
We then explored a couple of well designed meeting rooms set up for cooking demonstrations and private events. The attention to detail was impressive. From the furniture and lighting fixtures to the artwork and high ceilings, every space we were told suits a particular purpose, chic in style and the highest of quality.
After a sneak peak at a Club King room overlooking the pool we were ready to ‘wet our whistles’ and sit down for some serious dining. (By the way, the Club Room we viewed was situated next to the private lounge. Here hotel Club guests can eat a continental breakfast and find a couch to relax in an additional room to their own. The best feature of the actual guest room itself in my opinion was the individual bath and shower curtained off with a wooden Japanese style sliding blind.) Now onto the dining experience!
Sitting down to dine with the Grand Hyatt’s general manager Jan Peter van der Ree, the Director of Sales and Marketing Özlem Gökşin and Enjoy-Istanbul.com’s own Marc Guillet was a welcomed treat and I was eager to discover the design concept and philosophy of 34’s new look. Unfortunately for this foodie, we were not close to the food preparation areas this time but this instead enabled us to focus on our conversations.
Perusing the wine list, at first glance there was a large range of good quality Turkish wines from a variety of excellent regions around Turkey. Perhaps it is just because I have been sampling Turkish wines for three years now but the selection in my opinion represented some lovely wines, whites, reds and rosés worth indulging. Additionally there was also a range of imported wines from Italy, France, Portugal, Spain and Greece however, be brave and give the Turkish wine your attention, you won’t be disappointed.
Smoky rich pastrami
Within seconds our table was overflowing with a wide range of mezes. Le Chef de cuisine, Murat Dağıoğlu introduced each dish and provided helpful explanations. For me, sadly this time, there were no standout morsels although, the beautiful looking pickled porcini mushrooms held their shape and tasted equally lovely and the smoky rich pastrami was rich and tasty. We sampled the Sevilen 2011 Premium Chardonnay (one of my favorites) that paired nicely with our mezes and the seafood that followed.
Unfortunately, the lightly crumbed calamari was disappointingly dry as I was expecting the lightly battered juicy offerings I have eaten in street Balık (fish) restaurants in town. The Hamsi (anchovy) likewise were a little dry. The pastrami pide on the other hand was smoky both from the firing of both the meat and the bread in the oven, light and flavorsome. But I had to leave room for the pasta to come. I’m so glad I was showing an air of self-control, as the pastas presented next were outstanding.
Firstly, the Stozzapreti with baby shrimp and broccoli arrived. This square shaped spaghetti from Umbria was served perfectly al dente and the broccoli added a lovely flavor and texture to the pasta. Unfortunately for me, my shrimp experience continues to be disappointing here in Turkey; the crustaceans just don’t have the same juiciness I expect from years of living in Australia.
Next came the Porcini Mushroom risotto. This dark and rich dish oozed with the reduction of red wine it was prepared in and my taste buds were easily satisfied with a couple of small spoonfuls. Lastly, came the creamy Ricotta filled Tortelli with pine nuts. These generously sized pieces were jam-packed with Italian flavor and finesse, rich, creamy and delightful! At this stage I was wondering how I was going to fit anything more in…then came the kebabs and slow cooked lamb, oh dear!
Slow cooked lamb shoulder
Our waiter Cağrı Karaboğa, recommended a bottle of Vinkara 2009 Cabernet (60%), Merlot (20%), Syrah (20%.) With blackberries and pepper on the nose the lovely bouquet extended to a medium finish (14% alcohol) and had a nice balance of acidity. Next we sampled the Adana kebabs both mild and spicy and the much anticipated slow cooked lamb shoulder. For me of course the lamb was going to win hands down with its rosemary-scented, buttery and tender texture served on top of an aubergine purée. Not the creamiest and richest purée I have enjoyed elsewhere in Istanbul however the lamb itself was mouth watering.
With a pause needed, we strolled over to the glorious dessert buffet and attempted to select a range of morsels to try. If this was not enough, the Executive Chef joined us and informed us of the Italian gelato we were also going to sample. After spending the summer trying to perfect my range of homemade sorbets I listened intensively as Fabio explained segments of the gelato making process. With some new information in tact I was thrilled and perhaps had just experienced my favorite moment of the evening.
A stretch of our legs over, we proceeded back to the table where 34 Restaurant’s Assistant Manager Ümit Açıkelli, had set out our selections and made sure they appeared on our plates with care and precision. Cağrı presented us with the offer of a dessert wine, the magnificent Corvus 2008 Passito from the island of Bozcaada. This apricot coloured sweet liquid of loveliness complemented the array of sweet delights we began to sample. Just as I thought I could not consume any more, Fabio’s light and fluffy gelato arrived. Perfect scoops of gelato made with 42% chocolate, apricot chocolate, classical chestnut to the refreshing lemon and basil sorbet filled the bowl. The taste that followed was nothing less than a visit to Italy in every mouthful. Amazing!
Tea or coffee finished our impressive dining experience. The staff, Murat, Ümit, and Cağrı are to be commended and congratulated on their professional and perfectly attentive service, which really made the night extra special. Well done to all the management involved in this fantastic restaurant transformation. A big thank you to Jan Peter and Özlem for their warm hospitality and Marc for the invitation! I will be back in a week for a sorbet making session with Fabio. I can’t wait!
Chef Fabio’s passion for producing quality food that speaks for itself is admirable. With his expertise and wealth of experience in region Italian food, I expect to return again soon to see how he is guiding his team to meet these expectations. In fact, I have just learned that a special Christmas lunch and dinner will be served at 34. I will be there to sample more Italian delights!
Just one tip for newer Istanbulites. There is a major road reconstruction going on around the Grand Hyatt. If you take the metro to Taksim and follow the Metro underground toward the Gezi Parkı exit signs you will avoid the traffic craziness and come out to enter the Grand Hyatt through their newly opened side entrance. A traffic tip is always appreciated to start your evening out with less stress setting you up for the classy Grand Hyatt 34 experience!
Amatrice de bons cuisines et vins