Istanbul - 114Galata Tower

Maksut Aşkar is one the most celebrated chefs of the new Turkish generation. Inspired by the epic history of his region and in a wide range of traditional recipes and ingredients (many of them almost forgotten), he gives the Turkish cuisine new clothing and new life, more contemporary and actual. After closing his successful restaurant Sekiz Istanbul, Maksut went to the building of the SALT gallery, in the joyful neighborhood of Galata, to open his modern restaurant Neolokal last year, as the name indicates the restaurant focus on local traditions recreated in a new way.

Similar to the Gallery, which not only serves as a museum but also as conference space, research and library, the restaurant, with a nice view over the old area of Sultanahmet, lives with a minimalist decoration, with iron, warm lights and wood, making the place more cozy. The open kitchen on the inferior floor transports us to a theater room, where a young team strictly follows the details of a dish under the lively command of a leader. There are those who find peace and quiet in that space as they stay there during the entire service, seated in the audience while they study.

Neolokal - 14After nicely installed, under the low lighting of the dining room, we started the night with some delicious cocktails (Istanbul is for sure a little Mecca concerning cocktails), a pomegranate Daikiri and rum with pineapple and almond milk that perfectly opened the hosts.

Neolokal - 13Followed by one of the simplest but highest points of Neolokal, the bread. Those who follow my articles know the importance I give to this food, and Neolokal’s was for sure one of the most surprising in recent times, made with a Sourdough they maintain since the opening of the restaurant, the bread has a thin and quite crunchy crust, a nice golden color, and soft interior, flavored and tasty. To go with a great paste inspired in the recipes of Maksut’s mother, made of tomato, peppers, nuts, tahini, poppy seeds and parsley oil. I couldn’t ask for a better start!

Accompanying, a glass of Turasan, Emir of 2013, a white from the Cappadocia region, refreshing with a thin body, citric and tropical notes and an interesting salty touch.

 Neolokal - 11Siyez, cabbage, garlic and parsley
Siyez is one of the historic grains of the Anatolian nourishment, here presented as bulgur, filling a small “dolma” of cabbage with a light flavor of garlic cooked in milk and a slightly stronger sauce, from the caramelization of the cabbage. A simple dish that while not being one of the most interesting of the evening was a good combination of flavors and textures.

neolokal nisan35589 çerkez ordegi – Duck Tureen, garlic and nuts cream, peach chutney, mustard leaves
Here we could almost say that France visited Turkey, in an excellent tureen, good flavor and texture, very well combined with the cream, which gives it moisture and the interesting notes of the nuts, in good contrast with the bitter leaves and the sweet chutney notes. A dish full of flavor and visually appealing.

 Neolokal - 10 Houmus humus, herbs and Tahini cream
Another element that doesn’t need introduction in the Middle East cuisine, Humus, a chickpea paste, here in a 3.0 version. Flawless flavor, elevated by the well accomplished selection of herbs from Neolokal’s bio garden, creating in the combination some more spicy elements, others more acidic, some bitter and some sweeter, all very well connected with the humus and the tahini cream that gives us an extra dimension and texture. And, of course, the bread also enters the score here. Very good.

Accompanying these starters, a wine 100% Narince, from Vino Dessera of 2014, a Turkish caste resulting in a wine with good acidity, medium body and interesting citric and floral notes. Worked very well with the dishes.

Neolokal - 9Octopus, pistachios, potato, samphire and raspberry
Tender octopus, prepared with the tentacles in a tureen, accompanied by an interesting range of flavors. The acidity of the raspberry, the sea flavor of the samphire, the bitterness of the mustard leaves and the more earthly notes of the potato cream with a light citric touch and of course the presence of the pistachio. Another flawless dish, visually attractive and with an excellent game of flavors and textures.

neolokal ekim30709 1Haddock, beetroot and Bottarga
The Haddock or eglefim is a cousin of our codfish, here smoked according to the most antique traditions of Istanbul, and sided with a series of elements that once again completed the dish and made the main ingredient shine. The smoky flavor and slightly salty of the fish worked very well with the sweet and earthly notes of the beetroot cubes, as well as with the sea flavor of the bottarga. All the elements united by the taramasalata cream and the crunchy of bread and radish. Another excellent dish.

Harmonizing with the last two dishes, a combination of the castes narince and viognier of 2011 from Kastro Tireli, a more complex wine than the previous ones, with a nice golden color and notes that go from dried fruits to peach. A great choice for these dishes.

  Neolokal - 7İçli Köfte, yogurt sauce, garlic, mint and lemon, parsley and garlic oil
Here we get even closer to the Turkish tradition, with the Köfte, in a deconstructed version. The dough is made of bulgur, with the thin meat being cooked with dried fruits and served with a refreshing yogurt sauce with a light flavor of mint, lemon and garlic; a simple and well composed dish that represents very well the essence of the Turkish cuisine and its wonderful seasonings.

To go with this dish, the sommelier chose the wine we brought from Portugal for this trip, an excellent Pombal do Vesúvio 2009 from Quinta do Vesúvio. And for our great privilege, Maksut himself and his sommelier came to our table to toast with us, to this dish and this wine, in a nice communion of Turkey and Portugal.

neolokal eylul30422“Fish of Fishermen”- anchovy, nuts “tarator”, onion and taramasalata
A dish to pay homage to the Bosphorus fishermen (and that could also serve as homage to the Portuguese fishermen). Whitebait, in this case anchovies, fried with a quite crunchy batter made of sourdough, over a brilliant nut cream named Tarator (made with fish stock, nuts, garlic, lemon and olive oil – it’s amazing the things they can make of dry fruits), onion pickle and the taramasalata that also previously accompanied the haddock. A dish as simple and subtle, as it was impressive. One of the best of the night, with a cream and a frying that I’ll miss the next time I dedicate myself to a sprat or some ”jaquinzinhos”.

neolokal ekim30673Duck sausage, bulgur Uveyik pilaf, onion, leek and spinach with star anise
Confit duck, pressed into a sausage, remarkably moist, accompanied with a pilaf of the traditional Uveyik grain, cooked with onion and leek at a slow temperature during seven hours until reaching the texture of a risotto. Linking all the elements a silky cream of spinach and some spinach cooked with star anise. My expectations of the sausage were not very high, probably for being used to and liking the duck cooked in other ways, however I was defeated by the technique presented, the good texture, and the required moisture. Also an high note to the brilliant pilaf, which could easily be a meal by itself.

 Neolokal - 4“”Katmer” and “Tirit”, yogurt cream and tarhana, dry tarhana
The viel cooked in duck stock, with coriander, cumin and paprika, resulted in a moist meat, ripped and full of flavor, similar to a good stew. The pastry is some kind of mille feuille made with duck fat instead of butter and the yogurt with double fermentation seasoned with tarhana brings a new dimension of flavor to the dish. It is another purely Turkish dish, with modern clothing and prepared to please foreigners or the most skeptical locals, all the elements are in the dish, as well as the flavors. A brilliant union between current cuisine and tradition.

Harmonizing, another wine from the Capaddocia region, a Turasan Seneler of 2012, a blend of Boğazkere that gives structure and tannins to the wine and that gives it elegance and the flavor of red fruits. An uncomplicated red but at the same time interesting.

When a meal is as wonderful as this one at Neolokal, we are often afraid of moving to the final chapter, the desserts, many times the poor relatives of the starters and main courses. Fortunately it wasn’t the case and the three we tasted filled my taste.

Neolokal - 2“Pepeçura”zerde cake, pistachio meringue
This dessert is the combination of three Turkish sweets dishes, pepeçura: a kind of pudding made of grapes, quite aromatic and with a gelatin texture. Zerde: a rice and saffron pudding here transformed into a cake, light and airy. And to finish, pistachio in the form of meringue and cream to connect all the elements. Everything worked well in separate and in combination, with highlight to the flavor of the pudding, the crunchy of the meringue and the subtlety of the pistachio cream. A great dessert.

Neolokal - 1Linden parfait, lemon cream and crunchy acibadem 
An elegant and refreshing dessert. A linden ice cream, with an excellent lemon curd and an almond crumble based in the acibadem, a similar sweet to our almond cookies. A great dessert, sweet enough and with all the necessary elements.

neolokal ekim30791Crunchy pumpkin, tahini parfait, Helva mousse and sesame crunchy
The last and most surprising of the desserts, the pumpkin is cooked in a strange way that makes it crunchy outside and liquid on the inside, as if it was a bonbon. The remaining elements worked very well, in particular the parfait that transmits freshness to the plate, and the main attractions are the little pumpkin explosions.

To accompany all the desserts was served a Symposium of 2014, with a basis of Bornova Muscat, a soft sweet wine, very different from our Port wine, Muscat or Madeira.

The work of the sommelier is praiseworthy, for the quality with which he harmonized the meal but also for his wine list, made of small producers and proposals created with basis in the Turkish autochthonous grapes. As to the wine of Quinta do Vesúvio that we brought, I hope all the team had a toast with it in the end of the evening.

The Service is interesting, once we are able to observe Maksut himself or his sous chefs serving the plates and explaining their history or cooking technique. A relaxed and modern style that pleases me when, like in this case, the professionalism is not in question.

Final Remarks
Dinner at Neolokal was the last one of our trip to Istanbul, and evidenced what we experienced in the other restaurants, Istanbul is for sure one of the best cities in the world to eat. We ate culture, history, tradition, and we ate a new era I called the Revisited Turkish Cuisine, where young chefs like Maksut ally their roots to the best techniques and presentations. At Neolokal’s table I felt like in Paris, at the table of the creative Septime, where the simplest elements transmit emotions we don’t expect, like the humus with herbs or the fried anchovies with nut cream. The space holds us and transports us to an interesting atmosphere of an intimate show, where we have the privilege of being interlocutors, with the food as form of expression. It was, without doubt, one of the best meals we had in Istanbul, one of those that won’t leave my memory for a long time.

If you visit Istanbul, this is a mandatory place to visit, make a reservation and eat culture, because there is a lot more than kebabs, koftes and baklavas to find out.

SALT Galata, av. Bankalar, Karaköy Istanbul
+90 212 244 00 16

Photos: Flavors & Senses and Seren Dal to Neolokal

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