Several years have passed since we last visited Istanbul, and in the meantime a lot changed in the city, and Neolokal was not an exception. Maksut Askar’s talent crossed borders, and a lot was written in the foreign press, he gained a spot in the 50Best Discovery, and he also made a pit stop in Lisbon for a dinner with Pedro Pena Bastos, in the now extinct, Ceia.

With very vivid memories of his cuisine and the way he broke down and modernized the Anatolian cooking tradition, a return to Neolokal was mandatory in a new visit to this Turkish city.

And in good time we did so!

Neolokal’s dining room keeps its very special charm, very cosmopolitan, it could easily be in London or New York! But in reality it is in the Galata neighboorhood with an astonishing view over Sultanahmet that it all makes sense!

When looking at the menu we easily realize that it all evolved and no detail is left to chance, a welcome menu, the menu, an explanation about the origin and making of every dish, and a guide about the Turkish wines – Neolokal keeps an exclusively Turkish wine list, and actually, they recently opened a wine bar, with an highlight on natural wines and authentic food called – Foxy Local & Real.

The tasting menu consists in a series of dishes to share, split into several Mezze sections (vegetarian, cold, warm), fish courses, meat, and of course, desserts. The client chooses its own menu, number of dishes and which ones.

Sourdough bread with mushroom butter

If on our previous visit we were delighted with the bread, we can attest it’s still a must of the restaurant, and now even with more character and personality, due to the living years of the dough, it’s really hard not to eat it with the entire meal.

After the bread, the courses promptly started arriving, with the 3 dishes of every section arriving at the same time, like in any traditional table.

Cabbage dolmade and Siyez
Siyez is the oldest grain in Anatolia and one of the first to be used by Men, here known as Einkorn, and used in this dish as bulgur, filling the cabbage dolmade. Mix it with the molasses, crunchy leafs and herbs puree and we have a vegetarian dish that makes us want to come back.

Root vegetables
Celery root, pumpkin, potato, Jerusalem artichoke, quince, and carrot are cooked to perfection in olive oil, following the traditional techinque zeytinyağli. Then served in different textures and at room temperature. A dish that showcases the quality of the product and techincal precision.

Topik, onion, potato, chickpea, and tahini 
A meze inspired in the Armenian emigrants in Istanbul, resulting once again in a unique combination of textures and flavors, where the tahini, the herbs and theirs oils, elevating the dish to another dimension.

What a wonderful trio to start!

We started the meal with a natural orange wine, Chamlija Kehribar Narince 2018,  100% made with Narince grapes. The vibrant color makes us think of an orange juice, the nose takes us to peach, apricot aromas, and a very surprising fresh character. A wine, that despite orange, goes more to a pet nat than a tanin showoff.

Su böreği
Su böreği is usually my choice for a Turkish quick breakfast/lunch. Kind off like a filo dough lasagna, filled with parsley and feta cheese. Here they obviously went a tab ahead, with the combo of shrimp, herb oil, crunchier doughs and “more cooked” doughs. Excellent!

Marinated anchovies 
Anchovies are probably the most emblematic fish from Bosphorus, being its vinegar pickled version a classic along the Mediterranean. In this dish, a special mention to the fig vinegar and the fresh white bean pickle. A flawless combo, full of flavor, with a freshness and acidity that makes us want to keep eating nonstop.

Smoked trout
A kisir salad, inspired on traditon where the bulgur is prepared with fermented turnip and black carrot juice. Accompanied with a delicious smoked trout, pine nut notes, pickles and a soft herb mayo. Another fresh combination, full of textures and flavors where once again the acidity had a fundamental role in the success of the dish.

To pair with this part of the meal, we had the Vinkara Hasandede 2018, a wine with peculiar notes, with highlight to the laurel, quince and lemon, working really well with the cold starters.

Neolokal’s version of the Turkish classic, prepared with lamb heart, instead of the combination of all the entrails. “Simple” and full of spices, reminiscing the magic of the Turkish cuisine.

Içli Köfte
A pastel made with a bulgur and meat dough with a minced meat and dried fruits filling. Another take on street food, with another layer when combined with the lemon and mint yogurt foam, garlic oil and parsley. One of those dishes we could easily eat everyday and be happy!

Erişte with octopus
Another mark on the Turkish food route, eriste is the Turkish version of the Italian pasta, here prepared with vegetable and fish broth, wrapped in dried tomato pesto, octopus and nuts. A pure comfort dish!

Accompanied by a Pasaeli Sidalan 2017 from the Kaz Daglari regionA wine with a strong personality, produced organically and with respect for the grapes properties, surprising with its herbal and spicy notes, when combined with the dishes.

Papaz Yahni
Inspired in a fish stew brought by the Armenian to Turkey, here taken to another level by the perfectly cooked fish (largemouth bass) cooked with notes of spices and a sauce with notes of olives and a rich fish broth. Delicate and delicious!

Mom’s Meatballs
Here the Anatolian mom’s cuisine is recreated with a kebab where the meatballs are grilled and accompanied by the traditional “piyaz” salad recreated as a sauce. Flavor, succulence and texture that we ate with pleasure with our hands almost at the end of the meal.

Lamb saddle
An enourmous dish to finish the main courses. Perfectly cooked lamb, full of spice notes from the marinade mix, paired with Mihlama, kind of a polenta, but much richer and flavorsome, and Uveyik, an ancestral grain, treated like a very al dente risotto.

To go with the warm starters we chose a Chamlija Papaskarasi 2016, another stranger to me, but the surprising wine of the night, with great elegance, reminding me of a mature pinot noir, with great expressiveness, very good!

Baklava itself is a reason to visit Istanbul, crunchy dough, honey, and lots of technique. Neolokal’s version was still in my memories from our first visit, much lighter, but equally delicate and tasty. Served with a pistachio cream, dry caramelized fruits and almond ice cream. A hard to resist sweet!

Apple cake
Another homage to Anatolian moms, an apple cake full of nuances and technique, with nuts and apple, a carrot cake crisp, walnut ice cream and a “meringue” without egg whites, made from the cooking water of a root named çöven otu . Delicate, with all the elements playing very well together. Pure comfort.

It is said that in Turkey it’s usual to eat ice cream bars in theaters, known as “Frigo”, here a bar with smoked black tea notes, raspberries and different textures of popcorn, crunchy and in ice cream form. A happy ending, after 15 moments it really seemed we were at a movie watching a parade of dishes and flavor interpretations that are not usual to us, but here with a rare contemporaneity.

The harmonization of the desserts was made with a Suvla Tatli tatli karasakiz 2017  a delicate dessert wine, intriguing with its flavors and aromas, if the nose identified red fruits, the quince notes had the real spotlight.

The service unrolled with great professionalism in a good mix of techincal rigor and relaxation, as the space and its nocturnal ambiance require. A due note to the wine service that has an essencial role to those like me that few or none know about the Turkish wine universe and its autochthonous grapes.

Final Remarks
The first time we visited Neolokal, the restaurant had just recently open, and even then we were surrendered to Maksut Askar’s cuisine, good bread, beautiful plating, lots of textures and lots of flavor, often using completely unknown ingredients to us. Seeing its evolution through the years and the beautiful path of its career has been an enourmous pleasure, culminating with a certainty by the ending of this 15 course meal, there is a lot that Turkey and the ancient Anatolian cuisine have to give to the contemporary cusine. From rare ingredients, spice combinations and games of texture, we all have a bit to learn and discover from what is made in this cuisine, and that is reason enough to visit the city.

See you soon!


Prices from 50€ – (without wines)
SALT Galata, Bankalar Caddesi Karaköy 34420 – Istanbul
+90 212 244 00 16

Photos: Flavors & Senses
Text: João Oliveira
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