Stanbuli is Sydney's newest Turkish eatery but don't expect the usual kebab and chips. The menu, by head chef Ibrahim Kasif (ex-Porteno), is all about offering mezze-style dishes - little plates of food you can snack on with a drink - culminating in more substantial dishes like marinated quails, giant lamb cutlets and smoky duck cooked over charcoal.
The bar set-up downstairs means you can pop in for a couple of stuffed mussels with a glass of raki, or take your time over a procession of dishes. Groups are directed upstairs (booking are essential). The bar downstairs is devoted to walk-ins of two or three.
Stanbuli inside the old Marie-Louise Salon
Stanbuli charms as soon as you arrive at the front door. They've kept the former facade of Marie Louise hair salon, a glorious vision of pink and purple with rounded windows. The restaurant is a partnership between Joe Valore and Elvis Ebrahanowizc (co-owners of Porteno and Continental Deli Bistro) and Ibrahim Kasif.
The interior has been completely revamped. Downstairs it's cool tiles and bar stools along the wall and wrapped around the bar. Upstairs it's dark brown furniture with striking blue and white patterned wallpaper, the motif repeated on the front cover of the menu.
The only issue we have with upstairs is the decibel level. Even at two-thirds full, it's uncomfortably loud and clangy with the echo of conversation, so much so that we ask if our trio can relocate downstairs to the bar. Staff are happy to accommodate this request, and reassure us that insulation will be installed upstairs soon to dampen noise levels.
Icli Kofte $8 each
Bulgur shell stuffed with beef, walnuts, chillies and spices
We immediately order snacks and drinks while we contemplate what to order. The icli kofte arrive within minutes, deep fried footballs hot from the fryer encased in bulgur, the same cracked wheat you find in tabouli. Kofte fillings can sometimes be dry but these are terrific, a tumble of seasoned beef mince, crushed walnuts and chilli that is juicy and well-seasoned. I'm not normally a fan of kofte but this is probably my favourite dish of the night.
I love, too, that our dishes arrive from the kitchen as they're ready, dispensed by waiters carrying multiple orders on large silver trays. They float and dip throughout the bar area, as clusters of couples huddle closely over drinks and nibbles.
Turkish beer and cocktails
The drinks list includes a comprehensive selection of rakis, as well as wines, cocktails and beers. I have the Efes, a pilsener brewed in Turkey.
Midye Dolma $3 each
Stuffed mussels street-style filled with fragrant spiced rice
The midye dolma or stuffed mussels are fast becoming one of the signature dishes here, and with good reason. A stuffing of spiced rice elevates these bivalves to a hearty snack, creating a kind of mini paella boat. These are a common street snack found along the Turkish coast but rarely found here, requiring patience and a significant level of labour intensity.
Use the top shell as a natural spoon and savour the gentle chew of mussel against the seasoned rice.
House Pastirma $9
Spiced air-dried beef and pickled chillies
House pastirma is the last of our drinking snacks, thinly shaved slices of air dried beef. They're just the kind of protein hit you need alongside a drink, served with pickled chillies that are less spicy than they appear.
Chilled lambs brain salad with purslane yoghurt, charcoal grilled olive and pickled green chilli
The meze menu runs from $14-$18. We're immediately drawn to the chilled lambs brain salad. Eschewing the usual deep fry disguise, here the brains are lined up in a row on a bed of yoghurt and purslane leaves, strewn over with mint, fennel front and pickled chilli. Soft and smooth, like a cold-set custard, the garnishes and yoghurt add pops of flavour and texture.
Cold fried eggplant and peppers in braised tomato and yoghurt
There's a heartiness in the cold fried eggplant and peppers, braised in a rich tomato sauce and topped with yoghurt. Vegetarians are well looked after here with the choice of six mezze, three sides and one charcoal dish - hellim sheep and cow milk cheese cooked over coals.
Fava bean pate with yoghurt, pickled okra and radish
Fava beans are reinvented in a slab of bakla or pate, buried beneath a medley of pickled radish, okra and chillies with more purslane leaves and fennel fronds to finish.
Turkish Cypriot style fragrant bread with mastic, aniseed and sesame seeds
We make a last minute order for bread, a Turkish Cypriot-style loaf crusted with sesame seeds, that's perfect for slathering with fava bean pate and soaking up the last bits of eggplant tomato sauce.
Fried cauliflower and charred onions in a perfumed saffron sauce
Fried cauliflower is a jumble of deep brown florets with curls of charred onion. There's an impressive nutty flavour to the cauliflower that still possess a gentle crunch in the stem.
Floured and lightly fried calamari with hazelnut tarator
I'd voted for the kalamar and am glad I did. Rings of fried calamari are tender beneath their armour of knobbly golden batter. The hazelnut tarator is a revelation too, the usual walnuts swapped out for the sweeter hazelnut, in a thick and creamy garlic sauce.
Spiced lamb sweetbreads, marinated pepper and onion salad
We continue our offal run with spiced lamb sweetbreads, cooked over charcoal until the surface has caramelised, yet still retaining a succulency within. Marinated peppers and onions provide a welcome sweet and acidic counterbalance.
Octopus and tarama
Octopus is one of those ingredients that so easily turns inedible in the wrong hands. There's no danger of that here. The tentacles are deliciously tender with a faint char along the edges for a smoky sweetness. The dollop of tarama enhances the taste of the sea.
Hand-minced lamb and beef kofte spiced with capsicum and chilli
We finish with adana, the closest you'll get to a kebab here, a classic mix of ground lamb and beef mince cooked on sword-like skewer. It's pure protein, served with blistered green chillies, red onions and chunks of grilled tomato and onion.
Ekmek kadayif $14
Bread soaked in orange blossom-honeyed syrup with pistachio clotted cream
Dessert offers a quartet of options each priced at $14. We skip the hazelnut baklava and tulumba and zero in on the ekmek kadayif. A slab of sweet bread has been soaked generously with orange blossom and honey syrup. The best part is the pistachio clotted cream, crowned with fresh figs and crushed pistachios.
Mastic milk pudding with poached peaches and watermelon granita
But the surprise delight is the mastic milk pudding, cool and slippery against the chunks of poached peaches and fluffy watermelon granita.
There's plenty to like here, with Kasif providing a deft hand and sophisticated touch to Turkish dishes that deserve more exposure. It reminds me of Movida, with a Turkish twist, in a good way. What are you waiting for? Book ahead or stroll in, and prepare to be Turkish delighted.
135 Enmore Road, Enmore, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8624 3132
Wednesday to Saturday 6pm til late
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1/26/2016 02:57:00 am