If he had it his way, Attila Yilmaz would be back in the police force tomorrow. After twelve years as a police officer, Yilmaz was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, retiring as a leading senior constable in 2011. Five years later, he still struggles to sleep. Those restless nights are now used to jot down ideas and recipes for his flourishing new career, as chef and owner of Pazar Food Collective in Canterbury.
You would know Yilmaz from his Mexican-inspired Al Carbon food truck, off the road now, but still used for occasional events. He also set up La Lupita, a Mexican pop-up at Canterbury that was relocated and sold as a concept to The Basement (it's since closed). Both were created after intense research trips to LA and Mexico.
When he parted ways with La Lupita, Yilmaz says this was a major turning point. "Up until then I'd always cooked what I thought people wanted to eat. But then I realised if I'm going to get back into this, I'm going to start cooking what I like to eat." And Pazar Food Collective was born.
The wood fire oven
Pazar means marketplace in Turkish. While you won't find any stallholders here, it accurately depicts the casual raucousness to the place, a merry mix of locals and blow-ins clustered around an open kitchen. The massive wood fire oven takes centre stage. It's Yilmaz's pride and joy, designed to be large enough to cook several lambs at once. The menu is Turkish and Middle Eastern with the occasional Mexican twist.
Zucchini herb balls with feta and sumac yoghurt $8.50 for 3
We take up a table outside, warmed by outdoor heaters as the sun sets. Our party of eight is happy to order the Collective Sharing Feast, a chef's selection of at least 10 different dishes for $45 per person (available for groups of at least four, and mandatory for groups of eight or more). I've provided standard menu prices below each photo. One member of our party works with Yilmaz's wife so we immediately receive a family-style welcome. We also get a generous variety of dishes as Yilmaz pulls out all the stops.
There's some strange purple lighting out the back so some photos are missing, but I can tell you we start with a terrific mound of hummus with Sicilian braised mint peas and fermented chilli. Next comes a plate of roast pickled baby beetroot with whipped haydari herbed feta and then a build-your-own assembly of lettuce cups with red lentil kofte ssam.
My standout of the starters is the smoked labne, laced with a dense smokiness that I cannot resist. We dip and dab our way through everything with warm squares of wood oven-baked pide bread encrusted with sesame seeds and nigella.
Zucchini herb balls are another highlight, fooling me first as falafel lookalikes but then quickly revealing themselves as fresh and crunchy zucchini fritters, splashed with cooling yoghurt sprinkled with sumac.
Wood roast blackened pumpkin $16
Wood roast blackened pumpkin is another vegetarian win. The massive hunk of pumpkin is engulfed in a tidal wave of pepita salsa verde. A rubble of crumbled feta and toasted almonds add saltiness and crunch.
Whole wood roasted blackened pumpkin
I spy the whole blackened pumpkin in the kitchen. It's a magnificent idea to roast it whole, intensifying its natural sweetness while adding a smoky char.
Spiced beef stuffed eggplant $21
It's not until our seventh dish that we finally encounter meat, not that we'd really missed it in our preceding six courses of vegetarian dishes. I do appreciate the inclusion of spiced beef mince in the roasted eggplant though. It's the kind of warm and hearty dish that ticks all the boxes for comfort food. Melted cheese, pine nuts, Turkish currants and a splash of mulberry molasses add texture and tang.
Turkish Caesar salad
Yilmaz sends out one of his off-the-menu creations: his version of a Turkish Caesar salad swapping out bacon for thin shavings of pastirma, and croutons for baby radishes. Buried beneath the snowstorm of cheese is a runny egg, best pierced so its sticky egg yolk runs everywhere.
Chilli mussels $19
We happily get messy with chilli mussels, prising them apart with fingers and using our teeth to scrape the meat off the shell. The mussels have been baked in a thick tomato sauce spiked with white wine, and liberally garnished with a zingy gremolata.
Pork cutlet $28
The 280-gram pork cutlet is wondrously tender, the result of a gentle sous vide before hitting the grill. Pickled vegetables, roasted pineapple and an intriguing peanut salsa verde round out this dish but it's the pork bone that's the real prize. Wait until everyone else is distracted and sneak in for the best bit. I did.
Smoked lamb shoulder $34
The onslaught of food continues with smoked lamb shoulder. The meat falls apart with the gentlest of nudges, served with a bulgur butter pilaf and a tomato herb salsa for freshness. Lamb shoulder is such a flavoursome cut - no wonder it's said to be most butchers' favourite cut.
Harissa roasted chicken $26
And then we're presented with the harissa roasted chicken. It's everything you want in a chicken: succulent flesh encased in a crisp skin. A bed of fermented chilli hummus acts as both a dip and a sauce.
Tres leche cake $14
We're spent but we can't say no to a spoonful of dessert. Yilmaz is proud of their modified tres leche cake, designed by a young chef given room to experiment in his kitchen. She came up with a habanero caramel with a raspberry mezcal and lime sauce.
It works brilliantly. The milky sweetness of the cake gets a tongue-tingling hit from the habanero caramel. The raspberry mezcal provides a sweet alcoholic kick.
Fun times in Canterbury? You bet. I'm heading back for that smoked labne.
NB. We paid for our meal here although we probably did score extra dishes and a free dessert.
Pazar Food Collective
325 Canterbury Road, Canterbury, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8964 9334
Tuesday to Friday 6pm-10pm
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5/19/2016 02:28:00 am