The best view of Istanbul is from the 18th floor rooftop terrace of The Marmara Pera hotel. With a 360-pirouette you can see Europe and Asia, from Karakoy pier below, across the Bosphorus to Bursa. On a clear day you’ll see the old men and woman on Galata Bridge with their makeshift rods dipped into the Golden Horn waterway; in the evening, the city is illuminated, highlighting the box windows of swanky hotels and the snaking traffic below, all of those tooting mopeds and aggrieved Anadol drivers.
Hiring a globe-trotting anthropologist, a cultural food-sniffer with a sui generis palate, tells you a lot about Gürs
Adjacent to the rooftop bar is Mikla, the restaurant domain of chef Mehmet Gürs, where he cooks and promotes mostly humble Turkish ingredients in a fine dining setting. Gürs is well known for his understanding of the land, its traditions, and its people, travelling widely to meet artisan growers and producers; something he has turned into an international event called YEDI, a food conference with a focus on the seven hills of Istanbul and seven regions that make up Turkey.
Gürs works with Tangör Tan, a full-time food anthropologist, whose job it is to research and establish relationships with the best independent suppliers (kaymak, vinegar, pepper, honey, molasses, tahini and halva producers); no easy task given the expansive nature of Turkish cuisine and the many forms and techniques used throughout the Middle East. Hiring a globe-trotting anthropologist, a cultural food-sniffer with a sui generis palate, tells you a lot about Gürs. The kitchen at Mikla, therefore, is a serious workplace, a cultural classroom where chefs research, test and implement the best in regional Turkish ingredients.
There is an abundance of meat and fish on the menu: grilled and dried beef, braised lamb, lamb heart, monkfish, clams, octopus and İskenderun prawns, with everything presented in an assortment of high-falutin styles. Classic bases of smoked yogurt, roasted garlic and humus show respect and an appreciation of base Turkish cuisine, while Gürs’ flair for contemporary style and his use of more bizarre ingredients – kaya koruga, sumak and a multitudinous of mushrooms – create a modern and forward-thinking menu that has earned him a place in The World’s 50 Best Restaurant’s List, 51-100.
In tandem with the rediscovery and promotion of native ingredients, the food at Mikla has an elegant simplicity that draws heavily on Gürs Scandinavian heritage.
Born in Finland to a Finnish-Swedish mother and a Turkish father, Gürs draws upon a wide range of influences. Inspiration trumps technique, but that’s not a negative comment on Gürs’ technique, which demonstrates an appreciation for the classic French style and the terroir-based cooking of Scandinavia, but everything appears to be fiercely rooted in Anatolian traditions and the country’s ancient artisanal practices. A good example is Balık Ekmek, a common street food sandwich in Turkey in which the bread is filled with a filet of fried or grilled fish and served with a variety of grilled vegetables. Here it has been elevated to deluxe status with hamsi, the European anchovy of which are abundant in the Black Sea, presented as a crisp slice of dried, salty fish, with a fried breadcrumb layer on one side, served alongside a piquant lemon mayonnaise dip.
Monkfish is served raw with Yedikule lettuce (Yedikule means “seven towers” and is another reference to the number seven) and black olives from Gemlik in the north, followed by the whimsical Kuşboku Antep “Birdshit” pistachio with a chilli crisp and humus dip; Kuşboku translating as “bird excrement” as well as a certain type of pistachio from Antep. Both the dried beef and braised lamb dishes are more recognisable as Middle Eastern recipes and include mezze staples such as eggplant, Malkara lentils and pickled grapes.
The lamb is particularity pleasing, a braised shank served with Kars gruyere cheese and a plum pestil, which is sort of like a fruit leather strap, usually served in Turkey as a sweet or as part of a dessert. This is followed by a delicious pumpkin and saffron ice cream with a highly jammy apple molasses, offering a sticky sweetness and cheek-pinching syrupy glacé. Everything is interesting, modern and elegant, free from threadbare cliches and without ridiculous presentation, poncified foamy decoration or the hijacking of an authentic and bona-fide cuisine.
A plush Yasasin Kalecik Karasi rosé is served by the glass, the first natural sparkling wine produced in Turkey, followed by a procession of organic wines: Gelveri Keten Gomlek 2015 and dark and fruity Kalecik Karasi 2013, to name a few. Then a pouring of Gara Guzu Mayhos craft beer from Gara Guzu Brewery in Yeşilyurt Village, on the southern coast of the Dardanelles. The beer had a clean and peppery spiciness with a long, refreshing flavour. I love the fact that the restaurant is confident enough to promote local craft beers alongside natural wines. As pleasing as all of the wines were, on a warm evening in Istanbul, a cold glass of Gara Guzu Mayhos goes a long way to comfort the diner and remove any surrounding pretentiousness.
The bill is nothing outrageous, with three courses from the à la carte priced at 195 Turkish Lira (around £38) and 285 TL for the Tasting Menu, about £55 (an extra 180 TL for a six glass wine pairing). All without service charge, but for that, you’re given an eduction in thoroughly researched Anatolian ingredients, collected from the source and presented with respect, authenticity and flair, all the while overlooking Istanbul from the best vantage point in the city, day or night. C
Mikla, The Marmara Pera, Meşrutiyet Caddesi 15, 34430, Beyoğlu, Istanbul, Turkey
+90 212 293 56 56; miklarestaurant.com