Thursday, January 28, 2010

Asitane in Istanbul

Amuse Bouches: Olive Pate & Soft Cheese

Starters from Left to Right: Chestnuts in Cabbage Leaves, Lamb Mince with Sheep Brain and Calamari stuffed with Shrimp

Stuffed Quince

The most awesome Goose Kebab

Pudding infused with gum mastic, almonds, pistachios and seasonal fruits in rose water syrup

We visited Istanbul for Best Friend's 30th Birthday, what an amazing city. I'd visited it once before, but was still as culturally indulgant and inspiring as the first time. And being so called older and wiser, I had searched the restaurants with greater fervour, being tasked with coming up with these choices. Oh the pressure! Not easy when Best Friend is also a foodie and will be as critical as they come.

Night-before-birthday, I chose Asitane that specialise in "Fine Ottoman Cuisine". Now anything that conjures up men on horseback in amazing robes, feasting away always ignites my imagination. It doesn't actually have to be based on fact but as long as I can mentally picture it, I'm there. They claim to compile recipes dating back to the 1500s (they actually quote years against corresponding dishes on the menu), focusing on those meant for sultans, princes, kings and all other nobility throughout the ages till date.

Fast forward to 2010 and if this is how the then glitterati dined, how fabulous. Start with the amuse bouches: an olive pate and "soft cheese". As it was just us three girlfriends, we shared appetisers of Chestnuts in Cabbage Leaves, Lamb Pate with Sheep Brain (oh yes!) and Shrimp stuffed Calamari. What sounded like heavy and filling food was elegant yet bodied. The cabbage leaves wrapping the chestnuts were so flavoured, I almost mistook them for vine leaves. Everything had a depth that could only have come from curing and marinating the food before cooking.

And the main courses were something else. Quince stuffed with lamb and veal meat, mixed with rice, pine nuts , currants and spices sounded just so different we had to try. Quince had the texture of a poached pear with a slight bite and was just right to absorb the pulpy meat mince. It was an overall sweet meaty taste, enriched with the spices and currants. But the dish that really blew us away was the goose kebab. Breaking open the single layer of filo pastry, the smell that hit us had barbeque qualities with a sophisticated touch. Goose meat was torn and amongst pilav rice, pine nuts and currants. Perfectly cooked dark meat, with it's juices on every grain of rice it was truly the best kebab or even the best goose I'd ever had. For a bird that is notoriously greasy, it really wasn't.

The only sensible and guilt-free way to then end the meal (we were three girls dolled up in unforgiving waisted outfits) was to wash it all down with a Pudding infused with Gum Mastic, Almonds, Pistachios and seasonal fruits in Rose Water Syrup. Simple but pleasant through so many contrasting textures: Floral from the rose water, to crunchy almonds to the soft mastic. It's pretty much a form of jelly, and one can expect to see it in many traditional Turkish desserts.

I cannot more highly recommend Asitane just because it's menu is so interesting and nothing like what I would have expected. The waiters did accommodate every request with smiles, and every night you can be treated to live Turkish music.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Giaconda Dining Rooms

Beef Carpaccio

Crisp Pig Trotters

Cod, Black & White Cabbage, Sauteed Potatoes with a Butter & Chive Sauce

Pear, Quince & Apple Crumble with Clove Ice Cream

Howdy! Hungry Female is resurrected. After a long silence, I can no longer hold my opinions in! 2010 has started with a real foodie explosion: I've already had the pleasure of so many havens (London's Supperclub, Akari, Istanbul's Asitane & Mikla), I'm just hoping I can keep up this pace.

So my new year post is dedicated to Giaconda which I've been dying to try for ages. The rumours are true: it's in a slightly dingy room in Soho, instantly I'm kinda put off by the blue, velour-ish carpeted floor. Who still has blue carpeted flooring?! It's still very elegantly arranged, there can't be more than 20 tables. There is an instantly bacon-y air, though not off-putting, transpires it's due to the offal-heavy menu.

Which leads to the food. After being indecisive about liver mousses, braised tripe, sauteed kidneys, I settled for the Beef Carpaccio. With parmesan and a still unknown white sauce, it's a classic carpaccio which disappears on the palate. The Boyfriend's starter is more interesting - Crisp Pig Trotters on Eggs has a beautiful crunchy crisp outside and a deep porky melty inside.

Looking back on the meal, I should have been more adventurous. Main courses were well-cooked, but I had massive food envy looking at the other dishes coming out from the kitchen. It's clear one needs to embrace the animal and try the tripes and kidneys. Instead we played safe with the Battered Gurnard & Chips (basically fancy fish & chips) and one of the specials, Cod with Black & White Cabbage. I can't fault either of these dishes, only my own choices. Both fishes was fresh, soft and quite moorish.

We did redeem ourselves with the dessert: A triple fruit crumble of Pear, Quince and Apple with a fab clove ice cream. Although rather clover-some, it was one of the best ice creams translated from a spice.

Next time I return to Giaconda, I will be more adventurous and try some innards. All-in-all it was a lively little place, very attentive service and for circa £35 a head (we shared a dessert and had a lovely Riesling too), it's definitely a notable venue.