Martini so dry the desert is envious
by Floyd Cowan
“Istanbul has a very vibrant restaurant scene,” Yasemin Uygurmen, Director of Public Relations at the Ritz-Carlton Istanbul, told us. “There are many types of restaurants with many different cuisines and people prefer to go to these. Hotel restaurants are not very popular as they are not seen as being exciting.”
When you come to Istanbul, don’t make that mistake. Not only does the Ritz-Carlton’s Atelier Restaurant have a great view of the Bosphorus, but it is an excellent restaurant with a creative Chef de Cuisine, Simon Wipf using all the local produce to enhance the meals and the drinks that Atelier offers.
Upon arriving we were checked in to a room on the 14th floor. One of the first things I did was to go to the window to check out the view. Looking down at the roof top far below I noticed a small garden patch where Simon, in his chef’s attire, was watering the herbs and vegetables. At the time I didn’t know it was Simon, but later when we met I knew it was him, even if he hadn’t confirmed it.
The Atelier Lounge, located on the Lobby level, is designed as a place to meet, eat and drink, offering bite-sized, Mediterranean-inspired, upscale contemporary Turkish cuisine, so says the R-C website. As nice as those words are, it is more than that.
It is populated by a staff that go out of their way to be helpful and engaging. I don’t think that Ayhan could have been more attentive or more engaging had we been his bosses doing a job review.
Being that it was early on a Monday evening Ayhan did not have many other tables to take care of so his energy and enthusiasm was lavished on us.
Just to slow this down a bit, and ensure that you really want to visit Atelier, let me set the scene, just a little bit more. Our reservation was for 7:00 pm when the sun was saying goodbye to Turkey for the day. It was sliding towards the horizon like a reluctant guest who doesn’t wish to leave - and he keeps throwing gold coins to ensure we don’t forget him soon. The coins of gold were reflections off windows across the Bosphorus on the Asian side of this great historic city.
And as we watched the ferries play on the deep blue water of the Strait, Ayhan began to deliver the opening salvos of a symphony that would swan across our taste buds and make us wonder where his next strings would draw us.
It was Tomato night as the tomatoes were fresh off the vine. One of my first appreciations of Turkish food was of the tomatoes. In too much of the world they are not the succulent beings they are intended to be. In Turkey they are. Nobody has modified them since God said, “This is tomato and it is good.”
With no disrespect to God, Simon found a way of improving on them. Alcohol. Let’s let Ayhan explain it. “This is a Tomato Martini. The Tomato is infused with vodka, and then we add Martini Dry...how dry do you like your Martini?”
So dry the desert is envious.
It is a closely guarded secret how this Martini is made, but there is thyme, there is Chardonnay, there are olives and tomatoes and things are squeezed and everything is stirred and shaken and then it is poured from that little metal shaker, poured slowly and with great care into your 1/2 hour glass and the sands of time erase time with a gentle liquid with a unique flavour. Make thyme for it.
And you sip, and Ayhan asks how you like it, and I say I like it. And Ayhan asks if I really do like it. This is their first serving.
The entire menu of The Atelier is new. We are the first to order from it. There are many choices that make it difficult to decide. Octopus, Sea Bass, that Ayhan informs us is very famous. I have the Greatest Hits of Sea Bass - you should check it out. Beef Tenderloin. This is what I order.
For starters there is a Mezze plate, which Farah said she wanted as we were reading the menus earlier, and Chicken Liver - which you may like and I may have liked, but our starter was the Mezze plate.
If you order the Mezze plate leave your expectations behind. I’ve eaten Mezze in Cyprus and Greece and other places that have little claim to the art, but this was a different and delicious experience. Take a look at the picture. There are many things well worth an in-depth description. Gently smoked puréed Egg plant, which was Farah’s all time favourite, hummus, stuffed wine leaf, and more.
Between courses Simon came by our table and we ended up in a conversation that travelled around the world to places we have been, to places we have shared and to places we would like to be.
Simon added a tomato salad to our dinner that came with the most incredible olive oil and balsamic dressing that I’ve ever had. It was truly incredible. The olive oil is specially made for the Atelier.
Then came the mains. Farah ordered the Octopus, and she was entwined in all its tentacles. I need a good filling from a lack of depth in airplane meals and so I order the Beef Tenderloin that Ayhan has assured me is excellent - and Ayhan is never wrong.
I am not a big eater and as I made my way through the perfectly cooked tenderloin I began to fade. Perhaps Farah saw the look on my face and she said, it is 2:00 am in Singapore.” This was our first day in Istanbul and the jet lag was smirking in my head.
“They have dessert prepared,” said I who is not a great fan of desserts. “We have to politely get out of here before my forehead hits the table.”
We almost made it. We had to take pictures of the entire team - everybody makes this happen. Ayhan understood, but Simon had arranged for a great dessert. My apologies fell on deaf ears.
“I will deliver it to your room,” Simon said.
I went to my room. I changed to shorts and t-shirt, and I was reading when the doorbell rang.
“Do you accept visitors?” the Club Floor concierge asked.
Simon was standing behind him with a gorgeous plate of succulent snacks and two big scoops of ice cream. What a surprise! We didn’t expect special delivery from Simon himself with such a delicious array of delectable, mouthwatering, delicately chosen sweets. An excellent ending to a fabulous evening.