Chef Ibrahim Kasif brings the spirited flavours of Turkey to Sydney at Stanbuli - it's classic, it's contemporary and it's a whole lot of fun.
Every few weeks Ibrahim Kasif's grandmother climbs the stairs to the firstfloor dining room at Stanbuli to eat her grandson's food - and she loves it.
It's an illustration of how Kasif's cooking has in some ways come full circle.
"It's funny," says Kasif. "You learn all these techniques and amazing tricks, but the default is my grandmother's cooking and my mother's cooking. These are the flavours I adored growing up, and that's what I try to emulate."
The chef-patron of Stanbuli, whose heritage is Turkish-Cypriot, was first inspired to open a Turkish restaurant as an apprentice working at Peter Conistis's modern Greek restaurant Omega. "I thought it was exciting that he was reinterpreting his own cuisine, and I thought then I wanted to do something with Turkish food."
A decade later, enter partners Joe Valore, Elvis Abrahanowicz and Sarah Doyle of Porteño, where Kasif worked as a senior chef for three years. Together they renovated the former Marie-Louise beauty salon on Enmore Road, retaining the glorious façade, and transforming the interior. The simple, clean fit-out recalls the meyhanes, or tavernas, of Turkey without leaning on clichés. Its white walls are hung with pictures sourced from Istanbul along with the accordion-style lanterns, the bar is topped with marble, the floor elegantly tiled, and not a rug in sight.
And it's a hit. The combination of flavoursome food, charming service and an irresistible fun vibe won a fast following when it opened late last year.
The menu is rooted in tradition with the occasional contemporary twist. "I may have played on flavours but in a subtle way, not changing what the dish stands for," says Kasif.
He's especially proud of the stuffed mussels, a typical street dish that won't be coming off the menu any time soon. "To me they taste exactly like they do on the street - very peppery, very strong on allspice. They haven't been reinterpreted or tricked up."
In keeping with the meyhanes, eating at Stanbuli is about small plates, many cooked over charcoal made fragrant with raw ironbark. The octopus that follows is a case in point. The secret is cooking it twice: poaching it, drying it overnight, then grilling it to perfection. "We don't sous-vide it. It's just real honest cookery." Served with the luscious tarama, it's a luxurious dish.
The shepherd's salad, a childhood favourite, is a fresh foil to rich dishes such as the duck. "We take a lot of pride in it, just like my mum and my grandmother used to. They'd take great care preparing the salad, even though we had it every night. There's a lot of love goes into it."
Recipes by Stanbuli