Tugra, the fabulous restaurant inside the Kempinski Ciragan Palace hotel in Istanbul has become an essential dinner spot in this international city. Both locals and hotel guests enjoy Tugra's wonderful menu of classic Ottoman specialties and contemporary Turkish cuisine served in a former Ottoman palace.
On a recent visit to Istanbul, I had a chance to experience a true Sultan's feast, sitting on the restaurant's luxurious patio, overlooking the Bosphorus and the skyline of the city's Asian side. Dish after dish of Turkish delicacies, as were served to the Sultans, were brought out by the restaurant's attentive staff. Dinner, lit by candlelight and the light of the Turkish moon, was truly a spectacular experience. Tugra offers one of the world's great dining experiences, more than just a meal, a culinary adventure back to the time of the Ottoman Sultans.
Dinner started with some delightful Roederer Brut Premier champagne, which was light and delicious. The setting of Tugra is almost as amazing as the food, the hotel was created from a former Ottoman palace and sits alongside the Bosphorus. The restaurant has some spectacular public spaces, rooms with a modern elegance and style that still retain their regal presence. Those inside spaces are joined by a patio for 20 diners, offering some of the most beautiful and most romantic views in the city (and possibly the world). These were views once enjoyed only by the Sultan and now available for the enjoyment of restaurant and hotel guests at the Kempinski Ciragan Palace.
The meal started, as most do in Turkey, with a selection of mezzes. These are small portions of hot and cold appetizers. The highlight was a large cold plate, called "Classic Tugra Treats", featuring eight different delicacies. There was shrimp mastic pilaki with plum and lor mahlutu, which is mashed cheese curd from fresh herbs, tomatoes and pine nuts. We had a lentil kofte with herbs, which was like a vegetarian meatball. There were stuffed grape leaves with onion, Circassian chicken (roasted Turkish style), some roasted eggplant which was really delicious and hummus. The final selection was melon and white cheese with rose water. Everything had seasonal vegetables and fresh herbs. The cold mezzes were followed by hot ones, including amazing vine leaves stuffed with minced lamb and beef, joined with rice, sour cherry, fresh herbs and clotted yogurt. We also had some Sac Orugu, flattened kibbe or deep fried, stuffed wheat with ground beef, walnuts, onion and tomato, flavored with sour sumac, garlic yogurt and spicy goat milk butter.
By this time the sun had set and we were then enjoying the twinkling lights of the city. Borek or dough dishes were next, we had a Sigara Borek, deep fried phylo dough with white cheese and parsley, served with tahini sauce. In preparation for the main course, we switched to a red wine, a 2011 Okuzgozu bottled under the restaurant's own Tugra label. The red was a perfect match for the main course, which was lamb and beef Kulbasti. These are thin cutlets of meat, quickly grilled. The tender and tasty meat (especially the lamb) was served on smashed eggplant with a patty of Aegean wild herbal micmer. This was accompanied by roasted tomatoes and peppers, with pomegranate and red onion relish. Like with everything else, the portions were huge, almost overwhelming us. Dessert, which was almost unthinkable at this point, was a delicate pastry with a light custard and fruit. A very modern, European sweet treat which made a perfect ending and nice compliment to such a lavish dinner experience.
Read about travel blogger Freddy Sherman's adventures in Turkey and around world at luxuryfred.com.