What is it about the Porteño team? They have yet to open up a restaurant that isn’t just a delightful experience to be in. Maybe it’s because refining your cooking under Elvis Abrahanowicz always elicits excellent results. Or perhaps it’s because wine selected by Joe Valore, for whom the grapey drops have brought about a dynastical career, is consistently delicious. Or it could be Sarah Doyle’s lovingly curated interiors – be it the vintage furnishings or the cinnamon-scented loos. But who is responsible for the epic tunes at the latest restaurant they own with Porteño’s former head of meat, Ibrahim Kasif, Stanbuli? From Grease to '90s George Michael to Blue Swede’s 'Hooked on a Feeling', how could you not have a good time in here?
You can't. It’s too much fun. We head in on a Thursday night and the place fills up fast. You can sit upstairs in the dining room-proper, but we’re all about the casual vibes of the black and white-toned downstairs bar, where you can sit next to your partner and watch all the action of the bar unfold (for larger groups, you’re better at a table upstairs).
Stanbuli is situated in the beautiful pink and purple, curved glass façade of the Marie-Louise Salon on Enmore Road, just down from Hartsyard, Gretz and the Stinking Bishops (what a strip). The name is taken from the Turkish slang for Istanbul, and that’s what the food here is all about: real Turkish food, by way of head chef Kasif (who was a finalist for the Hot Talent award in our 2015 Food Awards).
And by god, the food is a wonder. Get yourself started with a Golden Horn cocktail, which tastes like summer in a coupe, with anise-led raki undertones and sweetness by way of apricot brandy (kudos for the little nubbles of pistachio on top too). Order up some midya dolma to sate the appetite while you drink. They’re little mussels stuffed with peppery, allspice-scented rice and they’re stupidly delicious. Get at least two apiece.
The pickled octopus over at Continental is the stuff of legend, and here the purpley tentacles are just as tender and flavourful, served with lots of wild oregano, coriander seeds and parsley, and a rubble of black eyed beans and cubed, boiled celeriac. Make sure you order a fat slice of house-made bread (soft, fluffy, warm) to soak up the juices, and try a fresh, clean Esporão Monte Velho Branco white wine from Portugal on the side.
You’ll get a few things served at once here, which we love, because it means you get a bit of everything – just ask your waiter how much to order, because sizes, as is the way with mezze, vary. Do get the kizartma though: tender swathes of fried zucchini and eggplant, alongside smoky charcoal roast peppers, topped with tomato oil and refreshing garlic yogurt. Make sure you’ve got bread for this too.
Cooking over charcoal is what Kasif knows best, and we are, frankly, flabbergasted with the charcoal grilled swordfish (the fish of the day when we visit) which is more tender than we’ve ever had it, anywhere. It’s served with preserved peas and carrots with a side of creamy taramasalata that gilds the lily in a way we are totally behind. Get a bowl of lahana salatasi – sour marinated cabbage with grated carrot, shallots and loads of coriander – to round it off.
But wait. There’s dessert – and it's not to be missed. Try a Barros extra dry white port for something a bit outside of your dessert wine comfort zone and pair it up with sutlac: a bowl of cinnamon-dusted, warm, nubbly rice pudding with (a bit too tough) poached quince, and gelato that tastes of evaporated milk – in a good way. Or go the tel kadayif: a huge serve of silky, orange blossom water-scented custard with syrup-drenched dried apricots and soothing pear sorbet.
After that you can leave and know you’ve tasted Turkish food like you’ve never had it before in Sydney. Sure, the place is a bit loud, but with service this attentive and food this delicious, we’re inclined to not really care. Plus, who could possibly get agro walking out the door singing “Ooga shaka, ooga ooga…”