Saturday, August 20, 2011

REVIEW TIME! Backyard...

Dear readers,

After 2 back to back articles on "culture clashes", I decided to lighten things up by reviewing a place that I went to recently... Backyard (

Before starting on my "review", let me give you some "reminder" info on my background and why I feel I have some skills to "review" an establishment.

From May 2001 to December 2010, I was the General Manager and Editor-in-Chief of the Guide Magazines. This included the bi-monthly issues of The Guide Istanbul and the annual issues of The Guide Antalya, The Guide Ankara and The Guide Bodrum. We prepared the last issue of The Guide Antalya in 2007 and had decided to stop issuing The Guide Ankara after the 2010 issue, but I don't know if this decision is still in effect. The Guide Bodrum has always been a popular issue and is being prepared - separately in English and Turkish for the past several years. During this period, I had the opportunity to visit lots and lots of restaurants, cafes, etc in the wining and dining industry in Istanbul as well as the other cities.

During the last 5 years at my tenure at American Express in NYC, I was the Regional Manager of Budgets and Administration for the Eastern Region (which included NYC - but not NY State; Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Ohio and Detroit) in the Establishment Services Division. Working with the DOS (Directors of Sales), RVP (Regional Vice President), SEs (Sales Executives) and TMs (Territory Managers), etc. I had the opportunity to visit and eat at some of the best restaurants in NYC and beyond. Personally, I am a major fan of Bobby Flay (I was a fan of Mesa Grill and their heavenly blue potatoes among other dishes) and Daniel Boulud and the wonderful restaurants of Danny Meyer (of course when I lived there, he didn't have the empire he has now!).

On my numerous trips to Paris - I have had the opportunity to dine at some of the best restaurants (i.e. D'argent.. Pierre Gagnaire, Market, Alain Senderes, etc.) in the city as well as lots of bistros, cafes, etc.

As a major wine lover (more on that in later posts) and "foodie", I have been a member of the Turkish chapters of Châine des Rotisseurs and Ordre de Mondial since 2009. In fact, in May 2011, I was a "non-professional" juror at the Châine des Rotisseurs competition to select the best young chef in Turkey: this chef will be competing at the international event in September 2011.

In other words.. on a "non-professional" level, I believe I think by now, I know a thing or two about the wining and dining industry.

Even though on the top of my list is eating "very well prepared food", if the service, ambiance and decor is not up to par... then the total experience is never a well-balanced one! Don't get me wrong.. I also LOVE "no frills" restaurants but am not a fan of places that contend they are 'fine dining' or are 'casual', but are not!

The wining and dining industry has really come a long way since I moved back to Istanbul in 1995. There are sooooooooooo many alternatives now where you can enjoy all sorts of cuisines that were previously not available in Istanbul (i.e. Lebanese, Japanese, Indian, Korean, Spanish, etc.). With this tremendous growth, keeping up with the service, ingredients, etc. has not been an easy task for restaurant, cafe and nightclub owners.  After the "boom" began.. there were many "crashes" too! Some restaurants and cafes opened and closed so quickly, confusing customers to no end! The main problems that I noticed for this problem was the lack of qualified service staff (including chefs!), high rents, opening an establishment in the "wrong" location... bad decors and sorry to say this... but "everyone" who had some money to spare, thought they could run a restaurant without having any experience in the industry!

Are there still problems in the wining and dining industry in Istanbul? Sure! But, is the problem decreasing? Definitely! For example, there are more and more women entering the workforce.. there are several excellent Turkish women chefs and waitresses at many eateries - once dominated by men! A women's touch is always needed I say! The wait staff is getting younger - more and more college kids have entered this market (before a no-no - most Turkish families didn't feel it appropriate that their children become waiters/waitresses or chefs for that matter) and most now have 'basic' English language skills.

Additonally, "education and training" has finally become a priority: several independently run culinary schools have opened and shortly, an academy to train wait staff will be opening.

Now... let's gets back to Backyard! But, before I start my review, I also recommend that you read an article prepared by my old compadres at The Guide Istanbul's website ( which they just posted yesterday and I found out from a post on Facebook today. Apparently we are on the same wave length as they visited Backyard at the beginning of this week.. and I went there yesterday.

I have been to Backyard many times since it opened a couple of years ago. It is located in Bebeköy which can be reached by making a right turn after the Etiler entrance of Akmerkez Shopping Mall and heading straight down towards Arnavutuköy (like at the half way point). The entrance is on the left hand side of the street right next to a taxi stand. Backyard is also right next door to the posh and expensive MAC Sports Center with a view of MAC's outdoor swimming pool and partial view of the Bosphorus.

Owned by Esra Muslu and Zeynep Moroğlu - two experienced women chefs (Zeynep is the pastry chef) with extensive experience in Istanbul and abroad, the eatery was totally revamped this summer. I had tried going several times before my last visit, but unfortunately it was still under construction then (early July). I also met Esra before when she was managing a different restaurant - she is a very nice person and loves what she does! I think these two girls make a nice team. 

Backyard has a small indoor dining area and what they did was expand the seating capacity in the outdoor garden/patio.

So, what they did was to add seating in the garden for those customers not dining, but just having something to drink (the tables are too small for dining)... and a split-level patio with tables and chairs for diners... it is definitely much bigger now!

It was a lovely and sunny Friday morning when my very good friend Zeyno and I got together at around 11:00am for coffee (and which turned into an early lunch!). We hadn't seen each other for awhile due to both of our crazy schedules and we wanted to get together and chat before she heads to Bodrum to complete preparation for her wedding - which I too will be attending in mid-September!

Since it was a lovely day and knowing that Backyard is "dog friendly"... I brought my little Luka with me and he finally had a chance to meet his "aunt" Zeyno. Undoubtedly, they got along famously!

We decided to sit at a table instead of in the garden, because we decided we wanted to eat as well. We both had busy schedules in the afternoon and thought it a good idea to eat to keep our energy up. It wasn't very crowded so we had no problems getting a table and I also ran into a friend - Phil - who I hadn't seen in a awhile.

The tables are set up to accommodate up to 4 people, but I just wish the chairs were a little more comfortable. They are not really conducive for sitting for a long time and are a little hard - a soft cushion would have been nice! There was also a lovely breeze and we didn't feel the heat at all! In fact, the breeze kept on blowing our napkins off the table!

Like I said.. we went from just meeting for coffee to having lunch - or rather a late breakfast - opting for a plain omelet (for me) and a Tava Tost (it was HUGE and prepared with toasted black olive bread, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, basil, arugula and purple basil) with an iced latte (for me) and fresh juice for Zeyno.

We were served fresh homemade bread (could have been a little fresher) and a tomato based dip while we waited for our food.  As Zeyno and I were too busy chatting it up, I didn't really review to see what else was on the menu. However, I did visit their website. Togive you a flavor... most dishes are organic, and include breakfast treats, salads (a little different from the rest with some more unique ingredients), mini-tastes, main courses (from whole wheat penne to whole lobster), and desserts (homemade ice cream and sorbet and daily specials).

We had a nice time at Backyard...I will definitely be going back to enjoy the "outdoors" before the summer season ends.. AND... for the winter, according to the article prepared by Talya at The Guide Istanbul (she started working there after I left, so I don't know her) - the outdoor section will be enclosed and used in the winter: the small indoor section in a separate building has a fireplace and will also accommodate diners.

Backyard is open from 8:30am to 11:00pm on weekdays (kitchen closes at 10:00am) and from 9:00am to 11:30pm on weekends (kitchen closes at 10:30pm). There website is in English and Turkish.

Congrats Esra and Zeynep! You have a very nice place, it's serence and relaxing - and bigger now too! I hope you much success in your future endeavors!



  1. Very poor meal last night and service ?? Not sure I see it.

    1. Sorry to hear you had a bad experience at Backyard but as you can see I wrote the review on the place about a year ago. Unfortunately sometimes things change with time, but I'm sure if you shared your comments with the owner or manager they would have been helpful... if you want to let me know exactly the problems you had, I can get in touch with them for you if you'd like.