Thursday, May 28, 2015

Newcomer to Karaköy: OPS Passage

Dear readers,

As I mentioned in my previous post, Istanbul's neighborhoods are developing so quickly, it is difficult to keep up with all the developments.

Karaköy is another one of those neighborhoods! Until a short few years ago, Karaköy was an area you just "passed" to reach other areas because there were no hotels, restaurants, cafes or bars to speak of! Now... it is the total opposite! I personally have a lot of catching up to do and have come to this area more often, but my biggest problem is that I hate traffic! This is the biggest problem we have in Istanbul, so I have to overcome my hate otherwise I will never leave my own neighborhood!

And... I did just that this last Tuesday night! I received an invitation from Kiraz Public Relations firm to attend a dinner at OPS Passage located in the "Fransız Geçidi" (French Passage) in Karaköy and I didn't say "no"!

First impressions are very important to me and my first impression of the venue and more importantly the energetic and congenial "husband and wife" team behind the project really impressed me! The name "OPS" is not new to frequent visitors to Karaköy as OPS Cafe opened in the area in 2012 and you can say OPS Passage is it's "sister" but with a totally different concept, design and menu.

OPS Passage
OPS Passage has an outdoor seating area which wraps around the beautifully restored building for 30 people and an indoor dining area for 60 people with an open kitchen and small bar area with stools. 

OPS Passage
I loved, loved, loved the decor! That's where the "husband and wife" team comes into play! The interior design's concept was prepared by Esin Sözer Kalender, the founding partner of Arketipo Design Interior Design who is also the wife of owner Yasin Kalender. She very effectively combined wood and copper to make the venue light, airy,comfy and inviting. I particularly liked the copper lighting fixtures, copper salt & pepper shakers and water and wine glasses!

OPS Passage
OPS Passage has a very extensive and diverse menu (emphasis on seafood) so when you invite 90 people to a tasting dinner... you have to narrow down the choices! So, a special menu including a selection of appetizers, salads, mains, small plates and desserts was prepared for us to choose from instead of a "typical" tasting menu where everyone eats the same dishes. This of course can be risky because the kitchen has to serve 90 people at the same time! Kudos to Yasin Kalender for taking this risk! I personally believe that this is a better way to "judge" whether you are on the right track or not. 

I did of course peruse the regular menu and did see some other dishes I would like to try the next time I go.

I attended the appropriately titled "Family&Friends" dinner with my sister Meltem. We decided not to order the same dishes so that we can taste each others choices and as starter I ordered the "Spicy Prawns with Avocado Salsa" and Meltem ordered the "Marine Platter"

Spicy Prawns with Avocado Salsa
Marine Platter 
As a footnote, I'm not very happy with the quality of the food photographs I took because we were sitting outside and the lighting was not that great. but I can't write about a place without photos, so I apologize for their quality. 

The "spicy prawns" were super spicy and right up my alley because I love spicy food. The avocado salsa was also very good, however I personally thought that the two different tastes did not "balance" each other very well, but separately they were very good. While the prawns were very spicy, the acidity of the salsa was not a good accompaniment in my opinion. The two tastes were battling on my palate. 

The quality of the fish (salmon, octopus, shrimp, anchovy, bonito, etc) was very good, however, the "presentation" of the dish failed the test. I always believe that you first have to "feed" our eyes and then "feed" our palate. Besides just the presentation, the plate should have also included edible greens and mentioned this to Mr. Kalender. 

I didn't order a salad, but my sister ordered the "Goat Cheese Salad"...

Goat Cheese Salad
She said she enjoyed the dish (which I forgot to taste). The goat cheese was spread on thin pieces of bread (4 in all) and topped with pomegranate sauce with a side of chicory lettuce. 

For our main courses, I had the "Poached Salmon" and my sister had the "Organic Chicken Leg"

Organic Chicken Leg w/sauteed spinach & almonds

Poached Salmon w/potato salad and chicory greens

I tasted my sister's dish and found the chicken cooked perfectly and it was moist. However, once again it was a very crowded dinner... the sauteed spinach was a little overcooked. Also, this dish also failed the "presentation" test. This could be overcome by using a smaller plate or positioning the food differently on the plate. My poached salmon was cooked to perfection and moist, however, instead of a cold potato salad I would have preferred grilled root vegetables or baked baby potatoes.
The piece de resistance of the evening was the dessert! Although we could have also ordered tiramisu or lychee, we decided to just try one dessert and we definitely made the right decision!

Baked shredded wheat pastry 
These delicate morsels are shredded wheat (menu says angel hair which is wrong) pastry stuffed with lychee and lime ice cream with caramel sauce! It was divine! 

In summary, we had a lovely evening! OPS Passage opened just a few short 3 months ago. I think they did a wonderful job in serving almost 100 people at the same time which is no easy feat! There are some problems with the presentation of the food and the "balance" of the dishes, but these are problems that can easily be fixed. It is at a fantastic location, beautifully decorated with a very efficient and congenial staff.

As far as the prices go, I can say it's moderate compared to other venues of the same caliber and range in prices from 12-48 TL for appetizers; 28-38 TL for salads; 25-48 TL for mains and 15-22 TL for desserts.

Furthermore, owner Yasin Kalender is new in the restaurant industry and before opening OPS Cafe 3 years ago, he worked in the Maritime Sector and was a captain for 10 years. He is energetic, very hands on and open to constructive criticism. So, I recommend you try OPS Passage for yourself and let me know what you think!

Bon apetit!

Stay well,

Supplied by OPS Passage

OPS Passage is open from noon to 1:00am on weekdays and from 10:00am to 2:00am on weekends. Brunch service is available on weekends. Reservations are recommended. The bar closes daily at 2:00am and they are very proud of their "special" cocktails.
Tel: (0212) 243 39 07. Their website is only in Turkish, but I still advise you to visit it to see the lovely photographs and the menu is in Turkish/English. 

P.S. The first question I asked Mr. Kalender is "why 'OPS' and what does it mean?" The answer was quite simple. In Greek and Roman mythology, OPS was the goddess of  the"earth and fertility"! 

Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts opens 2nd hotel in Istanbul: Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul Golden Horn

Dear readers,

I don't know how many of my readers are aware of this, but Istanbul is a major metropolis city with a population of at least 13-14 million (the number might be higher as I can't remember the last time a census was done).

The city is growing so quickly with new neighborhoods, mega housing projects & office buildings metro lines... not counting the number of new shopping malls, restaurants, hotels etc. that are sprouting around the city that it's hard to keep up with the developments. 

Case in point... until just several weeks ago, I wasn't even aware that the Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts had opened their second hotel in Istanbul (fourth in Turkey - the other 2 are in Ankara & Izmir) in March of this year!

Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul Golden Horn
Several weeks ago I received an email from Buket Oğuz, Director of Marketing & PR at the Mövenpick Istanbul Hotel inviting me to a special tasting menu prepared by Robert Speth, owner and Michelin Star chef of Chesery Restaurant in Gstaad Switzerland and Wolfgang Weissert, a former chef at numerous hotels in Switzerland and Singapore and since 1997 a smoked salmon producer in Saanenland, Switzerland. 

First, I would like to say that I was totally overwhelmed with Chef Speth's cooking style and techniques but won't share the details of the meal itself, because it was a "one-time" tasting dinner and won't be repeated again. Kudos to the Mövenpick team for organizing such a gastronomic treat and if you find yourself in Gstaad, make sure to visit Chesery! I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

with Chef Robert Speth
As a result, this is how I found out that the Mövenpick chain had opened a hotel on the Golden Horn in Eyüp! I was impressed with the property and thought it worthy of sharing with my readers. 

To be quite honest, the "Golden Horn" or "Haliç Bay" is not an area I visit often and the last time I was in the area was to visit the Rahmi M. Koç museum with my nephew a few years ago! 

It is a historical part of the city and it has developed in leaps and bounds in the last few years. The Haliç Congress Center is home to major concerts, meetings etc. I already mentioned the museum... their is an amusement park, university and so much more. For complete details I suggest you google Golden Horn to read more about the areas rich history and other historical sites.

Offering all the comforts of a contemporary hotel with Swiss hospitality, the Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul Golden Horn is only 10 minutes away from the historical sites in the "Old City", 16 km from Atatürk International Airport and is convenient to the business and shopping areas in the city. 

To quote Ola Ivarsson, Chief Operating Office of the Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts in Europe, "This location is not only rich with history, but also perfectly located for the needs of contemporary travelers, whether they are travelling for business or leisure". 

Golden Horn view from the Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul Golden Horn
The hotel has 136 contemporary designed rooms (and 7 suites) ranging in sizes from 26 square meters to 32 square meters and all offer a panoramic view of the Golden Horn and of course all the conveniences and amenities of an upscale hotel property. 

I didn't get a chance to see the rooms, but I was impressed with the decor of the lobby and bar and lounge area on the main floor.

Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul Golden Horn lobby
Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul Golden Horn Lobby Lounge & Bar
Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul Golden Horn Lobby Lounge & Bar
Based on the info I received from the hotel to prepare this post, the hotel's decor is a mix of naval motifs (i.e. compass designs & interlinking chains), wave wood paneling, soft application of watery blues and generous use of white marble, black and white harbor photographs and lavish historical maps reminiscent of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman styles.

Our tasting dinner menu was held at Pruva Swiss Grill which offers an indoor dining area for 146 and a terrace for 90 guests.

Pruva Swiss Grill (supplied by the Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul Golden Horn)
 With an open kitchen...

Open kitchen at Pruva Swiss Grill
Where the chefs prepare specialties from Mediterranean, Turkish and Swiss cuisines. 

Also, the Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul Golden Horn has 6 meeting rooms (23 to 120 square meters) and a 380 square meter ballroom for up to 440 guests. 

Finally, to wind down after a day of shopping, sightseeing or attending meetings you can visit the hotel's state of the art Wellness and Fitness Center.

To wrap up...

“Sustainability and innovation is at the core of Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts and also at the heart of every thing that we do, so this was a natural partnership,” says Volkan Ongel, Managing Partner of Akgel Real Estate Investment (the hotel's Turkish partner). “Our innovative design and use of natural elements such as wood and stone not only creates an unforgettable sense of architectural harmony for guests but also complements perfectly the hotel’s unique historical setting.”

I totally agree! So, if you plan on visiting Istanbul and want to stay in contemporary settings in the historical part of the city, then I think you should consider staying at the Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul Golden Horn. 

Stay well,

Supplied by the Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul Golden Horn

Silahtarağa Caddesi No. 87 Eyüp - Istanbul, Turkey

Friday, May 15, 2015

AQUA @Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul introduces new Spring/Summer Menu

Dear readers,

I'm back! I know it's been a while since my last post (sounds like going to confession) and I do have some legit reasons, however, I don't want to bore you with the details... but, I'm back and I hope to write more regularly!

About a month ago... April 16th to be exact, I was invited to a lovely tasting menu dinner at Aqua Restaurant at one of my favorite hotels - specifically the Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul! 

Since it was still pretty cool for this time of year, a small & intimate dinner for 12 was organized at the indoor section of Aqua Restaurant to taste some of the gastronomic delights that the hotel's highly talented and creative Executive Chef Sebastiano Spriveri planned on adding to Aqua's menu for the spring/summer season and he wanted our opinion of his new creations.

Aqua Restaurant/Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul
Executive Chef Sebastiano came to Istanbul 2 years ago and I have had many opportunities to taste his food, so I don't believe I'm exaggerating when I say he is a creative and talented chef!

I do have a tendency to ramble at times, so first I will share pics of the new menu items and then wrap up my post with some "ramblings"! But, I do want to mention that since this is a "tasting menu", the photos of the dishes you will see below are not the normal "portion sizes" that guests dining at Aqua will receive. 

So... Let's begin!! Our first dish was "Capri style mozzarella cheese in carrozza (or carriage), tomato, basil anchovy ciabatta bread with olive...

Aqua Restaurant/Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul
A long name for a very delicate, refreshing and appetizing starter dish!

Our 2nd course was "Country bread bruschetta, tomato, poached baby calamari with orange scented oil.

Aqua Restaurant/Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul
This too was a very refreshing and light dish with mild flavors to enjoy on a summer day before a main course!

The following dish was not on the tasting menu given to us and was added afterwards by Chef Sebastiano and I'll be honest, it was my favorite dish of the night!

Aqua Restaurant/Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul
This is a very popular dish from Sicily (where our chef is from) and was served to us on a napkin versus a plate because you are supposed to eat it with your hand. It is called "Arancini"  or rice balls stuffed with meat ragu, peas and scamorza cheese and it was absolutely heavenly and rustic. It was so so good that I could have easily eaten a couple more! I must say I prefer Sicilian dishes to all others from Italian cuisine although all regions have very good dishes, but Sicilian dishes are the closest to "homemade" "mom's" cooking you can find in Italy as far as I'm concerned! A good eggplant parmigiana or shrimp marinara from this region are my other favorites but it was the first (but definitely not the last time) I ever had an Arancini.  

Now... back to the menu... our next course was "Sorrentina style gnocchi with buffalo mozzarella cheese, eggplant. cherry tomatoes and basil.

Aqua Restaurant/Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul
After enjoying the lovely presentation, you will also enjoy the delicately and perfectly cooked gnocchi accompanied with eggplant to round out the taste.

No Italian meal is complete without a "pasta" dish and our next course was "lemon and black pepper linguine vongole, bottarga and zucchini with lemon zest and saffron. 

Aqua Restaurant/Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul
I know I'm using the word "delicate" and "refreshing" quite a bit, but that's exactly how the dishes were. Since this is Aqua's spring/summer menu, Chef Sebastiano made sure he didn't overpower the flavors with heavy sauces, etc. because summer is the time to eat light! The linguine was of course al dente and delicious! 

Usually, soup is served as the first course during a meal, but here we were served an exquisite and creamy "Asparagus soup with morel mushrooms" and fresh asparagus, which happens to be my favorite vegetable: I wish it was available year round!

Aqua Restaurant/Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul
Be patient readers... don't forget this is a "tasting menu" so I still have a few more dishes to share with you! We were offered two main course options.

The first one was "Milanese style fried turbot filet with zucchini, black olive and lemon confit.

Aqua Restaurant/Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul
I definitely do love fish, especially shellfish, however turbot is my least favorite, so I can't say I enjoyed this dish although it was perfectly cooked. 

Our second main course was "Lamb chop with eggplant, buffalo mozzarella cheese, tomato, basil and arrabbiata sauce. 

Aqua Restaurant/Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul
There is this big misconception that all Turks (or a vast majority) love and eat lamb! I definitely do not fall into this category! However, the perfectly cooked and rare lamb chop prepared by Chef Sebastiano is a dish I would definitely order again at Aqua! The arrabbiata sauce definitely added a nice kick for spicy food lovers (like me!). 

The final course of the night: dessert! 

Aqua Restaurant/Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul
We moved to Aqua's terrace for dessert so that's why you will notice a "reddish" tint in the photos because the heaters were on (it was still cool to sit outside without heaters). This dessert is "Yogurt parfait with lime, strawberry compote, basil emulsion, strawberry sorbet and crispy meringue". I unfortunately couldn't eat this dessert because I'm allergic to strawberries, but I polled the other guests and they said it was very good and there's those words again... "light and refreshing"! 

Now to my final ramblings... It was a lovely night with good cheer with old/new friends from the media world and Four Seasons Bosphorus team, accompanied with excellent food and exceptional service ... what else can you ask for?

Sibel Benli, me and Leonardo Baiocchi (left to right)
Sibel is the hotel's Director of PR and Marketing and we've shared so many wonderful moments throughout the years (so long I don't recall how long) even before she was at the Four Seasons! I met Leonardo when he was appointed the GM of the Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul 4 years ago and although we don't get a chance to see each other more than a couple of times annually, you would think we were old and fast friends! 

Let's not forget our fantastic Executive Chef Sebastiano Spriveri...

with Executive Chef Sebastiano Spriveri - Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul
Sebastiano joined the Istanbul team two years ago and I remember meeting him for the first time a short time after he came to Istanbul during an event at the hotel. My first impression was that he was very "serious and a bit distant", but it didn't take me long to realize how wrong I was! Besides being very talented and creative, he's very down to earth, accepts constructive criticism with grace and he is friendly and funny!

So, make sure to add Aqua Restaurant to the list of restaurants to visit this summer (and year round!) for an excellent meal with great service... view and the elegance and refinement that are the corner stones and guaranteed at the Four Seasons properties worldwide... but extra special at the Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul because you have the Bosphorus Strait as your backdrop!

Four Seasons Bosphorus Istanbul

Stay well,

Aqua Restaurant
Four Seasons Bosphorus Hotel 
Tel:(0212) 381 40 00
Reservations are recommended for lunch and dinner.