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Restaurant Review: Tugra, Istanbul

Ciragan Palace Hotel, Istanbul, 34349
+90 212 259 0394
Cuisine: Turkish
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Adrian Mourby: We were fortunate to have a table on the balcony with an unparalleled view across the Bosphorus into Asia. How many restaurants look from one continent into another?
It is possible that the Ciragan Palace in Istanbul is Turkey’s most glamorous hotel. Everyone who is everyone - and who happens to be passing through Istanbul - tends to stay there, from the descendants of the last Ottoman Sultan to talents as diverse as Madonna and Daniel Craig— whose Turkish press conference for Skyfall took place in this distinguished nineteenth-century palace on the Bosphorus.
But even if the Ciragan Kempinski -just possibly- isn’t Turkey’s best hotel, the balcony of its Tugra Restaurant must be the best place to dine. The Tugra is this hotel’s signature room, which is apt because it takes its name from the elaborate calligraphic signature of the sultan, a tugra. The restaurant occupies several rooms in the old palace and is a delight to look at, partly because Kempinski recently restored its more subtle Ottoman paintwork after an unfortunate 1990s experiment with pink and yellow. Tugra is where the Istanbul elite celebrate. Indeed on the night my wife and I ate there recently, one whole wing of the Ciragan Palace was given over to a wedding party, lined up on its ornate stair case in white dinner jackets. Very James Bond.
We were fortunate to have reserved a table on the balcony. The maximum number of seats on this narrow parapet is 30 and you get an unparalleled view across the Bosphorus into Asia. How many restaurants look from one continent into another?
We began our evening in Le Fumoir, a part of the hotel garden that the new GM has recently filled with low-slung seating, hubbly bubbly pipes and a bar that glories in my current favourite gins,  Hendricks and Bombay Sapphire. I ordered a dry martini (with whichever gin they chose to give me) and my wife ordered an old fashioned. Barmanship in Turkey is sadly on the decline. In one hotel I visited recently my “dry martini” was just a slug of Martini-brand vermouth with ice cubes. Even enthusiastic journalists can’t help keep standards up as these days the Ministry of Tourism debars visitors from drinking alcohol on its tab but I’m glad to report that at the Ciragan Kempinski the art of a delicious martini has not been lost.
We stepped round the wedding party to walk along the Bosphorus to Tugra and take our place on its much-coveted balcony. We were greeted by a glass of a Doluca Serafin Sauvignon Blanc, Mürefte 2012 which has recently been ranked in the top seven Turkish wines. It is such a shame that Turkish wine has made such strides in the last ten years – when I first came here in 2003 there were only two dull state wineries - only to encounter a government that wishes to suppress it.
After being greeted by chilled camphor-infused towels on which to wipe our hands, we ordered the Meze plate.  The selection of tasty Mediterranean starters arrived in delicate portions arranged on a single plate like a clockface, instead of the normal array of plates and dishes.
The Kisir cracked wheat salad was spicy and delicious with a brick red tinge from all the chilis and tomatoes. The whipped hummus was much fluffier and smoother than I’m used to although the taste remained very much the same and the stuffed vine leaves were traditional which if fine if you like them but neither of us are great fans.
Next up around the clock was Haydari (yoghurt with mint and garlic) which was thick, creamy nd delicious, then Melon and feta which benefitted from a rich and ripe melon, a excellent foil for the salty feta.
We then worked our way through Shrimps Pilaki with Mastic, Artichoke Heart cooked in olive oil with sprigs of dill – always a winner – and Circassian chicken in mayonnaise with walnuts and dill which produced a tasty, soft rich paté. And in the middle of the plate, an Eggplant salad.  As my wife remarked “Hell, it’s eggplant with oil.  What can you say, but slimey yet satisfying?”
This was followed by the pasta course called piruhi, large triangular ravioli filled with minced lamb and served with yoghurt, tomato sauce and spicy butter.  (We followed our waiter’s advice to have them filled with meat instead of the other traditional filling of herbed cheese to avoid too much of a “dairy” feel to the dish). Here we changed wines to a barrel-fermented Sevilen Premium 2011 Chardonnay from Izmir. It was a good, creamy chardonnay with not a hint of excessive oaking.
All the while ships were going up and down the Bosphorus – gunboats, oil tankers, and Turkish water taxis. As the evening grew darker they provided a gliding floor show.
For the next course we diverged. My wife chose Sliced Lamb Kulbasti (Kulbasti means “pressed on ashes“ with smashedeggplant and kaygana (a kind of turkish omelette) with red onion relish, zucchini flower fritters, yoghurt. She was offered a glass of Tugra Okuzgozu 2010, a red wine from the Okuzgozu grape grown on the Anatolian plateau.
I had opted for sea bass, which came on a bed of eggplant puree with giant couscous. With this we shared a creamy and refreshing salad of lightly crushed cucumber chunks mixed with yogurt, pistachios and pomegranate seeds.
It was growing dark now and the Bosphorus Bridge, rising high above the old orchard groves of Ortakoi, was illuminated in a series of different coloured lights.  A great urban floor show for the diners.
For dessert we were offered a selection of sobiyet, baklava, bulbul yuvasi (the kind of baklava made with strands of pastry to look like a bird’s nest) and mastic ice cream.  Quite This would have been enough but the waiters insisted we try the chef’s chocolate special which was a brown sponge with apricot slice and candied peel.  After that we had to call a halt except for Turkish coffee which I can’t resist. It was brewed with just a hint of sugar. Going sugarless can be a harsh experience.
And then I have to admit we danced back to our room to the music of the wedding which was continuing late into the night.
1 Comments | Add a comment


Shirley Bartz
Definitely a must on our next visit to Istanbul! Thank you Mr. Mourby for this delightful virtual repast. I am especially eager to try the crushed cucumber salad, and may need to try my hand at Turkish cooking. Until next time! S


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14 February 2014
By: Adrian Mourby
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