Ottoman Meal Before Blue Waters in Istanbul

Photo: J. Bradford

When visiting Istanbul your Correspondent makes a point of taking a meal at Tuğra, which offers a dining experience as wonderful and exquisite as the Bosphorous that the restaurant overlooks from the European part of the timeless city.  Located in the Ciragan Palace, a former seat of the Ottoman rulers, Tuğra provides a refuge for those wishing to indulge in traditional Turkish food.

Upon being seated, the table is fussed over by multiple servers who keep a discreet but deliberate eye on it and its progression through the meal.  Upon being seated on the balcony overlooking the sapphire waters, the chief server brings cold towels and a beverage cart with selections on ice for the table to break up the warm night.  A fine selection of champagnes are available to tease the appetite.  Soon, an amuse bouche arrives from the chef of ground lamb with puréed eggplant to kick the night off with a savory taste.

Patrons may dine a la carte or via a tasting menu, but Turks believe good health comes from starting the formal meal with a soup.  Oblige the tradition. Try the lamb’s neck soup with chickpeas and peppers.  The shredded meat has a gamy flavor that goes well with the hot and slightly sour broth.

Beef kibbeh, a Turkish dish exported throughout the world, is an elevated taste treat at Tuğra. The minced meat is combined with onions and spices and cooked in a wheat cocoon nestled on top of flavorful herbs like parsley and dill and a serving of yoghurt.  The dish hits all the taste buds in a complementary way with the savoriness of the meat, with the sweet and sour tang of the yoghurt with the simple slight bitterness of the parsley and dill. Delicious.

For the finishing course, traditional meats and vegetable classics are on offer. Your Correspondent chose the lamb stew which was presented in astonishing tableside fashion. When ordered, the chef creates the stew, puts it in clay pot, and covers it with a clay and paper mixture. As the stew roasts and slow cooks in the over, the clay and paper top hardens and seals so that the stew maintains its moisture and the flavors concentrate even more.  When ready for service, the server take the clay pot and lops off the hardened top with a Turkish mallet enabling the smooth pouring of the contents into the dining plate whereupon the delicious scent of the lamb meat, chickpeas, mushrooms, peppers and Turkish spices envelopes the air.  The taste is as good as the scent of this dish.

Dessert again has many options but your Correspondent chose a lemon sorbet to finish along with a Turkish coffee which provided a sweet and bitter finish to the exceptional meal. After the meal, walk the palace steps down to the side of the Bosphorous and take a leisurely stroll. The view of the bridges lit up with the setting sun reflected in the blue waters is a sight not soon forgotten.  And neither is a meal at Tuğra.

For extra romantic dinners, call the restaurant to ask them to set up a table on the staircase  leading down to the Bosphorous.

Tuğra Restaurant & Lounge
Ciragan Palace Kempinski
Ciragan Caddesi 32
34349 Istanbul
Ph: +90 (212) 326-4646

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Correspondent:Jack Bradford

Originally from the East Coast, Jack travels extensively for his personal and professional projects. No matter which city, town or village, whether on business or vacation, Jack looks for establishments which are the ones he’d revisit with his best friends or clients. To him, these places accommodate and create an excellent and memorable experience – regardless of busy schedules. Jack is currently based in London.

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