[编辑 Editor 吕大人 英译 Translator 刘大人 摄影 Photographer 刘大人]
Turkish food is quite underrated in Johor Bahru. Largely the heritage of Ottoman cuisine, a fusion and refinement of Central Asian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European and Balkan cuisines, Turkish cuisine has, in turn, influenced those and other neighbouring cuisines, along with traditional Turkic elements to create a vast array of specialities. After all, even the great Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “If the earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.”
Hypes of regal proportion began scurrying through the local dining scene when the residents in Horizon Hills welcomed the addition of Istanbul, a new Turkish restaurant that Sultans would approve. Stepping into Istanbul Restaurant is like being suddenly transported to Turkey via Doraemon’s Dokodemo Door. We had to remove our shoes though before entering. Still, we certainly wouldn’t mind walking barefooted as there are Persian rugs sprawled all over the ground.
Opened in October 2019 by Stefan Mintchev, a restauranteur and chef-owner of an Italian pizzeria, Bulgarian bistro & bar, Mexican cafe and a wine grocer, the Turkish restaurant manages to inject a much hipster-ish yet modern vibe to the Horizon Hills neighbourhood. When in Istanbul, Stefan is Mustaffa. In his heavily accented English, we were enlightened by tales on his family heritage which included a history and geography lesson about the region where Istanbul is situated.
With beautiful stained-glass lamps, decorative plates, mosaic tiles and lengths of woven Turkish carpets, the ornate dining room seeks to evoke an Ottoman sumptuousness. Just look at the intricate details on them, Stefan makes us feel as good as we are dining in Istanbul – passport, air-ticket and visa-free of course.
We can also choose to sit reclined on the carpeted floor strewn with comfortable soft cushions and pillows under a canopy, just like how the old Ottomans partied way back then. A section is actually cordoned off on one side to create this more cosy ambience.
Taking our seats at the Sultan’s Table, we waited patiently as Chef Shaban and Chef Recep began whipping up a series of dishes to give us an unforgettable taste of Ottoman recipes. We began by proposing a toast to Stefan with Airan (traditional Turkish yoghurt drink).
A definite mainstay of Turkish tables and known as the best way to quench one’s thirst, Airan is made by mixing yoghurt, water and salt. We loved how the tartness wakes our palate, and its cold creaminess offers a nice respite after an assault of spices. We took our own sweet time with the drink, knowing they will come in useful throughout the meal.
Mangul Salata, Humus, Muhammara & Olivye
Turkish cuisine is mainly known for its wide selection of appetisers and starters. However, when we say “appetiser or starter,” we don’t mean a small dish served before the main meal but rather a few rounds of delectable hot and cold treats that often end up being the main attraction LOL. Priced at RM16 each, we pick from any 4 combinations of cold Meze for RM57 or a choice of 7 for RM99 as well. We conservatively opt for only four starters in Mangul Salata (charcoal-grilled vegetables mixed with olive oil), Humus (traditional middle eastern tahini dip with chickpeas), Muhammara (red pepper dip topped with pomegranate molasses) and Olivye (fondly called the Russian Salad). Served with complimentary homemade Ekmek (Turkish flatbread), the shape is just right for tearing apart and scooping up the humus or muhammara.
Stefan also introduced us to the Balon, which is thin, crispy and puffs up high as it cooks. Served piping hot with a hollow centre full of steam, this “balloon bread” also makes an excellent appetiser on its own or pairs well with our choice of Mezes. Honestly, this assortment of meze with bread would make a hearty and healthy meal in itself already. No wonder meals in Turkey can last for hours on end, as the meze alone is always enjoyed together with drinks and a lot of good conversation before the mains are served.
As its name describes, the Hellim Izgara is a mixed salad made with a selection of grilled vegetables like eggplant, carrot, mushroom, tomato, cucumber, pumpkin, onion and fresh lettuce with fried Hellim Cheese. Being cheese lovers ourselves, we love the robust and deeply savoury flavour, made with a mixture of goat and sheep milk with a texture similar to mozzarella. Given its strong taste, we highly recommend this to go along with the grilled vegetables.
PIDE & LACHMACUN
Our Kusbasi Pide comes in a boat-shaped, pizza-like miracle topped with cheese, chilli flakes and many other ingredients. Both vegetarians and meat-eaters will enjoy this Turkish bread with one side favouring the former with loads of tomato, capsicum, mushroom and parsley. At the same time, the other half is generously filled and beef. What can we say? HIGH RECOMMENDED!
CHORBA + ANA YEMEKLEL
Kurban Corba + Istanbul Güveç
After the light mezzes and refreshing salads, we moved on to the big boys, beginning with the lamb soup or Kurban Corba. Without being overly gamey and balanced by the flavours of the herbs, the fall-off-the-bone tender lamb shank soaked up the delicious thick gravy cooked with potato, carrot and onion, with the taste further accentuated by our favourite chopped coriander. Beef lovers like us would also adore the Istanbul Guvec, a traditional Turkish slow-cooked casserole made with a tasty stew of sirloin beef, eggplant, onion, garlic, capsicum and potatoes. We scooped up everything and thoroughly enjoyed the dish right to the very last bit!
For the uninitiated, Turkey is surrounded by seas which contain a large variety of fish. Typically grilled, fried or simmered by the buğulama (poaching) method, Stefan highly recommended that we tried the Balik Bugulama – a traditional oven-baked fish dish with vegetable kebab from the Karadeniz area. Our seabass is served with bulgur and rice, pide mushroom, eggplant, tomato and red capsicum which pairs exceptionally well with our rice dish, coming up next. And trust us, this is no ordinary rice!
Reputedly served at the table of Hekimoglu Pasha, a military leader who served as Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, the Bayram Pilav is definitely a dish fit for even the royalty. Prepared with incredibly fluffy, saffron-scented basmati rice, vegetables, plums and (yet more) delicious succulent beef stew, the dish makes for a full-bodied, satisfying meal on its own or as a side. Kinda pricey but so worth every ringgit with the addition of saffron going a long way, it was so good that we could take the leftovers home and enjoy for next day lunch.
Firin Beyti Kebab & Adana Kebab
We assume that kebab needs no special introduction and with the Firin Beyti Kebab a firm favourite dish of Sultan Abdul Medjid (31st Sultan of the Ottoman Empire), we could appreciate the minced meat in the dough for its natural beefiness and lamb flavour. On the other hand, the Adana Kebab
Traditionally often served over warm flatbread to catch the drippings and accompanied by roasted vegetables, Stefan’s rendition was tenderly juicy and mildly spicy with Bulgur Pilav, carrot, onion, lettuce, grilled chilli pepper and grilled tomato served on the side.
Turkish Coffee & Tea
For those who need some a jolt of caffeine, try the Turkish Coffee. Staying true to the Middle-Eastern vibe, Stefan built a sandpit to prepare authentic Turkish coffee. Silver cezves are filled with coffee grounds and water and placed into the sandpit, where the sand is piled up around the pot for the heated sand to slowly bring out the flavours of the coffee. Tip for new Turkish coffee drinkers: Drink it slowly, and we mean really slowly. It’s part of the culture.
The Turkish Tea is also prepared in a particular manner using a double teapot. The bottom of the pot is filled with water which is set on the flame to boil, while the top pot is filled with dry tea leaves. When the water has reached a boil, some of it is transferred to the top pot, and the tea is allowed to steep before serving. We were amazed that the Turks love their tea so much that many can consume at least 6 cups on average per day!
Baklava & Künefe
Time for Tatli, with not one but two of Turkish most-wanted desserts. Cut into squares slices, the Baklava might be unbearably sweet for some. With its sweet pastry, walnut filling and heavenly glazed syrup, there are no words to describe the amazing blend of pistachio and butter aromas as soon as we took a bite of the crusty filo pastry.
Be warned, our next dessert is highly calorific and sweet! Served with kaimak and comprising pistachio nuts, cheese and soaked with honey, this kadaifi pastry’s shredded wheat-like shell was oozing with melted cheese. What can we say then about the Künefe? A little taste of Turkish sweet heaven!
We wouldn’t be surprised if Istanbul is what it takes to finally popularize Turkish cuisine in town. With its offerings of traditional Meze selections, premium dishes and authentic flavours that leaves very belly full as bloated as the Balon, we can be assured that we will be treated like royalty and have a meal truly fit for a king (or a sultan in this case)!
Istanbul – Ottoman Turkish Restaurant
📍 No. 7 Jalan Hijauan 3, Horizon Hills, 79100 Iskandar Puteri, Johor
📞 +6016-761 5824
🕙 Open daily for Lunch from 12pm to 3pm and Dinner from 6pm to 11pm.
💻 Istanbul Turkish Cuisine
🍽️ NO PORK, NO LARD