Pardon the pun I just had to, but no Turkish delight was served. I wore heels and a linen dress in an effort to appear respectful of the treat I knew I was in for when I decided to try dinner at Osmanly, the Kempinski hotel’s new Turkish restaurant. A bit of formality wouldn’t hurt anyone, I was told.
Never having been to Istanbul — although what with all the emerging Turkish fashion designers, artists and curated exhibits garnering international press attention I feel that it’s certainly about time to go pay our cousins a visit — I felt reassured that whatever was in store for me would be quite familiar.
Years of Ottoman rule and influence in the country, from one’s Turkish grandmother to the plethora of Turkish soap operas inundating our local channels, I assumed that Osmanly’s menu offerings would be quite similar to say that of an Egyptian restaurant’s. I was pleasantly surprised that on the contrary, the restaurant’s menu concept of blending Turkish, Lebanese and Egyptian cuisine was unexpected. All cousins yes but no awkward family clashes here.
The menu at Osmanly contains a few items particular to Turkey, I was told. The restaurant’s manager Onur Cankaya is delightful to chat to as he cites the origin of pizza to a Turkish predecessor, pide, and explains other facts of Turkish gastronomy history.
An amuse-bouche of traditional lentil soup was first set down, and as my dining companion remarked, “our bouches were quite amused.” Creamy, and surprisingly thin in consistency, the soup hinted sotto voce that yes it was lentil but you wouldn’t have been able to guess it unless told. I could have easily enjoyed another serving or two but pace your self for everything that comes next.
Graze on a starter of olive dip and cheese with freshly baked bread roundels that whilst reading through the menu to select your mains.
A silver platter is set down and a variety of mezzehs served in individual small bowls are presented for you to select what you wish to try. This is where the play of fusion between the three cuisines occurs, be it in the variety of selection or within the dish itself.
The beetroot dip is pureed with Egyptian white broad beans; the Egyptian white cheese with melon slices, the grilled baba ghanoush that is so tangent in its smokiness, octopus and prawns in light citrusy marinades, a spicy tomato and garlic salsa dip that was sugary sweet, and shakshouka (not our Egyptian broad beans and egg breakfast dish but a carefully layered arrangement of potatoes, eggplant and tomato sauce) paired off with a basic yoghurt dip.
What is most incredible about these mezzehs is how fresh the ingredients taste. Rarely, if ever, have I tasted food in Egypt that suggests produce had been picked the same morning. The beetroot bean dip was organic and pungent in both taste and scent, the tomato salsa sweet despite the spice and therefore fresh. I could have eaten mezzehs all night long.
We also sampled some hot mezzehs: breaded calamari and crispy fried veal liver. The calamari’s crust was somehow creamy, not at all greasy, beautiful with a squeeze of lemon.
Plates were cleared away for pide, which can only be best described as the love child of the pizza and Lebanese manoucheh. The dough is thicker and folded over various topics of spicy Turkish sausage, minced beef or vegetables. Delicious yes, but I would suggest you select either mezzehs or pide for starters, there’s simply more that one has to go through before a conclusive cup of Turkish coffee.
A sherbet drink spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg was served to open up our appetites for mains, explained Cankaya.
The menu is surprisingly limited in number in its mains selection: eight dishes but nevertheless a good sweep of Turkey’s various regional specialties. We had been advised by a friend beforehand to try Hunkar’s Favorite, a braised beef tenderloin with eggplant begendi cream and beef brown sauce. Chef de Cuisine Soner Kesgin also suggested we try a new dish he was working on of small chunks of lamb kebab layered with paper thin shavings of eggplant and tomato sauce cooked in the oven (differently prepared to its charcoal grilled kebab sibling).
I personally didn’t enjoy Hunkar’s Favorite too much. I found the beef tenderloin to be over cooked; I would have much preferred it to be slightly more pink and soft inside. I enjoyed the lamb kebab dish, all three ingredients made a casserole of sorts. The tomato sauce was chunky and texturally went with the eggplants that were slightly crispy. But I feel the chef’s strength lies in his mezzehs and the other offerings on the menu.
What to drink with all these wonderful courses? Both Chef Kesgin and Cankaya suggested a few choices of Turkish wines. The restaurant has an impressively large wine rack replete with various wines and champagnes. We enjoyed a Kanvaklidere Selection 2007 red made from a grape that only grows in Turkey. Full bodied yet uncomplicated, it was a great pairing.
For dessert, I suggest the baked sweet pumkin, which comes with walnut ice cream and a drizzling of tehina which makes for an original touch.
Although the restaurant’s interior is not wholly original, the dining area isn’t too large making it a great place for romantic dinners or intimate family gatherings. Osmanly is only open for dinner from 6:30 pm.
Mezzehs range in price from LE 20 per plate of cold mezzehs to LE 50. Pide is either 55 or LE 60. Mains range in price from LE 125 to 140. Desserts are LE 35 and the wine bottle was LE 400 — tax and service charge are not included.
Kempinski Hotel, 12 Ahmed Ragheb Street, Garden City, Cairo, Egypt.