Maçka Parkı

One of my favourite places in Istanbul is Maçka Park. Turkey is short of green spaces, and this one is large, inclusive and peaceful. Even on days when it is brimming with picnic-goers sprawled on the grass, and tightrope walkers doing their thang’. It’s pretty crowded in Summer but then, where in Istanbul isn’t. Plus, people aren’t judgemental or obnoxious. I’m fairly sue BBQs aren’t allowed – thank god. Everyone there is generally also super respectful of each other. It is the Nişantaşı crowd after all, so everyone is pretty relaxed and open-minded. It is also great for dog people. I swear on some days dogs outnumber people 2 to 1. I would definitely say it is Freud’s favourite place in the world. The one place he gets to play freely, and despite the occasional death stare, it’s one of the places it’s okay to walk him off-leash.

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One of the saddest things is that I know this park will get redeveloped one day soon, and this little slice of green will sadly be a long gone memory. With that in mind, I’ve basically vowed to spend every weekend there when it isn’t raining. I’ve been doing pretty well on that front. I am fairly certain no-one goes there as much as I do 🙂

Istanbul coffee review: Voi Teşvikiye

On a cold, rainy and windy day what is there better to do than to snuggle up and Netflix and Chill. That was the entirety of my plan for this Saturday. I mean, it’s cold outside and Netflix is pretty awesome (loving The Mind of Chef right now). Plus, I have a seven month puppy at home (a French Bulldog, crossed with … something). So really, there aren’t too many reasons I would want to do anything else. However, in the interests of having done something with my day, I thought a quick coffee stop was in order. With this in mind, and with a desire to start trying more new places, my boyfriend and I went to a new cafe called Voi Teşvikiye.

When we first sat down we were feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves. Extensive menu, newly opened, beautiful interiors and friendly staff. That extensive menu? It looked fantastic. We ordered the roast beef sandwich and strawberry & blueberry tartine. Unfortunately, the food is bad. Really bad. And expensive. Do not eat there. I could go on but rather than focus on the negative, I want to focus on the positive. The coffee.

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The coffee was fantastic. They have a good range of different types of coffee (Chemex, Hario, Pour Over & Aeropress), as well as some really unusual flavoured coffees. They have the usual culprits (caramel latte anyone?) but also their special in-house blends including Pumpkin, Lavender, Blueberry and Ginger Honey. Supposedly these are house blended with brown sugar and essence. After the food my expectations were pretty low, and we debated forgoing the coffee but oh am I glad that we chose to stay.

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I had the Lavender Latte, and it was delicious. The coffee itself was seriously tasty, made by an expert (perfectly blended) with a subtle hint of lavender. My boyfriend had the Blueberry Latte. The blueberry flavour was much more apparent in his latte but not overwhelmingly so. It was still delicious. Honestly, I loved the coffee. I can’t wait to go back here and order a plain latte. If it is as good as the flavoured lattes they make, then I am pretty sure this will be my favourite cafe in Nişantaşı (caveat: for the coffee. The food is crap).

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Istanbul coffee review: Petra Roasting Co.

When I first accidentally moved to Istanbul (yep, I mean that literally), I found the lack of good coffee a hard blow to deal with. I love good coffee. I love going out for coffee. I love sitting in cafes. I love talking about how much I love coffee and cafes. I also get obsessed with routines and rituals, and my daily morning walk to my job, with a coffee in hand from one of my favourite coffee stops, was one of my favourites. So yes, not having my morning coffee ritual was a pretty sad affair. When I first moved to Istanbul, I was living in Moda. The Sydney of Istanbul (by which I mean the cliche best of Sydney, relaxed, open-minded and energetic). I did manage to find some really great coffee there eventually, but it took me a while. So I was mainly living off milky turkish coffees.

When I made the “official” move to Turkey, I moved across the bridge, to a tiny apartment in Nişantaşı. I think my second favourite suburb in Istanbul (after Moda, before Cihangir). A cute, European-esque, posh little suburb. Not as relaxed as Moda but still, by far and above one of the best places you would want to live as an expat and as a woman. This suburb loves its “western”style cafes. I think cafes are a bit of a prestige thing to some people in Turkey but you can still find great, unpretentious little coffee shops. Actually, you’re more likely to find a latte here than a turkish coffee. Great news for me! So luckily I still get to enjoy my rituals.

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By what I’ve written so far, you might think that I’m not satisfied with the coffee in Istanbul. That isn’t true. There is some great third wave coffee in Istanbul. Pretty good anyway. The problem is, I can’t compare it to Sydney. Coffee in Sydney is next level. Our milk works well and froths well, we have good soy options, and now even Almond Milk and beyond. I guess we can thank the Italians for that (just another example of the endless list as to why multiculturalism is a good thing, ehem Trump).

I don’t know what the exact science of good coffee is. I put it down to beans (freshness & quality), for milky coffees – the ratio of coffee to milk, the quality of the machine and the quality of the barista. The last one I care about a lot, because for me a perfect coffee is a milky one. A latte or cappuccino shouldn’t be like dishwashing water with a blub of foam on top (by the way, the dishwashing water reference is my Mum’s, and think about it … it’s very apt). It should be perfectly textured and thick. It shouldn’t be bitter but I want to taste the coffee; I didn’t pay for a glass of warm milk.

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So, whilst I have been to many cafes in Istanbul (and abroad … because quite literally, I will walk for hours if I must to find good coffee), and there is much to review, the first one I’ve been to since randomly deciding to write a blog, is Petra Roasting Co. So that is what this review will be about. This cafe chain is known for being good. Heck, the flagship cafe in Gayrettepe is beautiful. And good. Seriously delicious chemex coffee and the most crumbliest carrot cake ever. When a friend took me there, I absolutely loved it. Ambience, food … everything.

Well,  today I am at the Topağacı branch, which is not the flagship. And you can tell. Definitely not as cool as the flagship but still a great little concept. A bit saloonish, with marbled floors, wooden kitchen tops and brass fittings. This music is saloon-style too. I love that concept. Saloon. It’s definitely a concept cafe but still unpretentious. And I love that! The coffee is good but it is expensive. Super expensive (not when you convert it to aussie dollars, then it is pretty decent but when you consider what the average weekly wage is in Turkey!? It’s exxy). I mean coffee is generally expensive in Turkey (I think because the market is still relatively new, and it is quite expensive to produce still. These cafes, even the ones that do end up doing well i.e. MOC, take quite a big risk in the beginning) but Petra is even more so. The coffee is good. It’s not Sydney good but it is definitely as good as you get in Istanbul. If I was having a black coffee, I would probably say it was perfect but I am not a fan of the milk they use here. The milk they use is very …. milky. Very buttery. I purchased some coffee beans to try with our home filter, so I’ll let you know how that goes. I think this is a great place and the coffee is objectively really good, it is just not totally to my liking.

The staff are absolutely lovely by the way and that isn’t always a given in Turkey. I would definitely recommend checking this place out and making it part of your regular rotation, even though it wasn’t my best of the best. By the way, I sat here working for hours working on my own business (I have a small legal & immigration agency), and didn’t feel awkward at all.

Did I hear you say, Breakfast?

One of my absolute favourite mealtimes in Barcelona was breakfast time (surprisingly, given its status as Tapas Heaven!). I’ve always loved breakfast time. Breakfast is high and above my favourite meal. You are spoilt for choice when it comes to breakfast time. There are so many options – sweet, savoury, hearty, light, hot, cold – the list goes on. Plus you get to enjoy it with a cup of joe (in my case, a beautifully blended milky joe). What better way to wake up. Honestly.

So, back to Barcelona. On the breakfast front, Barcelona really didn’t disappoint. Totally the opposite. I’d been feeling kinda bored with the breakfast options in Istanbul recently. Every meal in Turkey, bar a select few, taste Turkish. So even when you’re ordering Eggs Benedict (which isn’t offered anywhere much in the first place), it tastes like Turkish Eggs Benedict. Not bad – not at all – but when you’ve eaten that same Turkish food, oh maybe … 1000 times? Well .. you get bored.

When I first moved to Istanbul, I loved the whole Turkish breakfast spread. Wouldn’t dream of ordering a smashed avocado on toast, or preparing some porridge. I mean Turkish breakfasts are the ultimate breakfast smorgasbord. Perfect for people like me (who a) hate making the wrong food choice and b) like to eat a bit of everything). A typical Turkish breakfast is basically a mezze selection. Lots of different bits and pieces. Typical choices are eggs  (boiled, scrambed, as menenemen, with sucuk or Turkish sausage), an assortment of white cheeses, an assortment of olives, sliced and oiled tomatoes and cucumbers, börek, some Turkish cream (kaymak) and honey often accompanied with simit and turkish tea). It is such a rich, choice-full menu, and you can eat as much as your little heart wants. Always a positive! Oh, this delightful little selection is called a “Serpme Kahvalti” ie Spread Breakfast. So, all well and good but this past year I have done the Serpme a bit too much I guess and have been craving a good ol ready-made, recipe-y breakfast …a trusty eggs benedict, or pancakes, or french toast or smashed avo on toast. Or bircher. Oh goodness I miss a good bircher. Also, I just made myself hungry. Basically, non-Turkish breakfasts. In Barcelona I had some great ones!

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Breakfast at Sirvent

I’ll start with my favourite. On Sunday, we had breakfast at Picnic’s popup at Sirvent Barcelona (above). I made this reservation after having heard about it through my pre-trip instagram research. It looked delicious. I was dying to eat there. I also felt like we’d be kinda hungover (being it was Saturday night in Barcelona the night before). But predictably, haven gone to bed at midnight (we’re old now), there was nary a hungover in site. Despite the lack of a hangover, I was still up for a totally decadent breakfast. Which this promised to be. I was pretty excited. In part because I could order a Bloody Mary with my breakfast. Possibly one of my favourite things to do whilst on holiday.

We shared American Pancakes (Pancakes with bacon, scrambled eggs and maple syrup) and Cajun Fried Chicken Waffle (Fried Chicken with sweet waffle, and a little side salad). Oh, and a Bloody Mary of course. The food was tasty. Very. So much so, that we considered ordering more. Despite being extremely stuffed (by Sunday, we had already eaten SO much on the trip, that we were just constantly full). I still regret not ordering that French Toast. I would definitely recommend checking this place out. Ambience – 7/10. Food – 9.5/10. So good. Tasty oh me oh my. Affordable too.

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Breakfast at Milk Bar & Bistro

The first morning we had breakfast we went to Milk Bar & Bistro Restaurant  (above).We shared the Crab Eggs Benedict (toasted chapata, poached eggs, crab, hollandaise and roasted potatoes) with the Penny Farthing Pancakes (Two stack fluffy pancakes with banana and walnuts, served with vanilla greek yogurt and drizzled with maple syrup) with a side of bacon, and an orange juice and latte. Visually, I loved the presentation. The taste – you could never say it wasn’t tasty – but, seeing how much I love the type of food we ate, I didn’t love it. It could have been better. Made with more love perhaps. The experience I give an 8/10 (it was warm and cosy, the food and place were great) but the food I would probably give a 7/10. You can’t say it wasn’t value for money. I found the prices pretty reasonable. Mains were about 8 – 9 euro.

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Interiors at Flax & Kale

We also had a breakfast at Flax & Kale (no photo of the food, cause meh’ but you can see the interior above (courtesy of SpecialBite). Our most expensive breakfast. And people rave about this place. I love an organic little kale-lovin’ place as much as the next ex-Sydneysider but I really didn’t rate this place. I mean. We had so much good food. Maybe that’s why? Maybe because Australia does organic, healthy, delicious food so well? I don’t know but I was so disappointed. Left totally unsatisfied. Props to the ambience though. I definitely loved that. Would have been great to have ordered a humble Acai Bowl – which looked great. We shared the Healthy Pancakes and Healthy Eggs Royale. I hope they were healthy because they really were not a healthy version of pancakes or eggs royale. They didn’t really taste like anything, and the texture was a bit not too nice. So yeh, not a version but a completely different thing. Also, as a massive artichoke fan (no really, I LOVE THEM), the burnt rubber version of an artichoke they brought out was pretty dismal (pretty sure I did still eat it though!).  Ambience – 8, food – 6 (considering the price, 5).

Eating my way through the Istanbul of Europe

Or, as other people see it, Barcelona. As an exchange student in Holland some many years ago (eep, actually 10!), I travelled to Barcelona with a bunch of my friends. I was young and moody, and definitely didn’t have an appreciation for good food. I am pretty sure I was starving myself in those days. So whilst I liked Barcelona, I certainly didn’t love it. Actually, of all the European cities I visited that year (of which, there were many), Barcelona I found to be the most overrated. I think part of the reason, a huge part, was the not eating thing. Food is culture. Food is travel. Food is life.

So this time was a completely different story.

I feel like I experienced the culture. I was more relaxed. I wasn’t hangry. And oh, did I eat! Barcelona was a surprise 31st birthday present for my boyfriend, who had always wanted to see Barcelona. I thought I was very clever and pretty proud of my present. I mean; a trip to Barcelona! He agreed. One of my boyfriend’s friends, a hardcore foodie, provided us with a list of places to go. Or more accurately, eat. Remember, food is travel.

For the dinner of his 31st birthday, I wanted an extra special dinner. And when I asked our friend, his response – 100%, Petitcomitè – El restaurante de Nandu Jubany en Barcelona. I wasn’t 100% sold. It only had 4 stars on Trip Advisor, and the reviews were in the hundreds – when there were so many 5 star restaurants on there with thousands of reviews.

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Grilled octopus with mashed potatoes and cayenne pepper

Well. You know what is coming. OH MY GOODNESS. I am glad I wasn’t the one making my decision on my own. It was, the BEST meal I have had in my 29 years of living. And I love food! Even in my starving myself phases. Food is delicious. I’ve eaten at so many restaurants and friends houses and street vendors and fast food joints, and yes, hatted restuarants but this was something else. One of those places with the warmth and love of a family-run ‘well kept secret’ kinda joint, and the precision and design of a top class restaurant.

We ordered:

  • Foie gras over puffed pastry with caramelised apple and “contrasts” salad
  • Cod fritters
  • Fried eggs with pork belly, soufflé potatoes and truffles
  • Grilled octopus with mashed potatoes and cayenne pepper (above)
  • Dry seafood rice (sea cucumber, shrimp, monkfish and squid)
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Foie gras over puffed pastry with caramelised apple and contrasts salad

Wow. The foie gras was an explosion in the mouth (above) . The perfect balance between sweet and sour – I mean, how did they do that! So salty, so sweet all at the same time. I am not a vegetarian but I do try to avoid anything with overt animal cruelty (yes, I know that makes me pretty hypocritical), and so foie gras is something I would try not to order. I am glad I made the exception (and hope, perhaps, that this

The fried eggs. Such humble little things. Magic was worked on those, that’s for sure. Oh, and the octopus. Divine. I have to say, I found the dry seafood rice (their version of paella), a little too salty but then, I don’t like paella.

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Fried eggs with pork belly, souffle potatoes and truffles

For the taste, the hospitality and the service (two divine appetizers, and delicious freshly baked bread), the place is extremely affordable! We also had a bottle of wine (there is literally a wine book, with wines ranging from 15euro to hundreds and hundreds of euros). Our total bill came to 150euros.

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Dry seafood rice with sea cucumber, shrimp, monkfish and squid