High above the heart of the richly historical neighbourhood of Cihangir in Istanbul there is a restaurant of unparalleled beauty complete with a wonderful terrace from which one can enjoy panoramic views of the mouth of the Bosphorus and the first bridge. Here the elegant wooden furniture is bleached by the sun and the tables are covered with gently undulating linen as it dances in the early evening breeze. The glasses glitter before the falling sun as the lanterns flicker with candlelight. There are flowers everywhere, the music is mellow and the people are beautiful. Yes, it’s one of those places. But it doesn’t intend to be. People flock here not to be seen but to watch the sun as it sinks below the distant minarets. The drinks are long and served alongside olive green-glazed bowls overflowing with spiced nuts still warm from the pan. We take long greedy sips for it was a long walk to get here from our rented apartment. Another round is ordered and we watch the faces in the crowd change as the diners start to arrive. Older, more sophisticated guests with a perfumed elegance and the deep intellect that is prevalent amongst Turks. We would like to stay but we have a date with our friends in the apartment below where we are to help prepare the final Iftar of Ramadan, a feast for over 50 men, women and children. When they were all sated and departed, we sat together around our own long table to share colourful platters of salad – similar to this one – slices of tangy white cheese garnished with herbs and complex dips highlighted with fresh walnuts and beetroot crisps. The wine flowed and we laughed our way beyond the language barrier before gathering on deep Ottoman sofas to view mottled photographic slides of long past – but never forgotten celebrations – amongst the stark beauty of a remote Greek island – our very own ‘theatre for the dreamers’.
700g new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
100g of Turkish yoghurt
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 spring onions, finely sliced
20g fresh mint, leaves picked and finely sliced
20g fresh dill, finely chopped
Pul biber, to garnish
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground mixed peppercorns
How I make it
Place the potatoes in a large pan over a high heat, cover with water and add plenty of salt. Cover and bring to the boil then turn down the heat and leave them to simmer until they’re just tender, around 15 minutes. Drain and leave to steam dry.
Meanwhile, mix together the yogurt, lemon zest and juice, vinegar and mustard in a large bowl then gradually add the olive oil whisking constantly until you end up with a vinaigrette. Season to your taste. Gently toss the warm potatoes in the dressing and set aside.
When you’re ready to eat, blanch the asparagus in a pan of boiling water for three minutes and drain. Add the spring onions and herbs to the potato salad. Turn everything out onto a pretty platter, arrange the asparagus over the top and garnish with the pul biber.