The dining room at Neolokal, on Karaköy’s Bankalar in Istanbul, Turkey. Maksut Aşkar’s restaurant, telephone +90.212.2440016 charmed Italian colleague Cristina Bowerman, author of this piece
I’ve been thinking about how to begin this article for a week now, as it’s a week I’ve been wondering how all this may have happened. And to me of all! After all, I’ve always travelled a lot, confronted myself with different cultures, lived abroad, yet what I could call “my western superiority” this time had guiltily blinded me! I left for Istanbul with low expectations, imagining a nice town and that’s it. In fact, I found a beautiful city, full of history. A tidy, civilised, educated city: I’ve never seen a market as large and clean as the Grande Bazar in the entire world!
But let’s move to the culinary scene. I admired an incredible view from restaurant Mikla, where I enjoyed a fabulous pomegranate aperitif, and that from Maksut Aşkar’s Neolokal. This will certainly be the dinner I’ll remember from my trip. I had met Maksut during a congress in Kiev and I was immediately struck by his quiet attitude, almost on the sly, but from the few words he said I had already perceived a great intensity and profoundness. His restaurant is inside a museum. Two restaurants: the first, open at lunchtime, accessible to the museum’s visitors; the other, more reserved, on the floor above, with a luminous window overlooking the town.
What strikes of Neolokal is the great coherence between the content of the dish and the plate
Maksut Aşkar, a rising star in the new Turkish cuisine
Maksut then moves from a new take on Mücver (a traditional recipe with vegetables, eggs and cheese) with baby shrimp called Çimçim, to the lightly smoked Kadinbudu chicken which reproduces a traditional recipe made with rice and chicken. The end is lovely thanks to a traditional yet not really traditional dessert, a new interpretation of baklava with a very intense halva ice cream. I confessed to Maksut that I was going to make it for my ice cream line even though the halva will probably not be the same. I left Neolokal and was happy. Happy to have tasted history, to have enjoyed the company of an intelligent and humble chef who is the cultural reflex of the country he adores, Turkey. And after him I adore Turkey too, more than I would have ever imagined.
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Glass Hostaria's chef (one Michelin star), located in Rome. President in charge of the Ambasciatori del Gusto association