Neolokal, Turkish delight

In Istanbul, Maksut Aşkar’s restaurant, a journey across the flavours of Anatolia between past and future

The dining room at Neolokal, on Karaköy’s Banka

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

What strikes of Neolokal is the great coherence between the content of the dish and the plate

What immediately struck me where the plates, the objects. For quite some time I’ve been designing some plates and had them made by a Roman artisan and this in my opinion is the first gesture of love for my profession: dedication and attention to detail. And there, starting with the welcome, I saw beautiful plates studied for each course. Every plate was in harmony with its content! The approach is halfway between Europe and the Middle East and in fact during the tasting they present dishes to be shared.

Each course had a sort of signature brand on which one could easily read “made in Turkey”: every dish had an ancient grain, a Turkish processing, an ethnic bouquet of aromas, and was always a hit. What’s extraordinary about this chef, however, is his capacity to modernise techniques and pairings creating a bridge between past and future and thus “presenting dishes from the past in a modern way that will be accepted in the future”.

Maksut Aşkar, a rising star in the new Turkish cuisine

Maksut Aşkar, a rising star in the new Turkish cuisine

From the “simple” butter from Rize, Çamlıhemşin, served with bear mushrooms picked in the Black Sea region and local salt, olive oil with parsley infusion, to the bread made with a mother yeast that bears a person’s name "Neylan Ekşi": Neylan is a common female name and Ekşi means "acid". And then, artichokes and yellow tomatoes, bulgur. A special and very traditional process (zeytinyağlı) to which he adds a modern way of cooking bulgur with infusions. An extraordinary octopus, grilled with a special bean, called gambilya, very high in proteins, originally from Eastern Turkey.

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.

Dal Mondo

Reviews, recommendations and trends from the four corners of the planet, signed by all the authors of Identità Golose


Cristina Bowerman

Glass Hostaria's chef (one Michelin star), located in Rome. President in charge of the Ambasciatori del Gusto association

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