The Turkish word munferit means “individual.” And chef-owner Ferit Sarper clearly wanted to create something individual when he opened Munferit in Istanbul’s hot and historic Beyoglu district.
“I would call this a restaurant, but the starting point is a meyhane,” Sarper says.
Meyhanes are traditional Turkish watering holes that serve shareable small plates. These lively taverns are as ubiquitous as the rug stores and sweet shops that pepper Istanbul’s hilly cobblestone streets.
“Here, it’s like a shopping mall of meyhanes, and they all serve the same things,” Sarper says.
And indeed they do. White cheese. Yogurt with cucumbers and garlic. Aubergine salad. As tasty as they may be, these mezes and others turn up on almost every meyhane menu in town.
Aiming to be munferit, Sarper takes a more sophisticated approach than most of his fellow meyhane owners. “We try to twist some of the classic mezes,” he says. Take Sarper’s duck mousse. “That dish would be quite traditional except they normally do it with [boiled] chicken…. Duck is a more flavorful animal. It gives better flavor to the dish.”
Sarper enjoys adding international flare to his fare — so he serves the mousse, for example, with shredded duck breast in a sweet Italian balsamic vinegar reduction. Turks, he explains, traditionally use pomegranate vinegar, not balsamic.
And he also brings some family recipes into the mix. Kure kofte are classic Turkish “dry” meatballs. Sarper serves them with scrambled eggs. “My grandfather used to love them with scrambled eggs,” he says. And he prepares his meatballs with a bit more spice, and tops the dish with a sprinkling of nutmeg the way his aunt always did.
Still, he never strays too far from the heart of meyhane fare. “We like to be innovative. But we don’t push it really hard just to be different.”
After traveling for two weeks in Turkey, The Family and I spent our last evening in Istanbul dining al fresco at Munferit. Having indulged in an abundance of fresh and fantastic Mediterranean delicacies during our journey, we were expecting more of the same. But Munferit exceeded all expectations with dishes that took us higher than a mosque minaret.
I voted for simple thinly-sliced cucumbers (12) with fresh dill and herbs in a bright vinegar-and-oil toss. And my three adventure-loving teens — The Eating Machine, The Connoisseur and The Girl — picked the rest.
Pleasantly bitter fried aubergines (14) were balanced by sweet tomatoes and classic tahini sauce. In a play on Asian barbecue, gently sauced shredded beef cheeks came wrapped in lightly steamed lettuce (25).
Grilled prawns (42) were accompanied by creamy chickpea purée, which made a terrific dipping sauce for these ginormous sea monsters. Chewy calamari, meanwhile, sat atop large pearls of squid- inked couscous (21).
Still begging for more, we sampled artichokes stuffed with mussels and fennel-laced risotto (24). We finished with a pow of Turkish white cheese baked in parchment, matched with doubly earthy porcini mushrooms and truffle oil (19).
Our dessert selections were elevated spins on Turkish classics. Dondurma (12), the Turkish incarnation of ice cream, came in a trio of unconventional flavors: herby sage, halvah-like sesame tahini and “flower dust” (pollen). Hot and fresh doughnut-like lokma (10) included a drizzling of house-made chocolate sauce.
Sarper says his eatery concept is “built around a certain emotion you want to awake.”
For The Fam, that emotion was happy — very happy.
Yeni Carsi Caddesi No. 19