db Eats: Olea Bosphorus, Istanbul
Douglas Blyde continues his Turkish odyssey with a visit to Istanbul hotspot Olea Bosphorus and its “substantial cellar”, containing a selection of “homegrown wines” from some of the country’s best producers.
“If you’re lucky enough to snag a table by the water, keep your eyes peeled for dolphins or even submarines” wrote Condé Nast Traveller’s Zahra Surya Darma of Olea, a fashionable Italian restaurant popular with “in-the-know Istanbulites”. Along with outposts of Hakkasan and Novikov, and a shisha veranda, the relaxed restaurant is the newest option to open at the concert hall turned 100-bedroom, Mandarin Oriental resort in upmarket Kurucesme.
Conveniently meeting the water’s edge for the numerous guests who arrive by launch, yacht, or superyacht, Olea, designed by the local YOO Architecture, is framed by Istanbul’s doublet of suspension bridges, with views across the busy nautical highway to the imposing Kuleli Military High School which became a museum after the coup attempt of 2016. Taking its name from the Latin for olive tree, the airy restaurant and turquoise-tiled bar is indeed flanked by olive trees. Here, a soundtrack including Tears For Fears mingles with the caws of seagulls. As with all properties in the collection, this incarnation of Mandarin Oriental charmingly receives its own fan design, realised by Turkish fashion designer, Erdem Moralıoğlu, whereby “the dominant blue echoes the hues of the Bosphorus, Chinese cloud bands and tulips emphasize the Asian influence on the Ottoman Empire’s Tulip Era, and representative of traditional woodworking, floral engraving adorn the fan sticks.”
Drawn from a feature cellar, stocked with homegrown wines on one side, and international bins on the other, the vinous selection is authored by Emre Ergani, a domestically distinguished food and beverage consultant and former face of Cîroc vodka, whose 40 projects, realised over 30 years, have included Istanbul’s first sushi bar, and the country’s first multi-restaurant nightclub. These bottles are administered by sommelier, Sevgi Aksoy. Formerly of Lujo Hotel and Meridia, Bodrum, and Liberty Fabay, Muğla, Aksoy, who is a fan of England’s own Isa Bal, holds a degree in tourism from Istanbul University, and is currently working towards her WSET level three.
As demonstrated by the open cellar, Turkish wines are no token afterthought at Olea, with 70 options available by the bottle, of which 15 are offered by the glass, often shown in Turkish-designed Nude stemware. These include winemaker, Marco Monchiero’s crisp, green apple-scented Yaşasin Brut 2020, a traditional method Blanc de Noirs made of the once endangered Kalecik Karasi variety grown in the relatively dry Ankara. This was served in a chilled glass with laser-marked Gillardeau oysters – a speciality of the restaurant.
From outside Türkiye, expect usual suspects when it comes to Champagnes, including, given Olea magnetises a fairly youthful, shiny-seeming crowd, Moët & Chandon Ice, as well as Dom Pérignon 2006 rosé and Cristal 2012 for those with the means and a more discerning palate. Other picks include, from Italy, Braida Montebruna Barbera d’Asti 2011, and from 2018, Sassicaia and Ornellaia, and La Gaffeliere 2007 and Corton Charlemagne Chartron et Trebuchet 2019 from France. Given the setting, it is perhaps unsurprising to see eager mark-ups which can reach eight times the UK retail price. This brought to mind the words spoken by a certain Master Sommelier, “don’t leave money on the table.” Rakis, meanwhile, include Tekirdag, while hot beverages, including a bespoke tea blend, and rousing Turkish coffee, are taken seriously.
Given Türkiye’s wine culture dates back 7,000 years, Aksoy was today tasked with producing a menu paired with homegrown wines. Accompanied by a well-equipped bread selection including whopping 12-inch long grissini, lunch opened with bursting fresh burrata laced with fresh pesto, served family style, with the light, Pinot Grigio-esque, pear-scented, 2022 7 Bilgeler Chardonnay from İzmir, named after Greek philosopher and eclipse-obsessed cosmologist, Anaxagoras.
Next, after a substantial cherry picker the colour of the flag of Türkiye expertly inched past, perhaps to help load the luggage of a heavy traveller to an upper floor, Aksoy poured the handsomely evolved 2020 Côtes d’Avanos Narince, being a bronze-coloured grape, from the forested Kavaklidere. This met grilled, slim, young asparagus with a fried egg in breadcrumbs.
The finest pairing saw an excellent, textural, golden saffron-enriched risotto with fresh and dried porcini and Parmesan united with, from a Thracian winery founded in 2000 – Kara Sevda “Blind Love”. “Painted by the daughter of the owner,” said Aksoy, this bore a label serendipitously depicting the view in our midst. Bright and cherry-scented, the varietal Papaskarasi bore more than a passing resemblance to Nebbiolo.
The final savoury course of rare, beef fillet, its creamy mushroom sauce “served on the side” on Aksoy’s instructions so as not to sully the wine, and powdered with pepper from an outsize pepper mill, was matched with a long oak matured Bordeaux blend from Château Kalpak in Tekirdağ. Located high on the north coast of the Sea of Marmar, the winery’s first release in 2013 brought in no fewer than nine gold medals in European wine competitions followed by “Best National Producer 2014”. Decanted then served in a massive Nude Volcano glass, the balanced, blue-fruited 2019 was finespun.
Finally, with a mousse-like baked Mascarpone cheesecake with fresh berries and vanilla ice cream, Aksoy showed the saffron-evoking late harvest, barrel-fermented 2019 Izmir Muscat from Sevilen, a wine producer founded by a Bulgarian émigré in the 1940s.
Olea, with its substantial cellar, is no international add-on. Instead, its engaged team proudly showcase the terroir of Türkiye, in Turkish stemware, in a Turkish-designed environment, on the banks of the country’s most iconic, and magical-seeming city.
- Homegrown wines
- People watching
- Classic Italianate dishes
Olea Bosphorus – Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul, Kuruçeşme, Muallim Naci Caddesi No:62, 34345 Beşiktaş, İstanbul, Türkiye; +90 0533 134 62 62; firstname.lastname@example.org; mandarinoriental.com