Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Grilled Salmon Head

Admittedly a fish head isn't exactly top of many people's lists of tasty things to eat but actually, once you can get past eating something that's watching you, you'll be richly rewarded. Cheap too, as if you ask your fishmonger nicely for it, they'll probably give it to you for free. 

I've made fish head curries with white fish like hake before, but with a salmon head I prefer to grill them until the skin is crisp and the meat around the collar has rendered some of its rich fat. Some make soup out of it, but I find it too strong a fish to slurp on its broth. I went down a Japanese route instead. 

Marinated in a bit of soy and stuffed with slices of lemon, hacking the head in half to cook more evenly was tough and gruesome work. Once done though, it is rubbed with a little oil and grilled on a medium heat. Get stuck right in there with some pointy chopsticks and ferret out the meat; the most flavoursome and juicy bit is the cheek, just under the eye socket. Dipped in a ponzu sauce (that's soy with yuzu juice), I ate it with some rice and nasu denaku (miso aubergines). I jazzed up the rice by scattering over some enoki mushrooms once the rice had cooked and was steaming quietly; topped with ikura for a little decadence and some shredded shiso leaves for fragrance, it's not strictly necessary. A little spring onion garnish will do. 

Grilled Salmon Head 

Serves 2 with vegetables

1 salmon head (ask your fishmonger to split it in half) 
3 tbsp light soy 
3 slices of lemon
2 tbsp ponzu for dipping (or use soy sauce with a little lemon juice and zest)

Wash the head thoroughly and rub with the soy sauce and stuff the lemon in any crevices. Leave for half an hour.

Preheat the grill to medium and rub a little oil on the skin of the salmon. Grill for 15 to 20 mins, until the skin is crisp, the eyes are white and the flesh cooked through. 

Serve with steamed rice, spring onion garnish, and the dipping sauce. 

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Bright Courtyard, Baker Street

Siu Long Bao - soup dumplings

The dim sum restaurants on Baker Street are often said to be the best in London - Royal China Club (or is that Royal China?) are held in high regard. If I'm honest it is laziness that's prevented me from getting there; similarly, it's awfully close to where I work and no one wants to be going anywhere near that at the weekend. 

But Mr Noodles is a man in the know, and when he says a dim sum place is worth visiting, well, it's time to make the effort. Bright Courtyard was startlingly posh and I made every effort to hide my scuffed trainers from view. The room is hushed but bright, monotones and clean lines, pretty flowers decorating lazy susans. Serving staff are well turned out in suits and - gasp - very cordial. The a la carte menu is on an iPad, but we were there for the dim sum alone. 

There's no paper tick box here, and the dumplings are translated to English; siu mai and har gao aren't immediately obvious to spot. We snacked on complimentary spicy cucumber, reminiscent of the smacked type you get from Sichuan restaurants, as well as edamame. Once we'd ordered, the dim sum came thick and fast and before long our table was packed with dishes. Perhaps a little too much so; I like to take my time and make my way round as they come without fear of things going cold. 

Prawn & Mango Dumplings

Siu long bao (top photo), those sought-after soup-filled dumplings, held their broth well but the filling could have been more flavoursome. Prawn and mango dumplings were a bit left-field, at least in my experience; bouncy prawn meat held mango sauce inside (photo), to be supplemented with additional mango sauce. I enjoyed the the fruit and seafood combination. Others found it too weird. 

Hong Kong Cheung Fun

Cheung fun with cuttlefish
Hong Kong cheung fun was plain rice rolls dressed in peanut sauce and hoi sin. Cheung fun also came wrapped around beancurd skin that incased cuttlefish - this was one of my favourites. Obviously someone knows what they're doing in the rice roll department as these were both very well made. The silky noodles were fine and delicate, without any stickiness or stodge. The mixture of soft and slippery textures with crunchy beancurd sheet and springy cuttlefish was very pleasing indeed.

Chilean Sea Bass in Sichuan Sauce

Chilean sea bass with Sichuan sauce was one of the pricier dishes at £5.90. The fish is thinly sliced and lightly fried, wrapped around sticks of cucumber and vermicelli noodles and then bathed in a spicy, numbing sauce. Lovely balanced flavours - slightly sour, salty, spicy and a tingle on the tongue. 

Pork & Preserved Egg Congee

Pork and preserved egg congee was delicate, the rice grains just broken into the light broth. Served with some chopped up fried dough stick, these were added at the table with spring onions before our waiter served us all individually. Heavy on ginger flavour, a little soy sauce was needed to pep it up a bit, but otherwise soothing and tasty. 

A few venison puffs and siu mai later, we decided we needed noodles and vegetables to finish us off. 

Crab Meat E Fu Noodles

Crab meat E Fu noodles tasted way better than they looked - again, our server persisted in serving us all individually which I suppose means there's no fighting over the few prawns that were lurking in there. Elastic noodles were deeply savoury; there was no discernable crab meat there, but a definite seafood flavour. Lots of enoki mushrooms and crunchy vegetables, this was well worth the £11.50 price tag.

You wouldn't have thought a plate of vegetables would be very exciting but this gai laan (Chinese broccoli) with ginger was amazing in the fact that they bothered to peel the stalks of the gai laan, making the eating of them immeasurably better. My teeth cut through them cleanly without any stringiness or toughness, especially when cooked just right as these were. Cubes of deep fried ginger weren't especially pleasant to chew on but perfumed the dish nicely. 

We browsed the dessert menu, more lengthy than other dim sum restaurants but were unfortunately priced out of our decisions as most were around the £6 - £7 area. Not uncommon for a restaurant dessert, but more than we're used to at our other haunts. I was glad we'd ordered the custard buns from the dim sum menu, eaten in between savoury bites, dipped in condensed milk. 

I was quite the fan of Bright Courtyard. The service is quite formal but it is friendly and pleasant, the food well executed with a hint of something a bit different. They obviously have good attention to detail, demonstrated by the vegetable dish, and I liked the accessibility of it - an extensive tea menu in English isn't something you get at my local, Dragon Castle. It's on the more expensive spectrum - we paid £27 a head without booze but including service - but in the grand scheme of things, it's not really that much at all considering the delicacy of the things we ordered. Having had a browse of the iPad a la carte, it seems their speciality lies in Shanghainese food; judging by the prices it's one for pay day... 

Bright Courtyard

37-67 Baker St, 
London W1U 7EU

Tel: 020 7486 6998

Bright Courtyard on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Hot & Sour Tofu

There aren't may British people I know that like tofu. Complaints that it doesn't taste of anything are then reinforced with a texture problem which in turn is ballasted with the hippy-dippy-health-food-barefoot-vegan-meat-replacement notion. 

Well, you're all wrong. 

Tofu has a delicate flavour, but that flavour's definitely there and besides what's the beef with flavour anyway when you usually put it with something nice and punchy? As for the texture, if you don't like the wobbly, delicate jelly-like feeling of soft tofu, there's nothing I can do about that except feel sad for you. Or suggest you chow down on deep fried tofu puffs - you can stuff them or braise them and both ways they are lovely. 

Once you get over the wibble fear, you should make this. The sauce that drenches the warm tofu is addictive and spicy, slightly sour, quite salty and a little sweet. A hint of Sichuan peppercorn makes the tongue tingle, while the crunch of preserved vegetable and spring onions is a nice contrast to the smooth and silken tofu. A dish of stir-fried greens and another of stir-fried chicken completed the meal nicely, though I found myself abandoning the latter dishes and smooshing the tofu and sauce into my rice alone. 

Hot & Sour Tofu

Serves 4 with other dishes

1 box of silken soft (not extra soft) tofu
1 tsp dark soy
1 tsp Chinkiang black vinegar 
1 tsp caster sugar
2 tbsp light soy
1.5 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp water
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tbsp chilli oil (2 of the oil, 1 with sediment)
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 spring onion
2 tsp Tianjin preserved vegetable, rinsed well 
1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and ground into powder
A small handful of coriander

Drain the tofu and place it carefully on a plate. Steam for 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, roughly chop the coriander and slice the spring onions and leave to one side. Heat the cooking oil and fry the garlic on a low heat, taking care not to burn it. Drain the garlic and place in a bowl. Mix in the soy sauces with the vinegar, sugar, chilli oil and oyster sauce with a tsp of water. Mix well and pour carefully over the freshly steamed tofu. Garnish with the preserved vegetable, Sichuan peppercorn, spring onions and coriander and serve with rice while warm.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Spicy Seafood Ramen

I've always been obsessed with noodle soups. My noodle of choice is that wide flat noodle, hor fun - soft and slippery, filling and comforting. My heart has been stolen recently by another though. Ramen noodles, now so trendy in London at least, so elastic and thin. Emma of Tonkotsu gifted me a bundle of fresh ramen noodles, made in-house by their beast of a noodle machine. I knew I had to rustle up something special to make the most of them. 

I didn't have time to be simmering tons of pork bones long enough to make a tonkotsu. I decided instead on a seafood ramen, a spicy one at that to blow out the cold I had picked up. 

I'm lucky enough to live near an excellent fishmonger; their raw shell-on prawns have heads that give you a vividly orange and intensely prawn-flavoured, sweet stock. They threw in a sea bass head and carcass for free after I asked for one; if you do the same, don't use oily fish for this - white fish only. A piece of kombu seaweed went in as well, to really deepen that flavour of the sea. Once strained, garlic was softened in a little oil and then gochujang, that sweet fermented Korean chilli paste, to flavour the broth. A handful of Korean chilli flakes, famous for their colour but mild heat, went in too. 

And then it's really just quick cooking and assembly. Mussels, cleaned and debearded slip into the broth - just as they're about to open, some raw prawns. Warmed bowls are filled with freshly cooked noodles, vegetables placed carefully on top. A couple squares of nori followed, then ladles of hot stock and seafood. To finish, fish skin crisps - yup, crisps made of fish skin - carefully placed so that they're half in the broth and half out. That half crispiness, half floppiness is one of my favourite texture contrasts. It was a comforting bowl, spicy but deep in flavour. Inspired by Bone Daddies' seafood kimchi special, some kimchi would have gone in had I had any but actually the broth benefitted from being subtle and spicy without the fermented cabbage tang. I wish I had been bothered enough to make nitamago (that gooey, marinated egg) to nestle on top. 

I won't lie. All these ingredients are pretty specialist, but you'll find them in Oriental supermarkets or online

Spicy Seafood Ramen

Serves 4

4 bundles of ramen noodles (or use fresh wonton noodles from the supermarket)
4 raw prawns, head and shell on
1 fish carcass, like a sea bass or hake head
1 large handful of mussels, cleaned and debearded
3 coin-like slices of ginger
400ml chicken stock
1 square of kombu seaweed
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 heaped tbsp gochujang
1 handful of Korean coarse chilli flakes
1 handful of beansprouts, blanched
1/2 tsp salt
A small handful of mizuna or rocket, roughly chopped
2 leaves of Chinese cabbage, roughly chopped
2 sheets of nori, quartered
1 spring onion, julienned
A bag of fish crisps (optional)

Simmer the chicken stock with the kombu, ginger, prawn heads and shells, salt and the fish carcass for 45 mins. Strain through a fine sieve. 

Fry the minced garlic in a little oil, then add the gochujang. Fry until fragrant. Add a little of the stock to the pan and mix well so that there are no lumps. Add the rest of the stock. Add the mussels for a couple of minutes, then the prawns. As soon as the prawns have turned pink, sieve the stock into another pan, reserving the mussels and prawns. 

Cook the noodles for 35 secs or so, until tender. Drain and add to the bowls. Meanwhile, bring the stock up to the boil and add the Chinese cabbage. Arrange the mussels, prawns, beansprouts, and nori neatly in the bowl. Ladle the broth evenly over the noodles. Garnish with fish crisps, rocket / mizuna and the spring onions, then serve immediately, with chilli oil for everyone to add in themselves.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Pick n' Mix: Part 3

3-Cup Frogs Legs
Bao London has, as yet, no permanent home but they've been appearing all around the place. Serving Taiwanese snacks, I first came across them when I went to a dodgy old pub in Dalston. There, we ate the best pork buns I've come across (better than Momofuku's, even). Braised pork belly is shredded and stuffed into a soft bun, garnished with pickled vegetables, coriander and crushed peanuts. The second time round at Pacific Social, they even had their own holders. 3 cup frogs legs are inspired by a traditional Taiwanese dish, the three cups being soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine. These ones (above) had the lightest, crisp batter and an intense sweet and savoury sauce. 

Pork Bun
Someone is obviously very good at frying as the soy milk fried chicken was light and greaseless. A salad of pomelo and other crispy bits was a good palate-cleanser and kept the scurvy at bay. They will be at the Gherkin on the 25th (lunchtime) and King's Cross on the 26th, with Kerb. Keep an eye on their twitter stream for other pop-ups: @bao_london

Tozino jamon
It was hammering it down with rain the first time I ducked into Bar Tozino on Maltby Street market. Looking something like an abattoir, huge hams hang from the ceiling, slightly swaying and the wood-heavy room is lit with red bulbs. Hams down one end are set up to carve from, and a black board lists their price. We spent a very enjoyable half hour slurping on sherry and gulping down expertly sliced Iberico jamon with a couple pieces of pan con tomate for good measure. 

Bar Tozino, Lassco Ropewalk, Maltby Street, London SE1 3PA. (Cash only)

Chicken kara-age burger
I was invited down to Tonkotsu on Dean Street to try out the new chicken kara-age burger. These are currently only served at sister restaurants Tsuru Sushi (Bishopsgate, SE1 and Mansion House - see link for address details) and are priced at £4.95. Sweet, sesame seeded brioche buns encase juicy fried chicken thigh meat. The meat has been marinaded in something magic as it is so flavoursome. Some lettuce and a smear or three of mayo complete the burger, but I strongly suggest you add some of Tsuru's famous 'eat the bits' chilli oil. Fairly mild as chilli oils go but so tasty nonetheless.

Soho Ramen
If you can't get to a Tsuru in your lunch break then Tonkotsu's Soho Ramen is pretty sexy too. This is a clear chicken and pork broth, served with a marinated egg and a gorgeous lightly smoked piece of haddock, topped with a little lumpfish caviar in a bed of properly springy, home-made ramen noodles. The above was a baby bowl (I had just eaten a burger...) - full size is £11.

Tonkotsu, 63 Dean Street, London W1D 4QG (no reservations)

Gizzi's Cottage Pie
I went to Gizzi Erskine's dinner at The Drapers Arms last week. A huge dinner for 60-odd people, Gizzi cooked recipes from her new cookbook, Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts. Happily it was the latter side she was cooking from. Looking completely unflustered despite cooking for so many (and served all at the same time!) we were treated to salmon tartare with chilli and rocket, amazing beetroot-pink devilled eggs, roasted chicken with truffled gnocchi and this cottage pie with bone marrow chimneys. Rich and indulgent, had I not stuffed myself so silly on the starters I'd have stolen the whole lot. We all got a copy of the book to take home with us and I immediately got stuck into making the tuna tartare on crispy rice recipe. 

Tuna tartare on crispy rice
It's a terrible picture - my housemates were not keen on waiting - but it basically consists of sashimi-grade tuna minced up with spring onions, mayonnaise, sriracha (a Thai garlicky chilli sauce) and sesame oil, left to marinate for an hour. You cook up some seasoned sushi rice and leave it to cool, then pack into blocks with oiled hands and fry in butter until browned. You're left with crispy rice blocks that you pile the tuna on top of (once cooled a bit). I went left-field and additionally topped it with ikura as I bloody love ikura. Crispy rice is a  beautiful revelation. The book is really great - you can buy it here

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Eating in Istanbul

We made the most of the Easter break by spending 5 days in Istanbul. Over recent years it has slowly climbed up my 'must visit' places list; more and more people have come back raving about the food. Apparently there's also some nice stuff to see. I made a spreadsheet to make sure we weren't left stranded with nowhere recommended to eat; call me a control freak, but I wasn't taking any chances. I was armed with an overwhelming list. 

We did pretty well. 

Breakfast on our first day was a short walk away from our Air B n B apartment, in Beyoglu. Van Kahavaltı Evi was busy by 10am and we nabbed their last table. They're famed for their breakfast spreads, and we pointed at the most lavish-looking, at 20 lira a head. Dishes started coming out thick and fast and soon there wasn't much table to be seen. Sweet nut pastes, Nutella and jams sat side by side with boiled eggs, a muhammara-like dip, cheese and a huge plate of tomatoes and cucumbers. Olives were plentiful, as was the bread and the discovery of the trip was made here; kaymak with honey. Kaymak is like clotted cream, made with buffalo milk and it was absolutely glorious with a big glob of comb-flecked honey spread thickly onto bread. We ate and ate and ate, drinking never-ending tea until we couldn't eat anymore. 

Van Kahavaltı Evi, Defterdar Yokuşu No: 52.A, Cihangir

Once we were bitten by the kaymak bug, we had to have more. We headed to Beşiktaş in search of Beşiktaş Kaymaci but it was not to be found. A man sipping tea watched us bemusedly as we wandered past him several times, our noses to our phone maps and he led us to our destination, confusingly named Pando. A tiny place, run by an elderly husband and wife team, our hearts were stolen by them as they toddled about the place serving customers and brushing breadcrumbs off each other. 

A plate of kaymak and honey with bread will set you back only 4 Lira (around £1.50). The honey was sweeter and more familiar compared to the pine-scented one we'd had previously. We went through two bread baskets slathering it on in satisfied silence.

We couldn't stop at just this, and a plate of cheese, tomato and cucumbers fortified our breakfast, along with a dish of buttery baked eggs with spicy Turkish sausage. If I could breakfast like this every day I'd be a happy (morbidly obese) woman. 

Pando Kaymak, Koyici Meydani Sokak, Sinanpaşa Mahallesi, Beşiktaş

Menemen is a classic Turkish dish, one often had for breakfast so we had to get stuck in. Lades means 'wishbone' in Turkish and they're famous for their puddings made with chicken breast, but we were there to get some spicy eggs in us. Served in a swelteringly hot pan, eggs are scrambled with tomatoes, mild green chillis and spices, along with the sucuk (that Turkish sausage again) option that we went for. Huge baguette-like loaves soaked it all up and we may have followed this with some more kaymak. 

Lades, Sadri Alışık Sokak 14, Beyoğlu

We spent a full day over in Sultanahmet doing all the touristy things like Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cisterns. Don't be fooled by how nice Topkapi Palace (above) looked, for it was pure hell; roughly a million children were inside, and queues to see anything worth seeing were in abundance. Feeling thoroughly frazzled, we headed for sustenance in the tourist centre of Istanbul. The difficulty, much like finding something decent to eat in Leicester Square, faced us but the spreadsheet saved the day.

Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi is a straightforward kind of place. The smell of an open charcoal grill makes your mouth water when you enter, and we were led to a table upstairs. A menu was proffered with only two options; kofte, or lamb shish. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), the kofte were made with beef. Dense and slightly bouncy, they were well flavoured from the charcoal grill. The chilli sauce was not particularly spicy but totally addictive and the salads, dressed simply with lemon juice and olive oil, set us up for a light lunch nicely. In an area where men outside restaurants call out to you to entice you in, this place was a solid haven of calm. 

Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi, Divanyolu Caddesi 12, Sultanahmet

The sun came out and we spent a balmy day on ferries going up and down the Bosphorous, our sun-deprived faces slowly glowing red. We snacked on fish sandwiches at Eminonu; at 5 Lira they were quite the bargain. Barbecued mackerel fillets are stuffed into bread, while young boys hawk cups of pickles to accompany them. Rather alarmingly people all around us were sipping the pickle juice, so we gave it a go. That stuff is SALTY. I'm not sure how they manage it really. 

After our 6th glass of tea in Karakoy we decided on a little lunch. Tables were set out by the water, seagulls squawking overhead. 

I'm not sure there is a more blissful time to be had than eating freshly grilled seafood in the sunshine by the water. A glass of white wine would have completed the scene but we bravely soldiered on with water. The four of us ate handsomely for 85 Lira - less than £10 a head. We liked our waiter being straight with us - "this, this and this - all frozen" he said, jabbing at the pictures on the menu. "This. This is fresh and caught here. This? Caught in the Aegean." Decisions easily made.

Under the Galata Bridge with the fish market on your right, walk to the end of the market and it's the last place serving food with tables and chairs by the water. 

Feeling a little over-fed - I know, imagine - we stuck to a simple lunch for one of our days. Fasuli is certainly not fancy but they are well known for their signature bean dish. Fat white beans are cooked in a tomato sauce with the barest hint of meat, and these were the most wonderful, comforting baked beans. And rice! Delicious buttery rice. I was a bit breaded out by this point, having had it 3 times a day. We observed a lone man next to us demolish a dish of beans, to then be served another dish of rice and beans. Down the hatch in less than 15 minutes.

Fasuli (various branches but we went to this one), Muradiye Cd No:35, Fatih

And so onto dinners. Are you still with me?

On the night we arrived it absolutely pissed it down, much to our dismay. Rivers of water flowed down the streets as we tried to navigate, shivering and hungry, ever-so-slightly cranky. To be honest if I'd been the owner of a restaurant and us four bedraggleds had wandered in sopping, I might have turned us away too but Asmali Cavit was probably genuinely fully booked. So we made a reservation for the night after.

We decided to try out some raki with our mezze. Drunk long, the water making it milky and cloudy in appearance, it's aniseed flavour was, uhm, not to my taste (AWFUL) but I managed to force it down. For somewhere that was recommended from several different sources, it was actually my least favourite of the meals we had. Everything was fine, but nothing more than fine. Grilled anchovies (above) were pretty delicious, but for the amount we paid (which really was only £20 a head) and the effort we went to to eat there, I left feeling a bit deflated.

Asmali Cavit, Asmalımescit Caddesi 16/D, Beyoğlu

By contrast, my favourite meal was at Zubeyir Ocakbasi. A big charcoal pit fills the room on the ground floor with seats around it and when we went in I strode towards it excitedly, only to be asked by the manager rather worriedly whether we had a reservation. We put on our best "please feed me" puppy dog eyes and were led to a table, promising we'd return it 90 minutes later. 

Like everywhere else that offered mezze, a trolley was wheeled out for us to pick what we would like. I looked dubious when my friend picked the pumpkin and chickpea dip but it was excellent; like a sweeter humus. An aubergine dip was served warm and was pure smoky deliciousness - instead of being mashed into a smooth dip like some baba ganoush I've had, this was chopped into scoopable chunks. Our waiter insisted on my friend tasting the ezme salad (chopped very finely) which was a winning tactic, as it sealed the deal. Spicy and dressed liberally with pomegranate molasses, it was the best of its kind we'd had. 

Of the mains, 'Special cut lamb chops' had the bone attached but the meat unravelled like a ribbon. Lamb ribs had been grilled so that the fat was crispy but not too rich, the meat underneath tender, and chicken wings were crispy and generous. Considering we'd had a lahmucun 'snack' which was basically another meal an hour previously, we hoofed everything up with ease. We paid about £10 a head without booze to retire to our apartment to roll around with bloated stomachs, groaning. The lahmacun had snuck up on us. 

Of the more casual dining places, Hayvore is well known for serving Black Sea specialities. The restaurant is lit brightly and all the dishes are displayed in a glass cabinet at the front of the restaurant. Once seated, we were invited to go and choose what we wanted. The hamsi pilav (above) was recommended and it was certainly unusual; underneath the anchovies is spiced rice flavoured with dill and with sweet currants lurking within. I loved the sweet savoury aspect; the other half of the table did not. Dolmades (top) were filled with minced meat instead of the usual rice, and again a roasted aubergine dish was tops. They also served beans and it's quite possible that these were better than Fasuli's - richer, more buttery and I could have been happy with these alone. We ordered some pides which were pure overkill.

Hayvore, Turnacibasi Sokak 4, Beyoglu

Of course, one can't leave Turkey without sampling the doner kebab. Much abused over here, our 'elephant legs' shaved off into a pitta to be devoured after a night's boozing is nothing like what we had in Istanbul. Kasap Osman is reportedly one of the best, though you wouldn't know it to look at it. The street it is on is full of kebab places, each one (including this) with people touting for you to eat with them. 

You can order your doner meat by weight and we found 150gr each to be quite sufficient as we also had salads, dishes of beans (yes, another addiction) and dips. The meat was expertly sliced, some crispy, some soft. It had none of that gaminess you can sometimes get from doners in the UK - instead it was slightly fatty, tender and flavoursome. Why it's served with 4 flaccid chips I don't know. The waiting staff were very sweet, gifting us cacik (a yoghurt, mint and cucumber dip) as well as baked milk and rice pudding desserts topped with pistachios that almost tipped us over the edge. As the call to prayer sang out across the city, we were sitting outside and managed to get a sly glimpse in the mosque opposite of young men gathering with their Imam. 

Kasap Osman, Hocapaşa Sokak 22, Sirkeci

Other snacks we had were, as previously mentioned, lahmacun. Almost a meal itself and absurdly cheap:

We got pretty into our Börek; 

This Su böreği (water Börek) was described to us as 'macaroni cheese!'. Ordered by weight, sheets of dough are boiled and layered with feta cheese to make a warm, comforting snack. 

I'm not sure what type of Börek this was, but it was crispy and soft layers of pastry, slightly salty, that came with a sachet of icing sugar to dust over it. With a strong glass of tea it was a balanced breakfast. Yup.

I loved Istanbul. I don't feel like I've even scratched the surface of it; we didn't spend much time on the Asia side, for example, which is all the more reason to go back. 

Some tips:

- Buying an Istanbulkart (much like a pay-as-you-go Oyster) was invaluable - you can buy one and share it in a group (provided you're travelling together, of course) and it's accepted on almost all transport aside from a couple of ferries. We got pretty familiar with the transport system and only had to get a taxi once.

- Don't get into taxis unless they put their meter on, or they'll try and rip you off

- Booze prices vary wildly. We stayed in the Beyoglu area and some bars charged 12 lira for  a small bottle of beer, while others charged 7 for a pint. 

- Unless you have a strong constitution, Asmalimescit Caddesi is totally mental on a Friday or Saturday night. Scarily crowded. 

The link to my geeky spreadsheet is HERE. It is ordered by area, and I've highlighted in bold the places we visited.

With thanks to Eating Asia, Katie Parla and Istanbul Eats for being wonderful resources.