Ottoman Cuisine

Middle East magic ... Ottoman Cuisine.
Middle East magic ... Ottoman Cuisine. Photo: Rohan Thompson

9 Broughton Street Barton, Australian Capital Territory 2600

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Opening hours L Tue-Fri; D Tue-Sat
Features Licensed, BYO, Accepts bookings, Groups, Long lunch, Private dining, Romance-first date, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef Serif Kaya
Seats 200
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 6273 6111

In a week that has seen some sad news for dining in Canberra with Dieci closing, it's interesting to see one of our iconic and long-lived restaurants plowing squillions (or thereabouts) into a significant rework of the old Barton cafeteria.

Let me try to describe the new look. First, on the way in, check out the Turkish lamps and peek into the bathrooms - they, well you assume they are the same, have these most awesome, bedazzling sinks, apparently hugely expensive and difficult to get here.

Not to linger, off to the dining room past the new bar that has been pushed back against the wall. The room is mostly the same space, but they've opened up that little odd room on the side and broken the space up with towers of glistening wine glassware.

Pretty and subtle: Kingfish skewered, served on braised leeks and carrots.
Pretty and subtle: Kingfish skewered, served on braised leeks and carrots. Photo: Rohan Thompson

The colours are more mute, sort of sunset blue or early evening grey, gunmetal maybe. The kitchen has been moved, and all the smaller potentially private rooms now have an outlook.

Closing a restaurant for the couple of months it took to transform would be no easy decision, so what did the team do? Glad you asked. They took off to the Middle East to travel and taste, so the new specials are something else.

The a la carte menu offers the usual suspects, the dishes that have travelled with Ottoman from its first digs in Manuka, and we're happy to launch into stuffed zucchini flowers, meze, chargrilled mushrooms and the lovely etli borek.

The a la carte menu offers the usual suspects, the dishes that have travelled with Ottoman from its first digs in Manuka, and we're happy to launch into stuffed zucchini flowers, meze, chargrilled mushrooms and the lovely etli borek.

But we're eating from the specials board for starters. Sit down and I'll tell you about them. Wagyu and king brown dolma ($23), a little skewered waygu striploin, beautifully seared and rested with a king brown dolma on the side is a harmonious combination of juicy, flavour-packed beef with a silverbeet-wrapped package of minced mushrooms, more wagyu and silverbeet stem, with horseradish-laced sauce and chives. So simple, yet intense and complete. The spices don't scream out at you, but play a supportive roll with the beefy and earthy flavours. If this is the new direction, let's see more of it. On my right is the starring dish tonight, a pair minced lamb kofte, cloaked in cracked wheat, steamed and served with little bit of bitter greenery, a tart and dense yoghurt beet sauce ($18). Like the previous dish, well put together and subtle, there's more spice and heat here but the lamb flavour cuts through. I imagine there's a temptation to hit each dish with a spice stick but the brilliance is the restraint.

The third entree, as in mine, is lamb's brains ($20). Anyone who knows me could make a pretty safe bet that I would order this. Any chef offering this is laying down his aces and saying, so, what have you got?

There appears to be two thinkin' organs, halved and simply dusted in flour, fried firm, a wedge of lemon to balance that creaminess that brains the world over have, and a tomato and onion salsa holds them in place. This is a simple dish where brains rule over brawn - chuckle - very delicate, and again for your listening pleasure, creamy. Just a touch of spice to remind you where you are. Not as stunning as the waygu or kofte but lovely just the same.

The wine list is caught betwixt and between. It seems like they haven't quite got to it yet since reopening, but it's serviceable and, as always, good value. We have a bottle of local booze, Nick Spencer's Eden Road 2008 Tumbarumba Chardonnay ($65). It's in peak form and has just a touch of funk - like someone has struck a match in another room, and that prickly suphide aroma just reaches you - and texture, lovely, tight and pure, really works with this food.

In the mains, dana kulbasti, which translates into something Turkish, I assume, is thin veal slices, touched up with Aleppo chilli and served with baby rocket and mustard dressing ($32). This dish is a joy, soft, spicy and seductive, an Ottoman classic that delivers time and again and that our guest delights in like a first date.

The duck of the night is crispy chargrilled with barberry sauce and lentils ($32). Yup, it's pretty good and full of that duck flavour. I'm not sure what a barberry is, but it seems to add a distinct tang.

And the third dish is kingfish, skewered, set on braised leeks and carrots ($33), another dish that is pretty subtle and possibly more Turkish because of this, a dish that takes you to the shores of the Mediterranean with a lovely texture and super fresh.

Desserts await us, and the food is so well judged that it's easy to fit it in, Love the trio of ice creams ($16), the cardamom and pistachio being my pick. These two exotics blend so well in ice cream, just a delight. The standout is kazandibi ($14), a baked custard, or more a set curd, light and served with mastica extract, an intense caramel condiment and set off with sour morello cherries and pomegranate ice cream. This is a terrific combination and delivers off the charts in Eastern flavours and textures.

It's so busy as we wind up, easily 200 people, and the amazing thing about Ottoman is how well they manage the room. I'm crazy about the new look, the food is as good as ever with that balance of freshness and the exotic, simplicity and subtlety.

The low-down

Licensed: Yes, plus BYO, corkage $15 a bottle
: Plenty of great dishes
: A sultry refurbishment has put the new shine on a favourite destination that is now in its third decade of delighting diners. The new dishes are stunning.