15 Johnston St Fitzroy, VIC 3065
|Opening hours||Sun-Mon 10am-10pm; Tue-Thu 10am-11pm; Fri-Sat 10am-4am|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
The restaurant space at 15 Johnson Street in Fitzroy is known in the neighbourhood as a cursed location. It's an odd building, tucked behind the 7-Eleven on the corner of Johnston and Nicholson, and nothing has survived long there: not the Thai restaurant, not the Sri Lankan place, not the Latin American cafe … the list goes on.
But Burhan Kurucu, the newest occupant, has high hopes that his Turkish food – and his specialty dish in particular – will attract enough fans to overcome the building's bad juju.
Kurucu and his family arrived in Australia from Turkey nine months ago to handle a family tragedy. Kurucu's brother, who had lived in Australia for 14 years and worked as an academic at Monash University, died from pancreatic cancer last year, leaving behind a wife and four-year-old child. "We all live together now," Kurucu says. "But the move has been hard, because of my brother." His grief is still palpable.
In Turkey, Kurucu had a 21-year career in the Turkish military. He spent much of that time cooking in army restaurants, and a restaurant seemed like the obvious business choice when he arrived in Melbourne.
He also noticed that one of Turkey's popular dishes – tantuni – was not widely available here, despite Australians' love for all manner of meat-on-pita. At Anatolia Tantuni, which opened in late April, Kurucu is presenting the dish as an alternative to the mighty kebab.
Tantuni can be made with beef or chicken, which is chopped and cooked in a wide pan with tomato, red onion, parsley, sumac, paprika and oregano. The result is juicy and savoury, served either as a wrap, stuffed into a sandwich made of Turkish bread, or with rice.
Main dishes are only available to eat in, but will give you a fuller appreciation for tantuni than the simple to-go wrap.
Iskender tantuni ($20) is served over bread, which soaks up its juices, while beyti tantuni ($20) comes wrapped in strips of thinner pastry-like bread.
Kurucu's wife Birten also makes delicate, crisp gozleme ($11.50). Like everything here, the gozleme are made to order and take a few minutes.
Kurucu will offer you a complimentary glass of fragrant Turkish tea while you wait, with a chocolate-filled biscuit on the side. He's still anxious about his English, but he speaks the international language of warm hospitality fluently.
The room is basic, but the couple has added some loving touches that make it a pleasant place to sit and eat. Heavy chairs made from whole tree stumps line the front window, and large potted plants frame the doorway.
It's a space filled with heart – enough, hopefully, to break the curse.