shop 2 9-15 Bayswater Rd Potts Point, NSW 2011
|Opening hours||Dinner Tue-Sat|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
Damn it, I've done it again. I've eaten too much bread too quickly and there are several more dishes to come. One day I might develop the self-control to not lunge at every hot-buttered carbohydrate that hits the table, but it won't be today. Not when the bread is a warm and springy pide asking to be slathered in smoked eggplant dip.
It's a bread I've been jonesing to try since Botany's Malika Bakehouse opened last October with a range of simits, pogacas, gozlemes, boreks and other Turkish pastries that are fun to say. I'm yet to visit, but at least Malika owners Efe Topuzlu and Ozgur Sefkatli have brought their bread and baklava to a new restaurant in Potts Point.
Izgara launched in June and it's a luxe riff on Istanbul's ocakbasi joints, where chefs grill fat-dripping meat in front of diners – like Japanese yakitori, but with deadlier skewers. There's a bar near the grill, as per ocakbasi tradition, but I find the lights above it too bright, especially for a venue with interiors "inspired by '60s Turkish cabaret theatres", according to the press release. Book in a group and request one of the plush booths instead.
Except for heavy red curtains and hanging photographs of Turkish bohemians, the cabaret pitch doesn't quite take off; there are still a lot of hard edges and corporate grey walls from the site's former life as Harajuku Gyoza. Maybe I was expecting the kind of place in which Sean Connery's James Bond might order a nightcap while in Istanbul. In any case, serious money has been spent on marble tables and moody oak furniture. It's a fitout suggesting you should spend serious money, too.
There are five steaks, ranging from a satisfying scotch fillet for $46 to a full-blood, wagyu striploin coming in at $230 for a half-kilo on the bone. But you can throw a Nerf ball down George Street and hit a good-to-excellent steak these days: what you're really here for is the grilled lamb iskender ($52): thinly sliced backstrap spooned with a cardinal-red sauce of roasted capsicum, tomato and sumac. Bits of toasted pide sit on yoghurt under the tender meat, absorbing all the delicious things happening around them.
The key flavour-driver of the lamb sauce is maras pepper, a fruity and complex dried chilli you can find at Turkish grocers. It's also vital to kopoglu ($18), a garlicky, yoghurt-based spread with the forthright tang of smoke from charred and smooshed eggplants.
The dip is further supercharged by the sweet heat of fresh sivri peppers, for which Topuzlu drives to Auburn three times a week. "I don't even know where they come from," he tells us. "I've tried to track down a direct source, but I have a feeling they may just be grown in a local Turkish person's backyard."
Portions are generous. I could have left happy after that dip and the accompanying pide, the iskender and a glass of 2017 Vinkara Doruk ($18), made in Anatolia with pinot noir-ish kalecik karasi grapes. But then I wouldn't be very good at my job; more grilled meat calls.
Charred and cubed lamb loin ($66) with garlic butter is incredibly soft but does little to change my belief that loin is one of the least interesting cuts of lamb, thanks to its lack of fat. Do order big on the kibbeh ($9 each), though; these hearty little footballs of lamb mince, encased in a fried bulgur-wheat shell, are fragrant with cumin and cardamom. Crushed pistachio on top adds bonus interest.
Clearly, this is not a restaurant for the lamb-averse. (It helps to like curly-leaf parsley, too – there's more of the herb garnishing dishes here than at a bowling club meat raffle.)
A dish of split Yamba tiger prawns, grilled with zippy maras pepper butter ($38), is one of the few seafood options and slides easily from the shell. Terrific stuff.
However, I'm unsure why raw kingfish with coconut and green goddess dressing ($36) is on the menu; it sounds like something from Bondi, not the Bosphorus.
I'd rather see a few more traditional mezze and dips, and more pastries like the excellent baklava (two pieces for $18), served cold and creamy with milk syrup, and far less sweet than Lebanese versions.
Topuzlu and Sefkatli are informed and welcoming hosts, intent on elevating Turkish food in the same way Somer Sivrioglu is doing at his restaurants, such as Maydanoz in the CBD. Izgara is a good restaurant for Potts Point, with potential to be a great restaurant for Sydney. It just needs a little less steak, a little more tradition and – oh, to hell with it! – yes, more bread.
Vibe: Turkish members' club meets modern steakhouse
Go-to dish: Iskender with pide bits and yoghurt ($52, pictured)
Drinks: Intriguing Turkish wines and many mid-priced Australian and French reds, plus quality cocktails and amaro
Cost: About $190 for two, excluding drinks