135 Enmore Road Enmore, New South Wales 2042
|Opening hours||Dinner Wed-Sun from 6pm; lunch Sun from noon|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Licensed, Long lunch, Romance-first date|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 8624 3132|
The old Marie-Louise Hair Salon hasn't seen such sharp hairstyles since its heyday in the 1950s. With its original Barbie-doll pink-and-blue facade still intact, it forms the secret portal to the new Stanbuli on Enmore Road. Step through and you land in a different world and a different century. But the hair? It's as important now as it was at the height of the perm and the ducktail.
On my first visit to the Turkish-inspired diner, the entire nattily coiffed staff of Chippendale's LP's Quality Meats was in. Tonight, it's the yeasty boys from Young Henry's brewery, Anthony Puharich of Victor Churchill, Morgan McGlone of Belle's Hot Chicken, and Monty Koludrovic of Icebergs adding to the glamour.
Not to mention the on-the-ball staff – girls with ponytails, boys with quiffs – doing the geek-chic thing with white shirts, bow ties and high-waisted trousers.
But then, why the surprise? Co-owners of Argentinian rockabilly grill, Porteno, Joe Valore and Elvis Abrahanowicz, are partners here, along with former Porteno senior chef Ibrahim Kasif, whose dream it was to open a Turkish meyhane based on the casual eateries of Istanbul.
So you can sit at the raki-lined marble bar downstairs and pretend you're on holidays while admiring the geometric blue floor tiles, dark bentwood stools, coffee trays and framed Turkish prints, or book a table upstairs in the dining room proper.
The first dish to land – midye dolme, or rice-stuffed mussels ($3 each) – is one of Istanbul's favourite street food snacks, familiar to anyone who has braved the crowds of Istanbul's Istiklal Avenue, where they are sold by vendors on every corner. Here, the cold, plump mussels are bulging with peppery rice; the half-shells sheathed in their opposing shell, to use as a spoon. Get two or three apiece.
Kasif is keen to sidestep Turkish cliches, so there are no mixed dips or shish kebab skewers. There is, however, balik ekmek ($10), the famous fish sandwich traditionally sold at open-air waterside fish cafes near Istanbul's Galata Bridge. With its soft bun, lightly pan-fried mackerel and luridly crimson pickled turnips, it's fresher and more delicate than the Turkish version with its overcooked fish (sadly often frozen mackerel from Norway).
Another local fave is the shepherd's salad ($14) of diced tomato, onion and radish with purslane. It's the sort of dish that goes with everything else you order, especially the gutsier dishes off the height-adjustable charcoal grill, from gnarly, blackened octopus tentacles with a side of rich taramasalata ($30), to seftali ($30), lamb and beef kofta served with a divine parsley yoghurt and pickled green chillies that curl up like sultan's slippers.
There's some twistiness, of course. The rich tarator that comes with the crusty fried calamari ($18) is sweet with hazelnuts rather than walnuts, and poached lamb brain salad ($15) – un-photogenic, but strangely refreshing, like cold brain custard – comes with pickles, charred olives and purslane yoghurt. Bread is baby-soft, cake-like door-stopper slices, scented with cloves, and desserts are simple; milk pudding, say, topped with watermelon granita ($14).
To drink, perhaps a glass of Yeni triple-distilled Raki Ala ($10) made milky with a dash of water, a chilled Efes beer ($8); or a rich, red, plummy 2013 Sevilen Guney ($12/$55) from Turkey's kalecik karasi grape.
It's a winning combination, packaging Ibrahim Kasir's smallish but straight-up Turkish delights with Sarah Doyle's beautifully styled nostalgic interior detail; all within a business model based on collaboration, authenticity, good manners, modern attitude – and excellent hair.
Best bit Turkish food with Enmore attitude.
Worst bit Getting a seat.
Go-to-dish Midye dolma: stuffed mussels with fragrant spiced rice, $3 each
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.