217 Carlisle Street Balaclava, Victoria 3183
|Opening hours||Tue-Sat 5pm-11pm|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings, Bar, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Family friendly, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9525 9127|
Turkish chef Coskun Uysal has been visiting Australia for 10 years, doing work experience at top restaurants like Vue de Monde and Attica, and popping up at Mark Best's Pei Modern. In between, he worked and studied in London, (Jamie Oliver's Fifteen, River Cafe, Leiths School of Food) and ran hotel dining rooms and cafes in Turkey. Uysal always found Melbourne's food culture thrilling but also lamented that the Turkish food here is often stuck in an immigrant time warp and doesn't reflect the exciting modern food now seen in Istanbul.
Tulum, named after a sheep's milk cheese, is Uysal's upbeat retort, a contemporary restaurant that shows – deliciously, successfully - that Turkish food isn't just dips, pide and kebabs.
The restaurant has already created a sensation in Balaclava, which has great cafes and good comfort food but not much in the way of destination dining. Tulum is modest in size but ambitious in outlook.
It isn't the ideal place to bring the kids for six o'clock chow (though if you do, get them the cilbir immediately, an upscale take on Uysal's favourite after school snack, comprising smoked yoghurt and poached egg topped with brown butter crumble and crisp shards of chicken skin).
This is more a venue for grown-up eating adventures, a tasty dance through Turkish heritage, honoured and updated.
Take the karides (prawns), which paddle in tarhana, a soupy sauce made from a rehydrated crumble of dried tomatoes, capsicum and yoghurt. Tarhana is a peasant stand-by, sun-scorched on roofs across Turkey. It's luxed up here: the prawns are big, fat and doused in garlic butter, there's pastrami for sophisticated saltiness, and concentrated earthy, summery sourness from the tarhana.
See also the ordek (duck). Pan-fried breast is ostensibly the star of the plate but it's the accompaniments that bring the noise. Black tahini (milled from black sesame seeds using a stone grinder), crunchy vine leaves, fennel-and-cinnamon-flavoured duck pastrami and a puree made from vinegared dried apricots combine to create a handsome dish, its powerful flavours cleverly harnessed.
Sutlac (rice pudding) is a Turkish classic, generally eaten cold. Uysal's update is an homage to his mother's recipe and his own impatience. He serves his sutlac warm because he could never wait for it to cool down before eating. Here, he gives it a savoury edge by adding Jerusalem artichoke, now in season, sweet, strange and succulent.
Uysal has history in delivering new experiences to great food towns. When he developed menus for Istanbul's trendy House Cafe, he caused a sensation by introducing eggs benedict and American pancakes.
Just as Istanbul went crazy for breakfast dishes it hadn't seen before, I suspect Melbourne will throng to try Turkish food that's rich in tradition yet sparkling with creativity.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)