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|
Imagine you're a young Anatolian woman, let's say 100 years ago. You're engaged to your sweetheart and the wedding is nigh. But there's a stumbling block. To ensure your future mother-in-law's stamp of approval, you must prove you're dainty of hand and caring of heart. There's a mandated way to do this: make manti (dumplings) so small that 40 of them can fit on a spoon.
This charming (and slightly terrifying) tale is told by our waiter at Tulum as he delivers a plate of tiny pasta parcels filled with minced beef. They're not minuscule enough to secure matrimony – or maybe we just need a bigger spoon! – but they're impressively dainty and entirely delicious, paddling in a toasty and sour burnt butter and buttermilk sauce, scattered with dried mint, mint oil and maras pepper, a warm and fragrant chilli from eastern Turkey.
The story, the beautiful food, the all-round irresistibility are characteristic of this modern Turkish restaurant, now three years old and hitting a very sweet spot.
Original owner and chef Coskun Uysal has partnered with Kemal Barut from Lezzet, a powerhouse Turkish tavern on nearby Brighton Road. Barut's practical nous has given fresh impetus to Uysal's creativity. Together, they've made Tulum a more accessible and light-hearted paean to Turkey's culinary history and the contemporary possibilities of its cuisine. The result is food with context and heart, rendered with fine dining sensibility in a cosy and welcoming restaurant.
Once a degustation-only venue, Tulum now works for drop-in snacks and raki, relaxed banquets, and anything in between.
Flavours are traditional but reworked with modern flair. Beef rib is slow-cooked, taken from the bone and pressed into a baton; date and preserved lemon emulsion is a lovely acidic foil for the rich meat.
Icli kofte is best known as a football-shaped fried lamb parcel. Uysal makes a tray version, with dough of semolina and lamb mince enclosing spiced lamb and walnut filling. It's baked, cut into wedges and served on yoghurt sauce decorated with pretty squiggles of fermented carrot juice and mint oil. The kofte is juicy and sweet with pops of crunch and spice; the sauces balance it with tart, herby kick.
Keskek is a wedding dish (yay, the manti are mini, we have a wedding!), a barley porridge that's cooked all day by villagers gathered for the nuptials. Uysal's spin is whipped so it's both sticky and fluffy and mixed with autumnal Jerusalem artichokes and hazelnuts.
It's then cheffed up with Turkish coffee oil and burnt butter powder that's like dairy crack for butter addicts like me. Already supremely comforting, the condiments create pure rapture. Is it possible to marry porridge?
The most challenging dish is saved for dessert. You may see people around you doing a double take when they read "tahini ice-cream with eggplant mousse" on the menu. But you will also see people coming in especially to order it.
Uysal makes tahini from sesame seeds, a two-day process. That's turned into an ice-cream that's dressed with cumin caramel and a lightly smoky splodge of eggplant cream. Odd? Yes. Does it work? Also yes. The dish draws on the natural sweetness of roasted eggplant to create a pleasingly savoury sweet.
It's a confident dish that encourages Melbourne to see Turkish cuisine differently and is thus a perfect expression of Tulum as a whole.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)