Since immigrating to Australia from Turkey in 1997, Ali Atay has run a cleaning company, a fresh juice and gelato store, a cafe and a food truck. Now he’s the executive chef and owner of Halikarnas, a Brunswick East restaurant that opened in 2021 and serves dishes “rooted in tradition” including karniyarik (stuffed eggplant) and cacik (a Turkish yoghurt dip).

Across the street is Yakamoz Mediterranean, a restaurant Atay and his son Ogulcan Atay opened earlier this year. At this younger sibling, the traditional dishes found at Halikarnas are often given a playful contemporary spin.

Take the crisp manti, for example. While a traditional version of the Turkish dumplings, which are typically boiled, can be found across the street, Yakamoz’s take is decidedly more offbeat. The handmade, mince-filled dumplings are fried and served with chilli butter and labneh. It’s a slight update that doesn’t depart so far from the original as to leave diners wondering what they’re eating.

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Ogulcan – who goes by OJ – developed the Yakamoz menu with Istanbul-raised head chef Cagri Ergin. The pair have come up with a Mediterranean menu that isn’t tied to tradition and uses Turkish food as a jumping off point. “There’s inspiration from North Africa, Morocco, from Spanish dishes, you know, [places] especially close to Turkey, like Greece,” OJ tells Broadsheet.

The menu is designed to be shared, and diners could easily make a meal out of the meze selection, which includes pan-fried kefalotyri cheese (often erroneously called “saganaki” in Australia), hummus topped with pastirma (cured beef), and the zucchini fritters with sundried tomato puree. But it would be a shame to miss the woodfired dishes that make up the majority of the menu.

While the restaurant is small enough for all diners to marvel at the woodfired oven, a seat at the bar provides a front-row view. Most commonly coming out of the oven is pide, a Turkish flatbread that OJ describes as “pizza … just in a boat shape”. It’s served with toppings like minced beef, spinach and herbs, and pastirma and egg. Spiced lamb cutlets, Moroccan chicken and sweet rice pudding are also finished off in the woodfired oven. As is the candied pumpkin with tahini, a dessert popular in Turkey, but not often found on Melbourne menus.

The drinks menu places just as much emphasis on the Mediterranean. There’s ayran, a popular Turkish yoghurt drink; Turkish soft drinks by Uludag Gazoz; Turkish coffee; and a fermented turnip drink called salgam. Non-alcoholic drinks from other Mediterranean countries and a full wine list highlighting the best of the region are also in the works.

A delivery-only kebab store, Kebap Ali, also operates out the back of the restaurant and serves kebabs, halal snack packs, pide and potato cakes.

OJ, a draftsperson by trade, has plans to refresh the restaurant’s interiors, but decor is secondary to everything else Yakamoz has to offer. As the older Atay says, “You don’t eat tables. You don’t eat chairs.” What makes the restaurant worth visiting is as simple as good food and good hospitality.

Yakamoz
74 Lygon St, Brunswick East
0422 284 916

Hours
Wed to Mon 5.30pm–11.30pm

yakamoz.au