If you’re after some kofte and a sneaky shisha, you’re in exactly the wrong spot. But if you’re open to revising your view of traditional Turkish, Tulum’s got the goods.
“What I’m trying to do here is what’s happening in Istanbul at the moment,” says chef and owner Coskun Uysal. “It’s not like it’s 1970. We’re trying to show everyone there’s more than kebabs.”
Uysal has amassed an impressive CV, ticking off Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and the River Café in London. But he decided to set up shop in Melbourne because of the city’s borderline obsession with cuisine. “I’ve kept coming back to Australia for the last 10 years because the food and wine culture is fantastic,” he says.
At his new 36-seat Carlisle Street eatery, Uysal filters dishes learned from his mother through contemporary culinary techniques. A dish from the Black Sea called dana yahni matches corn, cooked as though it’s rice, with kale chips, 12-hour cinnamon beef cheek and figs stuffed with walnut. He ups the ante on his mum’s homely pre-dinner dish cilbir by using smoked yoghurt, organic eggs, two kinds of brown butter – one crumbly and one flavoured with sumac – and topping it with crisp chicken skin. Uysal’s presentation is typically modern, with dehydrated dusts, petals and restrained emulsions.
The cornerstone of Tulum’s menu, however, is its homemade sauces, smoked yoghurt and cheeses, vinegars, pickles and ferments. For the Armenian-style lakerda, Uysal salt-cures mackerel for 10 days. For the kingfish lufer, he pickles cucumber in rose water. He even makes his own tahini: soaked overnight then dried for another day, the sesame seeds are roasted over an open campfire in the backyard and ground, without oil or water, in a stone mill.
“With everything, we start with good food in season, and we start curing or pickling for the next menu,” he explains. “We always think two or three months later about our menu – it’s not for today.”
The wine list was constructed with the help of Pei Modern maître d’ Ainslie Lubbock, and it travels lightly between Beechworth and Istanbul, stopping off at Alsace and the Dehesa.
The fit-out is similarly understated, with blond tables and handmade light fittings, the only traditional “Turkish” element a strip of turquoise tiles, actually handcrafted in Portugal. “I didn’t want the place to become an old-fashioned Turkish restaurant,” says Uysal. “Other than this, it’s very classic.”
Tulum Turkish Restaurant
217 Carlisle Street, Balaclava
(03) 9525 9127
Tue to Sat 4pm–11pm