Acclaimed Turkish chef and restaurateur Somer Sivrioğlu is here to challenge preconceptions about Turkish culture and food in Australia. When he started out in 2007, he had a clear goal in mind: “I set out to prove Turkish food is a lot more than kebab shops,” he tells Broadsheet.
Three restaurants later – including Balmain’s beloved, now-closed, Efendy, as well as Anason and Maydanoz – Sivrioğlu and his restaurant group have succeeded in bringing a variety of traditional, full-flavoured Turkish dishes to Sydney. With the opening of the group’s fourth venue, Tombik, Sivrioğlu has declared a new aim: “Now, we want to change the perception of kebab shops themselves.”
The small, lively bar in Barangaroo is set apart by its eponymous dish, the tombik. Baked in-house, the woodfired bread has a crisp exterior that gives way to a light and floaty interior – and Sivrioğlu hopes it will convince Tombik’s customers that kebabs are designed to be savoured.
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“In Turkey, most kebab shops serve doner stuffed into the puffy tombik bread, either just with the meat and a few slices of pickled cucumber, or with the lot: crisp salad leaves, sliced tomato, garlic yoghurt, house tomato sauce – not ketchup – and onions,” says Sivrioğlu.
Sivrioğlu has always thought it’s a shame kebabs are synonymous with after-pub-grub in Australia. “In Turkey, people discuss and support their favourite kebab shop like supporting a soccer club. Almost all of them skewer their own meat instead of the factory-bought minced product very common here in Australia.”
When designing the menu, the group’s executive chef Arman Uz was influenced by his mother’s cooking, street food, and dishes that accompany traditional Turkish events. “We want our guests to experience the true flavours and combinations as they are in Turkey,” Uz tells Broadsheet.
Which is why at Tombik you can order your kebab three different ways, all with prime beef and lamb belly thinly sliced and marinated for 24 hours. The pocket tombik mirrors the sandwich style of traditional kebabs, with warm tombik filled with chillies, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, spicy harissa, garlic and tzatziki, and wrapped in paper for easy eating – “The same as you can find in any and every street of Turkey,” Uz says. The remaining kebabs are served open-faced. One option is the pilav ustu, where the meat sits on a bed of burghul pilaf and is served with shepherd’s salad. But arguably the star of the show is the third option, the iskender kebab, where the meat is piled over buttered croutons, with a rich tomato sauce, yoghurt and grilled chillies.
To share, there’s a generous veggie platter with fresh falafel, roasted cauliflower, sauteed eggplant, pickled vegetables and a trio of hummus, baba ganoush and beetroot labneh. Dessert is freshly made baklava, and, of course, Turkish coffee.
With its playlist of European artists and range of Turkish beers lining high shelves, the bar transports you to the nightlife scene of Taksim in Istanbul. It brings together warm neutrals, curved lines, a wall-length booth and smaller cafe-style tables. Framed by red curtains, a mirror-backed wall of drinks sits above the bar, while a window offers a view into the kitchen, where the meat is prepared against a backdrop of Turkish tiles.
Traditional Turkish ingredients are used in the cocktails, including the tequila-based Spicy Turshu, with spicy pickle juice and a ginger bite, garnished with pickled chilli, and the Turkish sangria with Uludag Gazoz (a Turkish soft drink) and seasonal fruit. Sivrioğlu is a brand ambassador for Turkey’s most popular beer, Efes, which is on the menu alongside options from neighbouring Greece and Lebanon, as well as small-batch Aussie craft producers.
“Kebabs go much better with beer as opposed to after it,” says Sivrioğlu.
Mon to Fri 11.30am–11pm