Tugra is the fine and main restaurant of the Kempinski Ciragan palace hotel at the Bosporus in Istanbul. Located on the first floor of the historical building, if has two connected dining rooms with high windows and views to the Bosporus and the Bosporus Bridge. For the hotter months of the year there is an open terrace with tables and uninterrupted view of the sea.
According the the hotel's website the name of the restaurant Tuğra describes the Ottoman sultan's calligraphic signature used like a letterhead or imperial seal.
We went on a rainy evening of October so we had to sit inside. The square tables were quite small but well spaced out while the decor is palatial with high ceiling and a big blue chandelier in the main dining room. From there you can see an open cellar with many bottles of wine as also some digestives and liquors.
The Bosporus scenery (which I keep recalling, as it is so majestic), is paired with Ottoman and Turkish dishes by the executive chef of the hotel, Sezai Erdogan. The chef has inspired from recipes found in the archives of historic sites such as Topkapı Palace. like the coconut kadayıf, a popular dessert served to foreign palace visitors in the 1890s. There is only an a la carte menu with no set menus and as I wrote above most dishes are inspired from the past. Traditional recipes and dishes that have been served to the sultan or his guests or the palace.
We started with oven-hot bread and a trio of two butters, plain, goat and a red pepper hot sauce. An amuse bouche of eggplant puree with minced meat in a tomato sauce base on top was tasty.
Tuğra Mezze Platter
Consisted of 9 small dishes each one with a different mezze inside. İskenderun prawns “pilaki”, olive marinated anchovy “mastave”, fresh broad fava beans with dill, lentil “köfte” with Yedikule lettuce, sauteéd Aegean greens ‘haydari’, organic Circassian chicken with walnut, eggplant “kaygana” with yogurt, homemade hummus with virgin olive oil, rose flavored “Kırkağaç” melon and “Ezine” cheese in the bigger bowl in the middle.
Traditional İskenderun Prawns Casserole
Sauteed fresh prawns casserole with wild mushroom, fresh onion, garlic, sweet peppers, tomato from Canakkale, butter, green lemon juice topped with “kaşkaval” cheese. The prawns had very nice depth of flavor and the result whilst the odd combination with the cheese was very tasty.
Testi Lamb Casserole
Shoulder of lamb with tomato sauce, potatoes, shallots, wild mushrooms, peppers, garlic, thyme and vegetable stock served on a ring of Turkish rice. This is the signature dish of the restaurant, an ottoman traditional recipe from the past. Testi in Turkish is the clay pot, used for carrying water from wells to the houses, but later also found use in cooking vegetables and meat over the fire or in stone ovens. To these days the pots used in the restaurant are hand made from red mud. Traditionally the cooking process of the deboned meat and vegetables which are sealed with dough requires 6 hours of cooking. The waiter told us that even though the restaurant is not capable of as much cooking time, they still cook it for 3 hours. The result is a tender flavorful meat in a tasty very sauce, while we also found the rice to be very aromatic.
The waiter brought the sealed clay pot to the table and then broke it with a brass pestle, before carefully putting the content on the rice ring on to the plate. An excellent rustic dish that I suggest you to order.
Beef tenderloin served on smoked mashed eggplant and chestnut puree, Aegean wild herbal pancake, grilled tomato with sumac, red onion relish and pomegranate jam. The beef was tender but had not remarkable flavor as it was cooked closer the boiling, rather than any Maillard reaction, cooking method.
Lamb and beef minced meat kebab with herbs, pickled onion, peppers, tomato and red pepper salad, herb yogurt and lavash bread. It came medium cooked as it was ordered. It was of good quality meat, tasty but not remarkable.
Ciragan palace pudding
Imperial chocolate pudding with gold leaf decoration and crushed pistachio. The chocolate creme was covered by a solid chocolate layer under the gold leaf. A traditional dessert of the past served during holidays and ambassador feasts. It was very tasty and well balanced in the sugar.
Oven baked mastic pudding
Pumpkin paste and roasted walnuts, Turkish style rice with milk, sugar and cinnamon or as you may commonly say rice pudding. It was pretty good, refreshing and nicely paired with the spicy pumpkin paste.
The wine list has wines from Turkey, France, Italy and other countries while I counted 5 white wines by glass, 4 red wines and 2 different glasses of Champagne (Louis Roederer at 20 to 25euros per glass). We went for a glass of excellent full bodied Merlot Esser from California at 11 euros per glass.
I would suggest you to visit this restaurant even though it is pricey, especially the wine list, as the decor of the dining room and the view are majestic, while service is professional friendly and attentive. This is not michelin starred food as you may expect in the top hotels of Europe, but more like a more rustic cooking of traditional recipes from the past, skillfully prepared using good quality ingredients.
The restaurant is open Monday to Sunday from 19:00 to 00:00.