WLC Eats: Arkestra, Istanbul

Douglas Blyde takes a trip to Türkiye to visit Arkestra and discover for himself whether this music-themed fine dining restaurant really is “one of Istanbul’s hottest tickets right now”.

Billed as “a delicious feast for all the senses”, Arkestra, meaning orchestra, instrumentally combines “food, music and ambience to accompany moments of conviviality” over two distinct, acoustically refined floors of a 1960s villa and its cigar-scented secluded courtyard.

Design

Co-founder, Debora Ipekel, a former events programmer for London’s Boiler Room, turned host for NTS Radio via which she takes listeners “on a monthly ride to earthly wonders and cosmic adventures”, has writ large her fascination for music here in classy, prosperous Beşiktaş on the European shore of the Bosphorus. A retro vibe informs the upstairs Listening Room and veranda, furnished with deep, retro-patterned sofas, a DJ podium with a rich vinyl library, and a cyan-tiled bar. Here, framed by walls painted with palm trees, nocturnal guests dance to the likes of “I can’t afford to be poor” (The Dynamic Superior).

At ground level, a long, chic, brightly illuminated open pass attended by a manicured team, leads to the dining room, a larger, shimmering bar, and the leafy courtyard. With bespoke bubble glass chandeliers, wooden panels impressed with lip-like emblems, and golden details, this is the accomplished, first restaurant design project of the local Tayfun Mumcu Studio.

Drinks

Izmir-born head sommelier, Engin Tunç who counts Bodrum Kempinski and Çırağan Palace on his CV, previously worked alongside Arkestra’s head chef, co-founder, and partner of Ipekel in life and business, Cenk Debensason, at the Ritmo Zeytino pop-up restaurant in Bodrum Yalıkavak before opening this permanent site.

At Arkestra, beyond a cover emblazoned with, fittingly, the cartoon of a wine glass en route to becoming a trumpet, Tunç has authored a largely old-world list celebrating often lesser-known homegrown wines. Of nearly 80 examples, these include naturally inclined pét-nats, orange, and even politically inclined reds, alongside a similar number of cherry-picked international icons. As winter approaches, given Arkestra’s flourishing clientele, he is expanding the high-end red selection with bins from Bordeaux’s Château Talbot, Château Citran, and Orma from Tuscany.

Meanwhile, mixologist, Rüveyda “Ruvi” Ünlü oversees the duet of cocktail counters. In diaphanous glassware, her signature Arkestra Margarita unites tequila, mezcal, and coriander with a “togarashi tajin” rim, while the Tomatillo is a thrilling, slightly effervescent, blotter-dry, “bloodless” (clear) take on the Bloody Mary.

Dishes

Ordered from a menu featuring a dancing “A” for Arkestra, dishes are masterminded by Cenk Debensason, who studied at the Institute Paul Bocuse in Lyon. He subsequently worked at Restaurant Alain Senderens, Paris, and Gary Danko, San Francisco. In Los Angeles, he performed “The Cartoonist” pop-project, before returning to his hometown of Istanbul, becoming head chef at Petra.

Dinner began with fluffy, doughnut-like, potato bread with deeply smoked butter and a parakeet green scallion oil. Alongside, beyond a label showing a bird in a hat perching on a heaving grapevine, Tunç poured a chilled coupe of copper-tinted, “Hubba Bubba” fragranced, Paşaeli Naif Çalkarası 2022 from the country’s first commercial producer of pét-nat, Işık Gülçubuk.

With starters of luscious tuna sashimi served over silken sushi rice ice cream, puffed rice, daikon sprouts, with a ginger-ponzu vinaigrette, and, deeply umami in nature, porcini and shitake on a miso onion purée with fig leaf oil, Tunç chose a world-class Sauvignon Blanc with two dancers clasping wine glasses on its label. Of the mineral, poised, persistent example from producer, Kuzubağ, Tunç later shared an article from National Geographic on its region, Çal in Denizli, calling it “a sleeping giant of the wine world … responsible for producing 40% of all Turkish wine.”

“I have a surprise,” said Tunç of the final savoury pairing. Via Coravin, Paşaeli 6N 2019 tempers the indigenous, spontaneously fermented Karasakız from a single vineyard in North Kaz Daglari with Merlot. The area, in İzmir, saw gold mines open in the 1990s, reportedly polluting the water supply. The wine’s label, featuring a struck-out “6N”, being a play on words for the Turkish for gold, is a statement by the winemaker to close the mines. “Make wine, not gold,” reiterated Tunç. This lively, pomegranate-esque wine was paired with dishes of flower-adorned stone bass with a red pepper ginger sauce, smoked kombucha, mirin glazed aubergine, spinach roots, and a kombu gel, and the denser of flesh, confit Black Sea trout with beurre blanc, leek fondue, and salmon roe, with off-menu raw, sliced Caesar’s mushroom.

The final dish was a standout – choux “craquelin” with white truffle and vanilla ice cream choux spheres, chocolate sauce, and shaved black truffle – the chocolate aspect paired not with wine, but a sour cherry liqueur. Its 17% strength barely perceptible, Deni̇zli̇’s Küp Vi̇şne Li̇kör Şarabi Reserve 2016 saw six years of barrel ageing. It arrived with a rich Turkish coffee, given that is how Tunç best enjoys the liqueur.

Last word

While this is fine dining, the warmth of the service and positive soundtrack and atmosphere at Arkestra, being one of Istanbul’s hottest tickets right now, meant the experience never felt tiring. Fortunately for diners who don’t have the time to fly over some eight countries to reach the restaurant, Cenk Debensason will be bringing his confident, fusion cooking at Fitzrovia’s Carousel in April 2024. Here’s hoping Tunç will join to bravely playlist the liquid assets alongside.

Best for

  • Acoustically considered environment
  • Vinyl library
  • Exotically accented dishes rooted in French technique
  • Lesser-known Turkish wines

Arkestra – Etiler, Dilhayat Sk. No:28, 34337 Beşiktaş, İstanbul, Türkiye; +90 212 970 72 73; [email protected]; arkestra.com.tr

This article was originally published by the drinks business and has been shared with permission.

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