When Mrs Prick and I head out for some foodie-type event, tasting, degustation, what have you, the deal is always that if any offal shows up, I eat it. I can deal; she can’t stand the stuff. But as we got ready to head out the door one recent evening, a more disturbing codicil was added to the rulebook:
“Babe, you’re gonna have to eat my balls.”
Now hold on a second, I said: Just because we’re heading to Balmain, home to all things trendy and transgressive, and by the way the Prick is open-minded as the next fellow, well, there are limits both of physiognomy and taste at play here.
“No, I mean, look at this menu: Lamb’s testicles. I’m not going near them. If the chef serves them up, you’re eating mine.”
And thus it was with a sense of both trepidation and relief that we attended a semi-regular get-together of our little corner of the fooderati world, organised by the one and only Vanity Fare at Mezebar, Somer Sivrioglu’s casual Turkish diner downstairs from his more formal Efendy. Chefs including Darren Templeman from the much-loved Atelier were along for the ride as were the likes of Adam Moore and the brains behind Studio Neon. Fellow web-heads were in abundance as well including our mates from Local Sprouts and The Food Dept.
But enough name-dropping, what of the food? (And for the record, we Pricks were paying our own way, as was everybody else: This was no blogger’s freebie organised by a junior PR girlie to tick the social media box on a client agreement and “generate buzz”.)
Like many other restaurants these days, Mezebar/Efendy banks on a double-barrelled approach. Downstairs things are less formal, more lounge-like, cozy with a fantastic collection of Turkish movie posters. Upstairs it’s a bit more schmick. The model makes sense, even if it is risky (though what isn’t in Sydney’s current restaurant economy?). Claude’s in Woollahra seems to be making a go of this sort of set-up; Matt Kemp’s attempt to similarly reinvent Balzac in Randwick, one of the Pricks’ favourite restaurants once upon a time, as the Montpelier Public House didn’t work out so well.
Sivrioglu’s cooking is familiar enough to be recognisable to Australians who understand that Turkish food is more than a late-night doner, but turned up and twisted enough to be sophisticated and surprising as well. Flavours and spicing are rich but judicious and never over the top; big but well-rounded flavours survived the jar of addictively hot pickled chilies we picked at as palate-cleansers between courses.
Little discs of bread served with dishes olive oil opened the batting – thankfully, neither Australia nor Turkey ever joined the EU, keeping things legal in this department – and what looked like pools of balsamic vinegar revealed pomegranate instead. Humus, again, lovely. Then some sausages with a capsicum dip: now we’re talking. A dish of liver – often controversial, and generally not the Prick’s first choice – was redolent of sumac and onions, crisp and deep and a little smoky. For this site’s money, a good contender for dish of the night. Mrs Prick doesn’t know what she missed.
And then … the lamb’s testicles. And what else could I do but what Mrs Prick asked?
Now the trick to this sort of thing is to not think too hard about it. Just as Peter Pan told his charges that the moment they doubted their ability to fly they would crash, the moment you doubt your ability to choke down this sort of thing, well, you choke. Fortunately, I held it together long enough to take my medicine and follow it a heady draught of raki, ready to move on to richer and more savoury – in every sense of the word – dishes. Yes, some people love this sort of thing. And some people don’t feel they have to eat things on a dare, to be polite, or to show up those more demure. I am neither of these sorts of people, as it turns out.
Borek – fried filled parcels of dough – came next, served up almost like little Turkish sliders. An eggplant dolma in tomato sauce brought back memories of student dinners in Istanbul after days spent trekking through what seemed like every mosque and museum in what used to be Christendom. A hot pot of raki-infused salmon got big ticks all around. Veal koftes were stunning, an order of magnitude past the usual dried out rissoles a la Turko one usually gets, utterly tender and sweet and could have easily survived without their sauce. To finish? Baklava and Turkish coffee, of course, the latter declined because sometimes a Prick just wants to get some sleep.
Besides being a helluva lot of fun, the whole evening was an excellent reminder that Turkish cuisine is far more sophisticated than most Australians credit. Without attributing too much to the power of gastronomy, this sort of cooking can even be an invitation to re-think our thoughts on Turkey, which Australians too often think of either through the boozy, sentimental prism of Gallipoli or the boozy, often violent, late-night kebab: A Eugene O’Neill play by way of the Levant. Mezebar shows there’s a lot more to it than that and stands as an invitation to discover for those who have not yet had the pleasure. Check it out. And tell ‘em the Prick sent ya.