Along the relaxed streets of Moda, a couple of brilliant chefs set up shop in 2016 focusing on everyone’s favourite street food: the dürüm. However, Basta! doesn’t look (taste or smell) like Istanbul’s standard dürümcü (think Dürümzade). Since opening its doors, Basta! has been garnering a stellar reputation. And why shouldn’t it, especially when the likes of former Nicole chef Kaan Sakarya and partner Derin Arıbaş are at the helm. Both completed a culinary grand tour and studied under some of the most reputable masters in Europe (think Paul Bocuse and Alain Passard) as well as a stint in Dubai, only to return at the beginning of 2016 to apply everything they gained.
Like the space, the menu too is small and seems to be filled with the familiar street food we love. And yet, like the turquoise tiles, the items on the menu tend to pop out at you. The stars of the show, here, are the dürüms (wraps). The dürüm is one of the city’s more popular street foods and usually comes in one of two options: chicken or beef. Knowing the team’s professional background, we were expecting a dürüm game changer. Well, we got what we expected. The team preps the five following mouth-watering, sauce-dripping dürüms: slow-cooked lamb kaburga (ribs), smoked-beef kaburga, in-house 3-day aged lamb chorizo, chicken, and finally the seasonal vegetarian option. The kaburgas seem to be the most popular dishes. Rather than serving the conventional rump – so often used for kebabs – the lamb is cooked for a minimum of eight hours and served with a Tunisian harissa. The beef alternative is served with sweet and tangy mustard. Yeah. It’s no wonder they are popular. Moreover, Basta! is one of the few places that aside from serving their wraps with sauce, they actually have ribs on their menu. The latest addition to the menu is the lamb burger, for which we will be returning. For those are not famished, there are fewer, but equally delightful options such as a daily salad or the very shareable hummus. As for dessert, their inspiration is clear. The two serve two of Istanbul’s favourite desserts. On the menu you’ll find the classic Turkish sütlaç (similar to rice pudding) with a Parisian influence as well as the French Paris brest, praline cream sandwiched between two rounds of choux-pastry. Albeit similar ingredients, we were delighted to find a French dessert other than the ubiquitous profiterole. While working on the same few dishes everyday may seem monotonous, the two chefs get creative with their daily/seasonal salads in addition to experimenting with new dishes on the weekends.
Other than running a solid kitchen and fantastic food – a merit in itself – Basta! is doing a couple of things that separates it from Istanbul’s culinary scene. Firstly, considering the two chefs’ experience working in Michelin starred restaurants, Basta! seems to be a reaction to some of the primary principles of the reputed (but problematic) institution. While the ingredients are of the best available quality and the dishes are prepared by some of the best-trained hands, “street food” like the dürüm is hardly regarded as “fine dining”. And, that ain’t bad. In an interview, the two chefs mention that 2016 was not the right climate to try something that could potentially fail. While they wanted to open a small place with gourmet food and wine, such a venture was not feasible. And when so many are closing throughout the city, they opted to open a restaurant that was (more) affordable. Whether it is their intention or not, Sakarya and Arıbaş seem to be closing the gap between fine dining and street food. They have taken a very casual, simple dish very seriously. And, we can taste it.
Much like the feeling at Nicole, Sakarya and Arıbaş manage to play the line between the familiar and the new. It seems that a chef working in any region that has deep-rooted culinary traditions has to engage in this balancing act: creating within parameters, but without duplicating. Even if it is “just” street food, the team successfully delivers a playful marriage between comfort and innovation – and, all on one menu.
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