I am irrationally grateful before we even arrive at Ottoman Cuisine for two reasons. We have booked the old-fashioned way, by telephone, and this means we are not required to give away personal details with which we can be pestered without let-up. Online booking might have the dubious advantage that you don't need to actually talk to anybody, but it has the distinct disadvantage that you can be forced to share so much more than is necessary simply to eat dinner. Plus, you can be stung for a hefty deposit. Which, okay, might be halfway fair in these very difficult COVID times.
The second reason for lightness of heart is that Ottoman remains a la carte, where so many other restaurants have switched to set menus. This is wonderful.
You might recall Serif Kaya's disruptive beginnings on the corner in Manuka where Public Bar now stands. Disruptive because when Kaya started here it was small and deliberately unfancy, bistro style, and with excellent, inventive food off his Turkish grill. He cooked then with elan, as he does now, and by which I intend to mean confidence, style, originality and verve. That was, I guess, something more than 20 years ago. He and wife Gulbahar moved to Barton and got fancy soon after, now occupying a really large space in a historic building. It's quite grand, a little opulent in the furnishings and feel. And it's still very good. How often can you say that about a restaurant, that it remains relevant, excellent, busy and en pointe for the span of effectively an entire adult working career? And if you, too, have joined the barre craze, you will know just how much work is needed to master that particular position.
The clientele at Ottoman has something of a political bent, this close to Parliament House. It has private rooms and spaces for when you don't want your meeting on the front page of the Tele, and plenty of space in the large main area for clusters of operatives at the end of a long day on the hill.
The food at Ottoman starts in Turkey and sweeps the Mediterranean, with an emphasis on seafood and lamb, on sharp flavours, and on herbs. It fair pops with colour and freshness.
Semolina-crusted sardine fillets with parsley salad and lemon olive oil dressing (tava balik, $24) are pretty much what they say, except the semolina crust is super light, adding just a light crunch and leaving the sardines at the centre of this dish. They're impressive little butterflies; someone has done some tiresome work today in the prep. The accompaniment is minimal, a little pile of red onion and tomato.
The yuvka (filo) pastry rolls (karidesli borek, $18) are filled with prawns, garlic, parsley, ginger and served with pomegranate and chilli sauce, the result sweet and sharp, robust with parsley, hot with chilli and crisp with the pastry.
The ravioli (manti, $36) is unusual. The pasta parcels are stuffed with ricotta and spinach and what I think is cinnamon, oddly. The sauce is yoghurt and lemon, which adds to the rich and creamy impact. This dish is perplexing to me but the team is sold on it.
We have a complicated relationship with offal, fandom more honoured in the breach than the observance. We strongly approve of seeing it on menus, and we order it enthusiastically but also with a kind of bungee-jump feeling. Like a dare. When the dish arrives it's often confronting. So it is tonight with the liver, we have dived deep and perhaps we have lost the fortitude. The meat is intense and dark, with the soft texture of liver, beautifully cooked and pungent. It's with slices of charred red pepper, and that familiar combination of parsley and red onion, and again served in a way that focuses on the central ingredient without too much else going on.
The organic chicken (tavuk izgara, $35) I really like. It's been flattened super thin which allows super-light cooking or the chargrill, to a very delicate effect. It's with a quite rich mustard and lemon sauce, and a simple potato salad. There's a purity and simplicity here which is characteristic of Ottoman.
Doughnuts are normally on the avoid list, for obvious reasons. But at Ottoman doughnuts (lokma, $18) rise to delicacy and incredible lightness, served with berries and mascarpone cream, with, I think, pistachio dust.
Baked mastica custard (kazandibi, $16) is really pretty in a glass, smooth and luxurious, caramelised on top, with pomegranate ice-cream, cherry sauce and sparkling berries.
If service is make or break for you when you're eating out, you will be happy here, where the service is defined by ease and professionalism.
The wine list also is a keen focus, and has a correctness about it. The locals are chosen carefully for interest and excellence; the sparklings are from Tasmania; if you're after a riesling you'll find a German option, pinot gris and grigio are offered from France and Italy, chardonnay from Burgundy, sangiovese from Tuscany. Not exclusively, but sensibly.
The set up tends towards formality and opulence, but the food, as you can see, focuses on freshness, modernity, technique and excitement.
Address: 9 Broughton St, Barton
Hours: lunch, Friday from noon; dinner, Tuesday to Saturday, from 6pm
Owners: Serif and Gulbahar Kaya
Chef: Serif Kaya
Vegetarian: Very good
Noise: No problem