Changa (Siraselviler 87/1) is one of the restaurants you hear about when you first arrive in expat Istanbul, assume is open only toVIPs and the very rich and resolve to go when that next paycheck comes in or someone in Istanbul’s elite has chosen you from the plebs and invites you to dinner.
Pass it on the street, easily missing it even when looking for it, Changa continues the feel of being in on an insider’s secret with it’s minimalist white decor, and bar fronted dining area with a screen silently showing old French TV comedies.
The interior designer’s masterstroke is a glass covered hole in the restaurant floor looking down onto the kitchen but even that is not screamingly obvious or gimmicky. As soon as I stepped inside, I felt I had been transported to Any Cosmopolitan City. We were not in Kansas anymore.
Having already checked out the menu online, I had seen that it was rather heavy on beef and lamb options which narrowed the menu for me. Of the remaining mains, since Thai green chicken curry I can cook myself, I was choosing between pasta and fish.
The starters showed more variety. Duck spring rolls with spicy raisin and plum dip were bigger than this type of restaurant generally rations out and were perfectly crisp and beautifully accompanied by the chutney style dip. The pumpkin and prawn fritter wasn’t quite as successful only because it didn’t come with anything similar. In fact, they should serve everything on the menu with that dip. The main weakness of the beginning of the meal was the bread, one tiny cold slice of pide and the ubiquitous rock hard butter rather than the basket of crusty seed and herb country bread I was expecting.
Intrigued by the sound of my main, salmon and wasabi tortellini with porcini in a creamy lemongrass sauce, and encouraged by the excellence of the spring rolls, I was sure the kitchen possessed the cheffing wizardry necessary to combine these flavours.
I was only half right.
The tortellini were presented Turkish mantı style, where a spoonful or two drizzled over the top would have been far more appropriate. The porcini were almost completely lost in it and the salmon filling could have been anything but, once again, the accompaniment was inspired. The dish gained everything with the thumbnail of wasabi on the side and, despite the balance of everything else being completely wrong, I really enjoyed it.
The lamb chops with bulghur were as well cooked as anyone who has spent time in Turkey has learnt to expect. Meat may not leave the kitchen until all pink has been thoroughly eradicated.
Based on the rest of the meal it seemed that matching ingredients was the chef’s strong point rather than the execution of the dish as a whole, so, for dessert we trusted the combinations of lime with the dark chocolate brownie and grapefruit compote with the white chocolate mousse. The former was less of a risk and was a shareable sized portion of rich, gooey chocolateyness with little crunchy explosions hidden inside. The lime was subtle and could have been stronger but was a nice alternative to the orange that normally partners dark chocolate.
I was more sceptical about grapefruit as a dessert and I was proved horribly right. It was an abomination. The delicate, silky textured mousse was completely overpowered by the unsweetened fruit. Even after moving it away from the flesh of the grapefruit, it was polluted just by touching the juices that were leaking out. Something like mandarin would have been much more suited.
A kind of lollipop jelly sweet, made from cherries, came as a digestif and was a lot more successful. All in all, not being a great carnivore, the mains wouldn’t draw me back as, strangely, the menu doesn’t change much seasonally, and likewise with the desserts, I have tried the 2 things that appealed to me. Good, but I certainly wouldn’t put it in the World’s Top 50 restaurants as they claim. However, I might be back for late night cocktails if someone is treating me.