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Çengelhan March 1, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
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This weekend I sought the very best dining experience that Ankara has to offer. On most days I’m usually quite content to eat good-quality Turkish food prepared cheaply and without pretension, something one gets at my favorite eatery, Çukurağa Sofrası. But I felt the time had come to test the culinary potential of this city. To do so I visited Çengelhan, the brasserie operated by the Divan Group in the Rahmi M. Koç Museum.

Çengelhan has frequently received great praise when I have asked for dining recommendations. It has also been mentioned by the foreign press as a top place to eat when visiting Ankara. The New York Times writes in its city guide:

As yet another one of Koç’s babies (which include the Divan group of hotels, restaurants, and patisserie), the brasserie offers best in quality and creativity with a menu that gained it membership in the prestigious culinary Chaines des Rotisseurs.

With so many positive reviews in mind, three friends and I went to dinner on Saturday night with high expectations. In the end we found Çengelhan to be a mixed bag: While the dining experience is quite novel, the quality of food falls short of remarkable.

Eating aside, it’s worth dining at Çengelhan simply to take in the surroundings. The restaurant is situated in the glass-covered courtyard of the museum with the tables placed amidst the exhibits. I can safely say it’s the first time I’ve eaten with a biplane hovering above my head and an antique car parked beside me. The service at Çengelhan was impeccable as well. Prompt, courteous and accommodating, the waiters made the meal a very pleasant affair. And for my Anglophone audience, it’s also worth noting that they spoke excellent English.

To begin our meal my friends and I sampled a range of starters, including the içli köfte, artichoke hearts, a selection of dolma and the prawns rolled with kadaif. All were decidedly underwhelming. By no means were they bad, but it would be incorrect to say they were vastly superior to something from a restaurant of lesser repute (and expense). We expected something more dynamic and creative from Çengelhan.

With our expectations diminished by the mediocre starters, we braced ourselves for disappointment when our entrées arrived. Fortunately, we were pleasantly surprised with a tasty meal. The winner of the night was the Halep işi kebap, sort of an iskender-like dish with Arabic influence. The Ankara kuzu tava (lamb shank) was also skillfully prepared and very tender. Finally, the dana beǧendi (braised beef cubes in an eggplant purée) was pleasing, but way too small for anyone with a reasonable appetite.

While our entrées were all quite good, none of us left with the impression that Çengelhan offered the best meal in Ankara. The food was expertly prepared and we appreciated the emphasis on traditional Turkish cuisine. But I didn’t feel a burning desire to return the next day, as is often the case when I eat at a truly remarkable restaurant. Simply put, the menu at Çengelhan is too safe. It’s designed to appeal to a very large audience by doing classic dishes very well and without taking unnecessary risks. For many diners, this is an ideal meal. For me, however, I liked to be challenged by the chef to view food in a different light. I want to taste something more than the technical ability of the kitchen. This level of excellence is required for me to apply a superlative label to any restaurant.

The Koç Museum is located in Altındağ (near Ulus), opposite the entrance to the Citadel (Google Maps). By Ankara standards, Çengelhan is an expensive establishment: Starters average around 17TL ($11 at 1.54TL/$) and entrées are priced between 26TL and 35TL ($17 to $23).

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1. Kalbur « Eating Ankara - March 8, 2010

[…] March 8, 2010 Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine. Tags: seafood trackback Although last week’s attempt to find superlative dining in Ankara came up short, I continued the search this weekend with a […]


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