Safran is Turkish for Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world and native to the Mediterranean area. Safran is also the name of the Turkish restaurant on the Central Coast where we’re dining tonight. The restaurant specialises in Modern Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine so the name is quite appropriate.
Being summer it was still daylight when we were shown to our table at 7.00pm. We had been lucky to get a reservation, the restaurant was fully booked and already full when we arrived!
We were seated at a large rustic table with a white linen table cloth. The waiter proceeded to place the cloth napkins on our laps and pour glasses of water. This was exactly the experience I was after. I love Turkish food but have mostly experienced it in a “cheap but cheerful” environment. It was immediately obvious Safran intended to take things up a notch or two.
I absentmindedly popped one after another of the complimentary marinated olives in my mouth as I read through the wine list. The wine list featured local wines from the Hunter Valley and Australia’s other wine regions, plus the more exotic wines which had been imported from Turkey.
I noticed a waiter at the next table decanting a bottle of Turkish Shiraz in a glass decanter. Although I was tempted to try a Turkish wine they were only available by the bottle. I knew I couldn’t manage a bottle on my own! So I settled for another of my favourite local wines. The Sparkling Semillon from Bimbadgen in the Hunter Valley. I have told you all about this vineyard on the Virtual Hunter Valley Wine Tour I shared in a previous story.
The beer selection also impressed Brett.
After a quick look he announced, “There’s are beer here I have never seen before!”
That may not seen like a big deal to most people but Brett prides himself on knowing and trying all beers.
Even though he was interested in trying the Pigs Fly Pale Ale he decided to ordered Efes instead. After all, tonight we were having Turkish food and what is better with Turkish food than Turkish beer.
Everything on the menu looked so good we were struggling to make a decision. I wanted one of everything!! I was also rather hungry and the aroma in the restaurant was teasing me.
Eventually Mr GG and I ordered the Banquet for two. We settled on an additional Mezes plate for the children to share.
The dips arrived first and were served with a bowl of warm Turkish Bread.
Cacik is a garlic, yoghurt and cucumber dip which is similar to tzaziki. It had a lovely lemony and dill flavour and the yoghurt was impossibly creamy. The dip was finished with a swirl of olive oil.
I love Babaganoush! I was pleased to see it arrive at the table. The eggplant had been smoked gorgeously over charcoals and the flavour was sublime. It was so light and silky, so much better than your average babaganoush.
Locky commented “The flavour just pops out at you!”… hehe, that’s my boy 🙂
The final dip was a hummus. Hommus is a standard dip on any mezes platter but this Hummus included some ground cumin seed which gave it a distinct flavour.
Also included in the first course was a serving of Garlic Prawns, Rocket Salad and Stuffed Zucchini Flower.
The prawns arrived in a decorative metal Turkish bowl. The sauce accompanying the prawns was a rich, sweet, tomato sauce which also featured artichoke heart and the promised garlic. The large prawns were perfectly cooked. I used the remaining bread to mop up all the sauce. It was simply too good to leave.
Rocket Salads was a refreshing inclusion on the banquet menu. Sometimes I feel the “green component” gets missed in a banquet. The Safran rocket salad was amazing. Freshest, crisp, greens with a creamy feta, crunchy toasted almonds and oven roasted tomato! The dressing was a zingy red wine vinigerrette which made the salad sing!
The children had been enjoying our Safran Turkish banquet as much as we were.
The next meze to arrive was the dish we ordered for Locky and Anais, the Chicken Kebab Meze. I was surprised by the size of the share plate. The Turkish chicken skewer was served on a decorative metal skewer and was very generous. Large cubes of marinated chicken had been cooked over the charcoal grill giving the meat a lovely smokey charred flavour. Both Brett and I sampled a piece of the moist chicken before we divided the share plate for the kids.
The Chicken Skewer meze was also served with a fluffy, light bulgur pilaff and two pieces of flat bread.
With the first course complete we were ready for our entree course.
Stuffed zucchini flowers were another taste sensation! The flowers were stuffed with goats cheese but had additional flavours that I could identify, but fell in love with immediately. The cheese wasn’t the usual soft runny goats cheese, it had a milder flavour, and more texture. This made a lovely contrast to the light crispy tempura exterior.
The banquet entrée selection also included a serving of eggplant dolma. These delicacies had all the flavour of traditional vine wrapped dolma, but were enclosed in eggplant. The filling was an eastern turkish style rice which included ground lamb, mint, lemon and spices. The baked eggplant casing made a silky flavoursome envelope. The dish was served on a yoghurt sauce which was surrounded by a rich jus.
I can’t begin to explain the flavours contained in this dish. The pastry was super crisp and had a unique aromatic spiced flavour profile, perhaps cooked in a spiced ghee? The Borek Filo rolls lay on a slice of roasted zucchini. Inside each of the filo pastry boreks was a piece of air dried cured beef and smoked cheese. The combination was sublime.
It was time to move onto the third course, which was a small sample of mains from the menu. By this time I was quite full, but I was greedily looking forward to the meals. Braised lamb shanks wrapped in eggplant were placed on the table. The meat was “melt in the mouth” tender, it had been braised to perfection. The eggplant was marinated and the flavour of the confit garlic just perfect with the lamb. The dish was served in a rich lamb jus. The dish was so meaty in flavour and velvety in the mouth.
The final main was what I thought would be a fairly normal Lamb Kofte. Again I was mistaken, this was another dish that was built around complimentary flavours and the beautiful plating of a traditional dish. The Kofte was out of this world with moist garlicky flavours. The meat simply oozed flavoursome liquid with each bite. The Lamb Inegol Kofte was served on a chilli capsicum ezme, it then benefited from a layer of braised eggplant. Even though I wanted to save space for dessert I simply couldn’t leave a bite.
If there is anything better than dessert I suspect it would be a “Turkish Dessert Platter”. Although we had ordered a banquet for two I noticed the attentive staff had cut the three desserts into four pieces. This and the additional dessert cutlery made it easy to share with the children.
I didn’t want to share with the children!
I love real Turkish delight, that sweet floral perfume flavour, with the sticky jelly texture. YUM!! So good, I worked my through my piece of turkish delight savouring each slow mouthful. The children went straight for their slice of Baclava, they know and love Baclava.
Turkish floss was a big hit with the kids. That suited me fine because I wasn’t wasting tummy space on it when there was helva calling my name. The halva had a delicious creamy, nutty flavour with the expected crisp crunch. I thought I tasted a chocolate tones but I’m not sure. It was delicious. Against my better judgement I encouraged the children to try the Helva. Thankfully they didn’t want any so I got an additional piece!
My final Turkish banquet dessert experience was the buttery, sweet baclava. Crisp baked filo pastry layered and buttered and layered again with a nutty crunchy middle. The baclava, was dripping with syrup and flavourso syrupy dripping with flavour, the perfect way to end an amazing meal.
Safran serves food unlike any Turkish restaurant I have visited in the past. Each dish was plated beautifully and contained all manner of flavour. It’s a completely refined take on cuisine we have always enjoyed.
81/189 Ocean View Road
Ettalong Beach NSW 2257