In conversations with a Turkish friend we have wondered, when so many cuisines have been given a modern makeover in smart restaurants in recent years (such as Sicilian, Armenian and Lebanese), why no one had opened a modern Turkish restaurant. There was Gigibaba on Smith St, but that didn’t  last. Now Melbourne has one again: Tulum is a new modern Turkish restaurant on Carlisle St Balaclava in a building previously occupied by cafes.

tulum-1 dinner at Tulum in Balaclava

It takes a lot to tempt me across town on a weeknight but the lure of Tulum’s fascinating menu was strong, and we were rewarded with what was easily the best meal I’ve had this year. The dishes are modern interpretations of traditional recipes with complex combinations of flavours and exquisite presentation.

The first was pirasa – leeks braised with orange and olive oil, puffed wild rice and raw carrots marinated with mulberry molasses (above). The leeks are incredibly tender. This dish is about subtlety and delicacy of texture and flavour.

tulum-2 dinner at Tulum in Balaclava

Next – tulum rezene –  roasted fennel with tulum cheese and olive biscuit (above). Like the leeks, the fennel was very soft, which contrasted with the hard shards of very savoury olive biscuit. I really loved this dish. I love eggplant, so ordering the next dish was essential for me – eggplant with Turkish coffee and black olive puree, tahini, smoked labne and kadayif (below). Amazing.

tulum-3 dinner at Tulum in Balaclava

The menu we ordered from has been changed since the restaurant opened and the one on the website is out of date. The dish with fried sardine bones (something I’d had at Provenance in Beechworth a few years ago) has been removed and calamar (calamari) has been added. By this time I was so absorbed in tasting that I have forgotten what flavoured this dish (and can’t refer to the online menu to check). It was savoury and had something like capsicum or paprika.

tulum-4 dinner at Tulum in Balaclava

The above were all smaller plates to share. We then had one of the larger dishes – ordek (duck) breast with duck pastrami, black tahini, apricot puree, freekeh rice and vine leaf wrapped roast apple. This was sublime. I’d finished a glass of Turkish red wine by this time (variety unknown) and had a glass of Yarraloch Yarra Valley pinot noir. My dining companion had earlier enjoyed her Jamsheed rose.

tulum-5 dinner at Tulum in Balaclava

Finally we had Turkish coffees with desserts. My friend had the chocolate muhallebi (pudding) with sumac strawberry sauce and crispy kadayif that has been fried in butter. I had the ayva kaymak – slow roasted quince with saffron creme fraiche mousse and walnut and porcini mushroom crumble.

tulum-6 dinner at Tulum in Balaclava

We agreed the quince was the better dish. The chocolate was very rich and the spice was not sufficient to counter it, whereas the quince was amazing. In one mouthful the crumb tasted simply of walnut, and I wondered if the menu featured a typo in mentioning porcini, but in the next mouthful if was obvious.

tulum-7 dinner at Tulum in Balaclava

The bill came to about $180 including 3 glasses of wine, which is good value for the high quality of the meal. We were suitably full (not something that can be taken for granted with share plates. Whenever I left Gigibaba I needed a snack later in the evening). The dishes are all beautiful to look at, and contain lots of soils, crumbs and micro herbs. It’s food as art but it doesn’t detract from the pleasure of eating them. Tulum is likely to become a hit, so I’m glad I got in early. You must try it.

dinner at Tulum in Balaclava

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