01 Sep Discovering Ottoman Cuisine at Tugra Restaurant
Written and reviewed by The Pink Tarha
Would you care to dine as the sultans would have during the Ottoman Empire? Please join us at Tugra Restaurant at the Burj Rafal Kempinski Hotel in Riyadh to enjoy just that. Tugra offers fine and meticulously composed recipes that are rich and diverse, in Ottoman traditions that are different from today’s Turkish cuisine.
Lush shades of red and brown with subdued lighting welcomes you to appreciate the night’s view of the city from afar. Their main dining area has live stations on one side with a brick oven and copper accents. I also noticed their private banquets can take a larger number of people.
Our server for the evening was named Eslam, along with the generous presence of the Head Chef, Chef Ziyat. Together, they introduced us to a gastronomical journey dating back to the 1400s, before any other civilization’s cuisines rose to popularity. In each course they served was a hint of history that Eslam and Chef Ziyat were more than happy to tell us about.
We began with a lovely looking selection of “Mezze” or bite-sized appetizers called the Dolma Medley. Dolma is a traditional, Middle-Eastern reference to stuffed vegetable dishes. Just like the notes in a song, they sang together with their delicate flavors and smooth textures. Accompanying them was two different soups, a colorful plate of their Sultan Salad and signature mocktails.
Following suit, we were treated to one of their stone-oven specialties known to be the “Mother of all Pizzas,” called the Tugra Pide. It had a piquant taste at every bite with the combination of lamb cubes, pastrami, sausage and kashkaval cheese. Noticeably, there were no tomato base pizzas as Chef Ziyat told us because it wasn’t until decades later that the Italians and Americans discovered tomatoes. Isn’t that a piece of trivia?
After the appetizers, salads, and soups we cooled down with a serving of some rose water and pomegranate juice.
One of the main highlights of our main course was the Kulbasti. A selection of beef tenderloin and organic chicken thigh that was served on a bed of smoked mashed eggplant, roasted tomatoes with pomegranate and red onion relish. At first glance, the perfect grill marks on the meat are noticeable yet you wouldn’t really think much about this dish until you bite into it. It was like butter, melting in our mouths! The beef and chicken were both ultra soft that it sent us to a point of bewilderment on how they were able to achieve this kind of texture on the meat. The chef later on explained that the meats have been marinated in a special fruit and seasoning mixture that led to the wondrous state. Other items on our main course were the Finger Kofta and the Stuffed Chicken.
At this point, we were already feeling just as stuffed as those dolmas we had earlier but the charming serving of the Baklava with Ice Cream and the hot plate of Kunafah was just too hard to resist, especially for me (a die-hard fan). The balance of crisp and smooth to the sweetness and cheesiness was perfection. As we indulged in our dessert, Eslam prepared some Turkish coffee and tea right in front of us. If you’re wondering if our dessert was any good, my emptied plate and extra take home bag of another serving should tell you that it was the best Kunafah I have ever had, and growing up in Riyadh…I’ve tasted a lot!
The traditional Ottoman cuisine presented in this modern-day and age was a refreshing insight to us as professional diners. Every dish came with a story that complimented our dining experience and the impeccable service coupled with the ambiance was definitely value for your money. Tugra Restaurant definitely shines with its distinct Middle Eastern flair and flavor.