After seeing two years of success in Yeşilköy, last year, Ercan Erdoğan opened his second Eleos restaurant in one of İstiklal's historical buildings.
Being one of İstanbul's best kept secrets, this comeback meyhane looks over the Bosporus, in a warm blue and white Mediterranean setting, with high ceilings and Rebetika playing in the background. The entrance to the Hidivyal Palas can easily go unnoticed next to the Lebon Pastanesi across from Asmalımescit. As in many a Beyoğlu locale, there's no sign of what you are to expect until you arrive on the second floor and get a glimpse of the sunlit white-washed brick walls. Eleos in Ancient Greek means compassion, merhamet in Turkish.
Owned by a Turk and an Armenian, the specialties are from the Aegean region and Greece. With a philosophy of bringing İstanbul's cultures together, Eleos offers a daily choice of 26 meze, hot and cold, local and foreign wines, friendly service, tasteful decor and a magnificent view. Eleos is a creative mixture of Greek and Armenian with some Aegean cuisine and its herb culture.
Erdoğan with his partner would like to bring back the meyhane that they find in danger of extinction. For some years Erdoğan has enjoyed his creation Araf, a very popular, very funky music venue, being his first venture into the Beyoğlu scene. If you could squeeze your way into Araf's doors on a Tuesday night, you could have the delight of hearing the great Selim Sesler, a Roman clarinet virtuoso, made internationally famous by Fatih Akın's film “Crossing the Bridge.” The view was of course of another character, looking over the rooftops of Tarlabaşı and into the dark night.
My meal at Eleos started with a taste of “sifinaki,” an interesting mixture of lemon juice, Sprite and a touch of ouzo as an aperitif, and then the amazing mezes came on. Among them were grilled hellim cheese wrapped in chard leaves, grilled mushrooms, a dish with lobster, crab and mushrooms in a special cream sauce, grilled octopus, grilled calamari, an excellent roasted chard and broccoli paste with lots of garlic, anchovies wrapped in chard leaves, roasted red peppers with goat cheese, a traditional Armenian pilaki with wide beans and delightfully crunchy fried Ayvalık zucchinis with dill, not to mention the Armenian specialty topik, only found in a few traditional meyhanes and made to perfection here. This magnificent recipe is not easy to make; there's no meat or bulgur, it's different and worth the adventure. For those unfamiliar with topik, sometimes called Armenian wedding balls, it's made of tahini and mashed chickpeas stuffed with onions, pine nuts, currants, cinnamon and other spices.
Fresh fish is plentiful at Eleos, grilled or fried, and if you can keep going after all that, the desserts are splendid, too. The chocolate soufflé or the baked apple and walnut helva with vanilla ice cream are good ways to end the feast. Fruit and peach liqueur are offered.
At lunch by chance on Eleos' terrace, I ran into a surprise birthday party for a 70-year-old Armenian woman. The joy on the woman's face brought tears to most eyes in the house, breaking into laughter when the cake with the slot machine came in. On occasion there is live music, and in the evenings, the regular clientele includes well-known faces from İstanbul's media scene and press. However, reservations for the weekend must be made a week in advance.
Eleos is open from 2 p.m. every day and an average meal is TL 70-90, including wine. http://www.eleosrestaurant.com/
Mr. Erdoğan very generously provided me with four recipes of his choice that I would like to share:
Roasted tongue (serves 2)
300 grams of tongue fillet
1 dry onion
100 grams mushrooms
1 garlic clove
A pinch of fresh basil
1 table spoon of soy sauce
Black pepper and oregano
½ tea glass of sunflower oil
Cut the onion, mushrooms and garlic into small cubes and sauté in the oil for four minutes. After the tomatoes, basil and spices are added, sauté for another two minutes. Then add the tongue fillet that has been fried, and after one more minute add soy sauce and serve.
100 grams of lobster meat
5-6 black pepper corns
Half a tea glass of cream
Julienne cut the ingredients and sauté in oil. Add the scallion and mushrooms and continue to sauté another two minutes. Add the salt and pepper, and sauté for another minute before adding the cream, and serve hot.
Pilaki (serves 4)
80 grams of Bombay beans
1 dry onion
1 paprika pepper
1 medium-sized carrot
1 garlic clove
1 table spoon of tomato sauce
salt and pepper
Half a tea glass of sunflower oil
Soak the beans overnight and boil them. In a separate pan brown the onion, garlic and carrot for three minutes. Add the tomato sauce and continue to sauté for another three minutes and then add three glasses of water and the salt and pepper. Add the cooked beans for another 10 minutes and serve hot or cold as desired.
Mussels stuffed in cabbage leaves (20)
2 dry onions
20 white cabbage leaves
Ingredients for the stuffing:
150 grams of white rice, 1 table spoon of pine nuts, 1 table spoon of currants, 80 mussel interiors, a pinch of fresh dill, spices and salt.
Soak the cabbage leaves in hot water until they become the right consistency for wrapping. Boil the mussels.
Sauté the onion in sunflower oil for three minutes. Add the currants and the pine nuts and continue to sauté for another two minutes. Add the rice and continue to sauté. Then add the spices, mussels and salt and sauté for another three minutes. Add one liter of hot water, and on a low flame, continue to cook for 10 minutes. When the stuffing is cooked, cover it with finely cut fresh dill and let it sit. Then stuff into the cabbage leaves, cook another 10 minutes and serve hot or cold as you wish.