Melburnians: pack your tastebuds. We’re going on culinary journey to Turkey, courtesy of Chef Murat Ovaz and his new South Yarra restaurant, Yagiz.
Born and raised in Zonguldak, Turkey, Murat began his culinary journey at 16 when he and his cousins ran away from boarding school to take up jobs at a nearby hotel. Starting out as a kitchen hand, Murat worked his way up across kitchens in Turkey and France before moving to Australia in 2009. Here, he has worked in bistros and gastropubs in Newcastle and Sydney (including the Four in Hand, where he cooked under the guidance of celebrity chef, Colin Fassnidge), and was Head Chef of Melbourne Turkish restaurant, Tulum, until January 2017.
Unlike his previous ventures, Yagiz was, as Murat says, “built from scratch” – referring to both the space and the menu. The interior was designed by Brunswick based architects, Archier, with the warmth and festivity of communal dining in mind. The resulting fitout encompasses Turkish style with a modern edge, with a brass communal table that seats 22 people as the centrepiece.
“Much like classic Turkish food, Yagiz brings people together,” says Murat. “I wanted to create an unpretentious atmosphere, where refined dining could be enjoyed in a warm and vibrant atmosphere with no fuss.”
Whether you take up a seat beside a friend or a stranger, a taste of each dish from Murat’s innovative menu is bound to spark conversation. Start with mezze, such as the fried eggplants dressed in tahini and kefir dressing and chilli oil, or the pickled sea bream with pear and fennel. Mains are designed to share, including dishes such as a Bultarra lamb rack served with broad beans and smoked eggplant, and Stripy Trumpeter fish with lotus root, buttermilk curds and baby fennel. For groups of up to 10, the obvious choice is the whole Bultarra lamb. You’ll have to give 24 hours notice, but the experience is well worth being organised for. Pair each dish with some traditional sides, including roasted cauliflower flavoured with dates or asparagus served with prune puree and Turkish white ezine cheese.
Murat’s insistence on providing a memorable Turkish experience extends to the wine list, which is curated by award-winning sommelier Christian Maier. It includes indigenous Turkish varietals (which, Christian believes, are often overlooked in Australia), with an emphasis on boutique bottles from smaller producers. These sit alongside European imports and lesser-known appellations from Australia, making for an “open-minded and nonconformist” selection of tipples.
When rubbing shoulders with friends and strangers over a plate of mezze and a glass something you’ve probably never tried before, It’s easy to get convince yourself you’re somewhere other than Melbourne’s southeast. Yagiz is a journey, and one that is likely to shape Australia’s appreciation of Turkish culture and cuisine.
Read our interview with Murat here.