Eight years ago I hosted a supper club sponsored by Yeni Raki where every course either used or complemented this wild fennel drink. For instance I made a raki flavoured Turkish delight. This was preceded by a fascinating food research trip to Istanbul.
Now Yeni Raki have returned to London, this time to host a meal at Turkish restaurant Ruya near Park Lane. The design of the restaurant is opulent and stylish: copper stills line the walls, tables have turquoise ceramic tops and huge marble amphora are the wash basins in the toilets.
As a Londoner I rarely go into the centre of town. The centre of London– Mayfair, Kensington, Knightsbridge, Chelsea– is frequented by the rich and by tourists. Us natives never venture there. But I do love to discover my own city.
Ruya opened about five years ago, but were crushed by a poor review from Grace Dent (she of the current series of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here). Since then they haven’t entertained the press.
I don’t know what the restaurant was like then, but now it’s fabulous. It is expensive though and to be honest if I weren’t invited I couldn’t afford to go.
Wine writer Douglas Blyde who writes a drink column for the Evening Standard invited me. I saw many of the faces from when I first started to blog in 2008/9, when blogs were considered le dernier cri in cool. In those days we’d be invited to several events a week. Now us bloggers are passé: it’s all TikTok, reels on Instagram and Substack.
Although at the time much derided by old school print journalists, most bloggers I knew and know are passionate and really informed about their subjects. They aren’t just out for a freebie. On a trip, they don’t make videos all about themselves, swirling around in their skirts, gurning in front of the camera.
TikTok is funny, reels can be great and there are some really interesting Substacks. But how is Substack different from a blog? Can you do evergreen posts that are searchable on google? How is a 30 second reel or TikTok really telling you about a place or a dish? I guess I’m being old here.
I’m thinking of doing a Substack because, well, I need the money. I’ve written this blog for years and haven’t earn’t a penny from it, partly because I come from an era where we tried to be like journalists, to be ethical. Now I think: what a waste of time! Nobody cares.
So I saw all the old faces and it was great.
The bar fixed cocktails with expertise. After a refreshing ‘Istan-bull’ cocktail of raki, elderflower, ginger beer and cucumber we gathered around a flaming oven, the ceiling hung with a kind of rolling pin installation, to see a demonstration of Kasar bread making. Pide (or pitta) are the Turkish/Greek words for bread. So when we say pitta bread, we are actually saying bread bread.
This bread was similar to Georgian Kachapuri, the countries share a border. The dough is folded into a boat shape, stuffed with cheese and finally, a bright orange yolk on top. On the Turkish version, the waiter spreads the yolk all over the top so that you have a shiny glossy golden bread boat.
In Turkey when people say ‘let’s go for a raki’, they mean let’s go eat mezze with raki – similar to say sherry with tapas.
Finally sat at the table, many small dishes were brought out: Turkish spoon salad, with finely chopped tomato, cucumber, herbs and pomegranate seeds; filet of sea bass thickly coated with a crust of pistachios; ‘Antep Fıstıklı Rafik’ a creamed feta, pistachio and goat’s cheese dip; sumac-cured smoked salmon with pink peppercorns; a delicate pistachio pilaf. The only dish I felt clashed with the raki was the truffle barley risotto.
We were given two glasses: one for raki and one for water. The classic ratio is one to one. When mixed with water, raki turns white. It’s referred to as ‘lions milk’, because of the colour and the fact that it makes you fierce.
I love all those aniseed flavoured drinks like Pernod, Pastis, Ricard, Ouzo, especially if it’s a hot day.
Whether it works in chilly wet London, only time can tell. Aniseed, fennel and liquorice are Marmite flavours, you either love it or hate it. But Yeni Raki are certainly doing their best to spread the word.