“The fire was creeping up on me,” says Ibrahim Kasif. “It was pretty scary.”
He was working at Porteno – on what was meant to be a normal day – when smoke began to billow through the atrium. He headed up to to the roof to check for problems – and found it raging with flames. The building had to be evacuated, firefighters were called and the street was shut down.
The Porteno fire was one of many incidents that slowed down the opening of Ibrahim’s much-delayed but worth-the-wait restaurant, Stanbuli. There were also the epic battles with council (which involved an expensive pre-DA that turned out to be useless) and the fact that the site – the amazing Marie-Louise Salon on Enmore Road – was so dilapidated that it wouldn’t take much encouragement for the floor to collapse dramatically under your feet.
Stanbuli, once it (finally!) opened, represented the Turkish food that Ibrahim grew up with – the fried eggplant that his grandmother would tease the family with, as well as the fish sandwiches and stuffed mussels that you’d find on the streets of Istanbul. There was not a stereotypical kebab or Turkish rug in sight – and the singular, highly personal menu makes Stanbuli a Sydney standout.
Ibrahim talks about the long road to opening Stanbuli, the fascinating history of the Marie-Louise salon that used to be on the site (it’s worth staying to the end to hear this), as well as the unexpected side effect of John Lethlean panning his lamb brain dish in an otherwise glowing review. (Despite that incidental thumbs down, Stanbuli has opened to great notices by everyone – from Terry Durack, Gourmet Traveller and beyond.)
Plus, what it was like to work on a yacht as the chef for the ninth-richest man in Australia, the tough start to Ibrahim’s career, and where he likes to eat and drink in Sydney.
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