I first met Cenk Baban at a private dinner at Efendy last year, and while I’m pretty hazy on the details of the night – aside from my first taste of sheep’s testicles and a reading by a Turkish fortune teller who told me (correctly) that my then-relationship wouldn’t work – I’m pretty sure we bonded over our mutual loves of food, technology and social media.
Two months ago, Cenk gave me a ring out of the blue, asking me if I would help be the first food blogger to kick off his new series of special food events, the Social Dinner Club. His goal: to bring together people to experience foods from different cultures and regions, and learn much more about what was on their plates, rather than merely scoffing it all down.
For starters, he was holding an authentic South American dinner at Darlinghurst’s Boca Argentinian Grill, a lovely, corner-terrace of a restaurant that I’d had my eye on for quite a while, but had never visited. He wanted me to join with the restaurant’s Argentine co-owner, Marcelo Berezowski, and talk about the food, the wine and the region. Eager to be involved, I said yes.
While I’d never been to Argentina, and readily admitted as such, during my years working in New York City I’d been to quite a few of the Argentinean restaurants that have thrived there over the past couple of decades. Then, on a trip back home two years ago, a PR associate also introduced me to Nicolas Catena of Catena Zapata, the family that established wine-growing in Argentina’s Mendoza region and today is one of the country’s greatest producers. On my way out, Catena’s daughter Laura handed me a copy of chef Francis Mallmann’s Seven Fires cookbook, which has forever changed the way many chefs around the world think about barbecuing. One look at Sydney’s Porteno, and it has Seven Fires written all over it.
So I’d had some Argentinean food 101 experiences – the over-researching journalist in me would fill in the blanks. Besides, Argentine food experts are hard to find in Sydney. Lucky me.
The night was a memorable one. Just the space alone was a revelation: a bold, red room with golden-yellow trim and adorned with pictures of an Argentinean porn star, music and film legends and a grinning fur-coat-wearing Diego Maradona in his soccer-playing prime (pre fat-Elvis Maradona, that is). The event’s guests piled in and we kicked off standing and socialising and enjoying tasty jugs of sangria.
Then everyone was seated. Marcello came out and talked about the cuts of meat, many of which aren’t typically found at Australian butchers. Matambre, for example, is a thin but large sheet of beef found between the ribs and skin of the cow, a type of flank steak, and at Boca it would be rolled as it often is back in Argentina – the name also happens to mean “hunger killer”. Nice.
The three-course Fiesta Patria (‘patriotic festival’) spanned everything from various empanadas, to meat-filled criolla and corn-based humita. It gave me chance to mention that the shapes of the folds of the empanadas signify what kind of contents are contained within – something I first discovered in a trip to Costa Rica, and Google confirmed was the same down south. For mains, we tucked, into the parrillada (barbecue) platters: ribs, chorizo, lamb, chicken, morcilla (blood sausage) and sweetbreads, all coming from the real-deal Argentine grill positioned in full sight of diners on the ground floor. Chimichurri was also ever-present – prepared as a less-common red sauce, as opposed to the more typical salsa verde (green sauce).
We moved off the sangria and onto the Argentinean wines: torrontés for the white wine drinkers and malbec for those going red. For dessert, a sweet zapallo showed pumpkin as a remarkably textured dessert – a limbo between waxy and supple – all while others tucked into the more straightforward dulce de leche flan, and bread pudding.
Yes, it was terrific night. So why am I writing about it two months later after the fact? Well, Cenk is holding another Social Dinner Club tomorrow night (Thurs, the 9th) at Efendy, tapping into his own Turkish heritage. It’s a brilliant deal – a feast for $57 – and I’ve always been a fan of Efendy’s cooking. Making the night even more appealing is that he’s enlisted respected food writer and cookbook author Leanne Kitchen to help spearhead the festivities – a perfect match as Leanne recently launched her newest cookbook, Turkey, in March.
It should be a pretty sweet night and for not much dosh, so I’d encourage anyone to check it out if you’re looking for something exciting to do and haven’t been roped into the Sydney Film Festival, feeding the kids or watching the next MasterChef elimination. As you do.
Social Dinner Club
Merhaba Istanbul! Dinner @ Efendy Restaurant
7-10pm, Thu 9 June
79 Elliott St, Balmain, NSW
Boca Argentinian Grill
308 Liverpool St, Darlinghurst NSW
(02) 9332 3373