Where: Anatolia Tantuni, 15 Johnston Street Fitzroy
What: The only place in Melbourne you’ll find the Turkish speciality dish of tantuni
Who: Fro-ya, Captain Awesome
Bloat score: 1 – Had to loosen my belt a notch
I’d been wanting to visit Anatolia Tantuni ever since I read this glowing Time Out review. Tulum in Balaclava has made a name for itself in the realm of Turkish fine dining, but Anatolia Tantuni is providing a platform for the enjoyment of Turkish street food – specifically, tantuni.
Tantuni is a speciality from the south of Turkey, and involves cooking diced meat in a large frying pan called a sac. Gregarious owner Burhan Kurucu became decidedly more tight-lipped when I asked him what spices the diced meat were cooked in, but he seems to have been less secretive with SBS Food – the meat is cooked in a spice mixture of paprika, oregano and sumac after which parsley, tomato and red onion are added.
The tantuni can either be stuffed into Turkish flatbread, served atop the flatbread or served on rice, which is the route I took, not wanting to inflame my sadly wheat-intolerant gut. You can add pita bread to your order, but I added a serve of tabbouleh for $3 instead.
This dish was stunning in its simplicity. My chicken tantuni ($18.90) featured bite-sized pieces of chicken fried in the aforementioned combination of spices served alongside a square of buttery rice. I mixed in the rice, chicken and tabbouleh together for a multi-layered dish that was as tasty as it was filling, despite the reasonable serving size – I struggled to finish it towards the end, but I did, because I am me. Though it contained tomato and red onion – two high-histamine ingredients – they weren’t in sufficient enough quantities to make me feel sick, though I wouldn’t say it was a complete zero-bloat outcome either. Do order it with the tabbouleh on the side – the richness of the meat could become overwhelming otherwise – and avail yourself of the condiments on the table, ranging from pickled green chillies and a spice mix similar to that which is fried with the meat to pickled cucumbers.
Fro-ya, who is the most ardent froyo fan I’ll ever encounter, ordered the mix tantuni wrap ($9.90). She liked the flatbread, though she commented at one point that it was slightly dry and could’ve benefitted from a sauce to tie it together, but loved the well-spiced and juicy chicken and beef.
Captain Awesome, child of Fro-ya, is a fan of chips as any sane human being is, and so we ordered him a small mixed chicken and lamb halal snack pack ($15).
There was nothing small about this snack pack – a mountain of meat blanketed a bed of chips that could only be unearthed after some concerted digging around. Captain Awesome dissolved into a fit of tears at one point because he couldn’t see a single chip, which motivated us to overturn the snack pack so the chips were on top and meat was on the bottom. We got barbecue sauce and garlic sauce on the side so it wouldn’t be as messy an affair, but this proved futile – the lovely Kurucu allowed Captain Awesome to help himself to more barbecue and garlic sauce once he’d gotten most of it on his face.
I had a taste of the halal snack pack when Captain Awesome was distracted by the invisibility of the chips and really liked it – the meat was fresh, and the fact that we hadn’t drizzled it with sauces as you usually would in a halal snack pack meant the meat retained its highly distinct smokiness and slight piquancy.
There is plenty besides tantuni on Anatolia Tantuni’s menu, ranging from kebabs and burgers to desserts like sütlaç (a milky rice pudding) and kunefe (a shredded kataifi dessert sweetened with syrup and stuffed with cheese). Fro-ya was highly tempted to buy one of the restaurant’s fresh housemade gozleme, prepared by Kurucu’s wife Birten – you can pick from vegan, vegetarian and meat ones.
The availability of vegetarian and vegan options is prevalent throughout the menu – diced meat on rice is replaced by marinated vegetables on pita in the vegetarian and vegan iskender, while kebabs can come with falafel in place of all the meaty options.
I ordered a glass of Turkish tea ($2.50) – before reading every review of Anatolia Tantuni which says Kurucu offers it on the house as a symbol of Turkish hospitality – and Fro-ya ordered a Turkish yoghurt drink called ayran, which pleasantly reminded us of a salt lassi.
Kurucu is an amazing host – the smallness of the restaurant and the fact that we had a running child darting through it meant we got to know him better than if we’d gotten takeaway. He gifted us with a few complimentary pistachio and vanilla rose Turkish delights towards the end – Captain Awesome bit into the gummy, iced sugar dusted squares with careless abandon, as did I.
Anatolia Tantuni is a family-run restaurant that is churning out street food of the highest quality, turning the idea of the utilitarian drunken kebab on its head, although this is also available should you need it – the restaurant is open until 4am on Friday and Saturday. It’s situated on what I call the ‘bad feng shui’ side of Johnston Street (and it seems as though I’m not the only one) but I desperately hope it gets the patronage it deserves in a city where the turnover of restaurants is high and diners are obsessed with trying the next new thing. There aren’t many Turkish restaurants left in the inner north either after the closure of Gigibaba, Pasha’s and Tinman Restaurant, underlining the importance of this one staying alive.
It’ll be hard to visit again and disregard my intolerances when the rice option was such a top-tier alternative, but I do want to try some of the many gozleme on the menu.
Anatolia Tantuni is open Tuesday to Thursday from 10.30am to 11pm, Friday to Saturday from 10.30am to 4am and on Sunday from 10.30am to 10pm.