Simplicity was never this complicated

Andrew Finkel continues his popular food blog with a visit to the proudly individual Rutin, photographs by Monica Fritz

By Andrew Finkel | May 1, 2024

Rutin is a tiny, determinedly informal restaurant in a wiggly backstreet of Istanbul’s Beyoğlu (pictured above by Monica Fritz). It translates as ‘routine’, but this strikes me as being a misnomer for what is in many ways a puzzling establishment. Far from being humdrum, Rutin appears to be out on a limb, almost defiant in avoiding being slotted in any well-established genre. 

For a start, Rutin does not go out of its way to impress. What I imagine is the exception and not the rule, on the night I visited someone had to move a motorbike so I could even squeeze through to the front door. The interior is void of frills. The space is compact – one large table, a few smaller ones – I imagine it seats 20 at a very generous pinch. There is a grey concrete floor, the tables are bare. To say Rutin is plain to the point of abstraction is a bit like saying Mahatma Gandhi was no fan of bling.

Such simplicity is, of course, no bad thing, particularly these days, when the Istanbul restaurant scene has been colonised by corporations with deep pockets, and where a marketeer’s ‘concept’ (delivered by waitstaff with all the panache of a child reciting multiplication tables) is king. And to be fair, not all Rutin’s edges are rough. Someone did light a candle at our table and there was plenty of ambiance provided by a vinyl turntable spinning Miles Davis and other cool jazz. But the overall message is that if you made it this far, you’re here for the food.

The menu at Rutin is as compact as the dining room itself. There were eight dishes to choose, from including one dessert. Plates, artfully arranged with ensembles of sometimes deliberately incongruous ingredients, are designed to be shared. In place of a wide choice the menu changes constantly, we were told – an encouragement to come back. The one constant offering is tarama, which is more of a rich pâté than the smoked-roe mayonnaise you get at most meyhanes. It so happens this is a dish I make myself in a similar fashion, so while I approved I was not as impressed as I ought to have been. And to be honest, I couldn’t make sense of the accompanying ‘relish’ of sliced strawberries, though the fresh, crusty bread was a treat.

Thai style steak tartare

Steak tartare was properly cubed, rather than minced, and served ‘Thai style’, and this was not something I had ever eaten before. It is lighter, less creamy than the French variety. Mixed with fresh herbs, it almost seems healthy. A little research suggests this is a method which has made its way from the Far East via Australia. The seasoning was nouc cham, a Vietnamese dipping sauce – i.e fish sauce, not Worcester sauce. Sharp and citrusy, it bleaches the colour of the lean, raw meat. It was genuinely interesting but not something I now crave. A salad of dressed blanched vegetables was beautiful to look at and attractive to eat – both the artichoke and the asparagus were al dente and strips of bergamot peel gave an additional lift. The two final dishes resolved any doubts we might have had that artifice was getting in the way of flavour: the lamb tenderloin was moist and well-presented with petit pois (of the chewy not the squishy variety – but none the worse for that), shallots and pancetta that gave the dish an earthy, hearty feel. I like desserts, and the one on offer was a very satisfying crunchy choux profiterole with a pastry cap (au craqualin) stuffed with sticky maraş ice, cream, butterscotch sauce, and caramelised pecans.

Profiterole with Maraş ice cream

I have remonstrated in this column before about restaurants which cynically cater to market niche rather than try to generate a demand for something excellent and different. Rutin happily falls into the second category. And yet I could not help but wonder, on the quiet night we attended, who the restaurant’s audience really was.

What originally attracted me to Rutin were a few sympathetic reviews describing a cosy neighbourhood place. But I am not sure it is that. While happy to be proved wrong, I’d be surprised if many of its customers lived all that nearby, and it is generous to describe the street it inhabits as ‘quaint’. It is not outrageously expensive (a meal for two with just one drink each came to just under £100). And given the quality of the raw ingredients and what must be a low turnover, it is hard to see how it could be much less. By the same token, this means it is a serious evening out and is not, I suspect, the sort of place someone who works nearby would drop in on for a casual meal. Instead (I speculate here) it seeks a cultish following of expats and home-grown foodies attracted by the reputation of the two chefs, Gizem Yavuz and Kaan Demirci, who run the show. The other restaurant in Istanbul it reminded me of is Mabou – an equally small room at the Tünel end of Beyoğlu, where a German-trained Turkish chef focuses on novel presentations of local ingredients. 

Is this the shape of things to come? If so, we will have to come up with a name for the genre. ‘Scaled-down fine dining’, ‘epicureanism without tablecloths’? I haven’t got there yet.


Tomtom, Kaymakam Reşat Bey Sok. No:19/A,
34433 Beyoğlu Istanbul,
Tel:. +905333753445.
Opening hours (check before going) Wed-Sun: 17.00-22.00

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