Levent Büyükuğur on Frescobaldi and his never-ending Italian love affair

Since forming Istanbul Doors in 1993, Levent Büyükuğur has quietly revolutionised Istanbul’s nightlife and restaurant scene. His diners and clubs, Changa, Lucca, Kitchenette and Angelique among them, are bywords for sophisticated quality, while his compatriots have also been treated to new culinary delights through his introduction of international chains such as Zuma to Turkey.

In 20 years, his company grew to own to 42 restaurants, a hotel and a culinary academy. Having handed the reins to his successors, Büyükuğur is now concentrating on his new hospitality group the Good Food Society that he formed in 2014 with Sanjay Nandi. Their latest venture is Ristorante Frescobaldi, a high-end Italian diner specialising in Tuscan cuisine, created through a partnership with Diana Frescobaldi who heads one of Europe’s oldest and finest wine dynasties, which date back to the 1300s.

Inside Club Anjelique, Ortaköy
Inside Club Anjelique, Ortaköy

The perennial entrepreneur tells T-VINE how this new mission off London’s Regent Street came to be…

You’re behind some of Istanbul’s coolest and most successful establishments. What tempted you to get involved in Frescobaldi?

I was introduced to the Frescobaldi family six years ago. Having always loved their wine and their incredible history, I thought it would be a great idea to instigate a collaboration showcasing their fantastic wine alongside fine Italian cuisine. London seemed to be the best place for the first restaurant.

How did the heritage of the Frescobaldi family influence the restaurant?

Their family history was key to the restaurant, not just in relation to the food and drink, but the interiors too. My partner and I worked closely with the design team to replicate a warm and homely atmosphere, one that would mirror the feel of the Tuscan countryside.

he restaurant's wine cellar draws on Frescobaldi’s 700-year-old history
The restaurant’s wine cellar draws on Frescobaldi’s 700-year-old history

What makes Ristorante Frescobaldi different to other Italian restaurants?

We offer a complete dining experience. Diners don’t come just for the food, but to taste some of the best vintages that the Frescobaldi family has been producing for centuries. Unusually we also offer most of the wines by the glass, even our Cru varieties and “Super Tuscans” such as Ornellaia. In addition, the menu has distinctive Tuscan specialities, which are very attractive to Londoners.

Why do you think Italian cuisine is so popular with Turks?

This is probably due in part to the fact that many Italian dishes use fresh seasonal ingredients to create delicious flavours and that they are also warm and comforting, all elements which are representative of Turkish food too. I personally think that Mediterranean cuisine is one of the finest in the world. In fact the first restaurant that I opened in Istanbul was Italian.

Turks & Italians share a love of fresh seasonal Mediterranean food
Turks and Italians share a love of fresh seasonal Mediterranean food

What on talented young chef Roberto Reatini’s menu would you recommend?

We have been very lucky to have Roberto leading the culinary team at Frescobaldi. His knowledge of classic Italian dishes is exceptional, but he also has this ability to bring a contemporary twist to his creations. I particularly like the Pappardelle con guancia di vitello e pane al rosmarino (Veal cheek pappardelle with rosemary bread) and the Rombo arrosto con patate novelle, salicornia e salsa al limone (Roasted turbot with new potatoes, samphire and lemon sauce).

How would you compare London and Istanbul when it comes to food and nightlife?

I consider London to be one of the best cities in the world for dining, with a uniquely exceptional depth and breadth of restaurants. You can find any type of food at any price from any region of the world at almost any time of the day and night. London and Istanbul are very different on several levels – culture, cuisine and climate to name but three – and I always miss one or both when I travel.