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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Istanbul: a few restaurant tips

(Visited July 2012)

A work trip to Istanbul, the chance to try a few places in the Taksim square area, and one (which was the best) in the old city. Read on.

First of all, in all cities there's that little joint you go to for basic grub that tastes true and simple and costs little. For us, this was it: 

at the crossing between Cumhryet Cd. and Asker Ocagi Cd., across from the Intercontinental Ceylan and one minute from the Grand Hyatt, though you are more likely to meet the local police force at the end of their shift than the residents of these hotels.

At Meze by Lemon Tree (Mesrutiyet cad No:83) the meze (which you could choose 'by sight') were undoubtedly of superior quality and featured interesting variations on the classics, as well as a nice balance of flavours. But the a la carte starters and the mains we had (aubergine, calamari and meatballs) tasted ordinary and devoid of good ideas.  Given the almost fine dining prices (for Istanbul), it's not more than average for what money can buy in the area. Should we repeat the experience, we would stick to the meze and we would be happy. 

Thoroughly disappointing, in spite of appearing on some newspaper article, was 9 Ece Aksoy (Asmalimescit Oteller Sok. No.9). On this we just want to say that it looks nice but the food is mediocre or worse given the prices. And service far too pushy as well. Avoid. 

Better was Pano Saraphanesi (Hamalbasi Cad. No:12/B Taksim). We went to this simple restaurant on the recommendation of a local friend. As we arrived, we were pointed to a table in the bustling street, but as soon as we (well, ok, our local friend really!) pronounced some secret magic words, we were ushered upstairs with the elevator leading to one of those sweet Istanbul roof terraces, where a few other tables were occupied.

We were told (or our friend was told) that they could buy some fresh fish from the market, and we agreed. They even came back to report on the high day price of the red mullet we had asked for, and offering to buy for us a smaller and cheaper, but still tasty, variety.

And so on...

In sum, we had a great evening of simple fresh food in a very relaxing and pleasant environment, but we cannot vouch for what it is like for unaccompanied tourists (the prices, however, were very reasonable also on the list). 

But the best of them all (and thus the only one deserving photos) was away from Taksim Nar Lokantasi (Nuruosmaniye Caddesi No. 65)

 (Believe it or not, the above is a wall with plants.) Don't be put off by the fact that it occupies the fifth floor of a shopping centre for the wealthy. The restaurant itself, while elegant (both inside room and terrace) has character. Even more so the food, which featured much attention to details and some classy cooking, yet kept that down to earth quality.

The style of cooking is quite original and different from what one finds in the average lokanta, but without excesses of fancy: to the contrary, the cuisine firmly emphasises traditional methods.

Only one dish we found mediocre, and that was the soup. All the rest made us dream. As Italians, we very much appreciated the quality of the olive oils used.

The sweet department (you can choose for yourself at the display) is...well, sweet: delightful little treats that stick in the memory. 

There is also a pida oven that made us salivate but it appeared not to function on the (ramadan) night we were there. 

Most of the customers were local and were having a standard iftar series of courses.

Service is kind if clumsy, and be prepared to point and mime if you don't speak Turkish, as they don't speak English - but waiters were patient and somehow it worked. Prices will positively surprise you for such an elegant environment and for the level of the produce and the cuisine. 



Unknown said...

next time try Saray (Muhallebicisi), its an "chain" restaurant that's been around since the 1930's, turns out fabulous doner and adana kebab's, and the best traditional turkish rice pudding based desserts - the Tavuk Gogsu is sublime!

A very old traditional restaurant only open for lunch, is called is located in the old pigeon coups (the walls are covered in blue porcelain tiles) above the Spice (Egyptian) Bazaar. You walk right pass the entrance when you enter the Spice Bazaar through the main door. It's tucked upstairs, above the Bazaar with the entry just to the left as you walk through the main entrance..very poor signage!

Man-Woman said...

Many thanks for the further tips Unknown - given the briefness of the visit on which our impressions are based additional suggestions are most welcome.

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