A highlight of a trip to Istanbul is the fantastic food. The streets are filled with the mouthwatering aromas of delicious ocakbasi chargrilled meat, honey-drench fresh baklava and freshly-pressed pomegranate juice. Here are some top picks for eating out in Istanbul…
Tucked away on a side street in Asmalimescit, Antiochia is an intimate, low-key neighbourhood restaurant that offers dishes inspired by the city of Antakya in Turkey’s sourthern Hatay region.
Owned by celebrity chef Jale Balci, Antiochia attracts a hipster crowd and the interiors are as unfussy as the simple menu (just around ten meze dishes and a few kebabs). The restaurant is tiny with less than 20 covers, so we were very lucky to score a walk-in table.
We started with two amazing meze dishes – Houmous and Aubergine with Yoghurt and Garlic – served with the most delicious, seemingly unlimited, flatbread rubbed with chilli. If you’re extra peckish, or are dining with a bigger group, a mixed meze plate is a good choice (the staff tried to push us towards this).
My Chicken Shish was marinated in spices and fresh herbs, then grilled to perfection on the charcoal grill. It was served on a thin chili wrap with a fresh tomato and sumac salad, a grilled tomato and green chili. Steven’s Beef Durum Wrap was filled with tender pieces of beef, onion and grilled tomatoes with a good dose of spice.
Having already filled up on sugar with afternoon tea earlier that afternoon, we thought it best to skip dessert. However, Antiochia is the place to try some authentic Turkish sweets such as Künefe (a cheese pastry soaked in syrup) or a walnut and eggplant dessert served with home-made ice cream.
Otherwise, you could grab some baklava or mastic ice cream from nearby Istiklal Caddesi, where cafes and sweet shops are open into the late evening.
Mama Shelter Istanbul
Staying and eating at Mama Shelter Paris was one of my favourite hotel experiences, so obviously we just had to check out Mama Shelter Istanbul. Located on a side street just off the bustling Istiklal Caddesi, Mama Shelter Istanbul has all of the eccentricity and character that you’d expect from the forward-thinking brand with cool interiors by Philippe Starck.
Alain Senderens and Jérôme Banctel’s Franco-Turkish menu is full of innovative yet comforting dishes and there is also a pizza menu.
The stylish restaurant features a number of dining areas with a centre island bar and an outdoor terrace. As we visited during a religious holiday, it was very quiet, however I imagine it is the place to be in Beyoglu during the summer months with the open roof terrace and weekend DJ sets. There is even a glass cabinet of musical instruments to really get the party started.
I started with a zingy Mama Lemonade (9 TL) and Steven tried a punchy Gingerapple (13 TL), which were both served long and topped with fresh apple and strawberry.
Refusing to break my Istanbul food habit, I ordered the Marinated Chicken Skewers with Carrot Puree (33 TL). The two large skewers of chargrilled chicken breast and thigh were tender and succulent (though less spicy than others I tried in Istanbul) and I really loved the smooth, rich and tangy carrot puree.
Steven tried the Yoghurt Kebab (34 TL) – tasty chargrilled lamb patties in a spicy tomato sauce served with torn pieces of flatbread, a hot green chili and cool saffron yoghurt.
With fond memories of the indulgent chocolate fondant at Mama Shelter in Paris, we couldn’t resist trying Mama’s Chocolate Souffle (19 TL). Served in a mini cast iron pot, the Chocolate Souffle had a soft cake texture with a gooey, molten middle and was accompanied by light vanilla ice cream and a peanut brittle crisp – so decadent and delicious.
Miyako at Swissotel The Bosphorus
Miyako is a great choice for authentic Japanese food in Istanbul. I recommend starting with some Ebi Tempura and Beef Tataki, followed by teppanyaki Grilled Chicken or Beef Tenderloin. Be sure to leave some room for Chocolate Pudding with Coco Banana Sauce and a glass of Umeshu Plum Wine. Read the full review here.
Kubbeli Saloon Tea Lounge at Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah
Afternoon tea in Istanbul is an absolute must and the grand dame of tea and cake is the historic Kubbeli Saloon Tea Lounge at Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah. Enjoy a fabulous buffet afternoon tea in splendid surroundings to the sounds of a live pianist.
Tea is served in elegant silver pots and the selection of exquisite cakes, sweets and biscuits is so overwhelming that it’s almost impossible to try them all (a challenge for the most die-hard afternoon tea fans). Read the full review here.
Istanbul’s hip Karaköy neighbourhood is not to be missed and we were delighted when the brilliant concierge at Shangri-La Istanbul was able to secure us a reservation at the immensely popular Karaköy Lokantasi.
Owned by Aylin Okutan and Oral Kurt, and designed by Autoban, Karaköy Lokantasi is a casual, affordable eatery with the boutique guesthouse Karaköy Rooms above. The atmospheric two-floor restaurant features pretty turquoise tiles inspired by the Topkapi Palace offers traditional Turkish meze and kebabs with a contemporary approach.
Of course, we had to start with some Houmous, which was smooth and full of flavour, topped with fresh chick peas and mint. I was a little disappointed that they serve wholemeal sliced bread rather than traditional Turkish flatbread, but it was tasty nevertheless.
Fried Shrimps (18 TL) were plump and ever so fresh, cooked in the most delicious chili, garlic and olive oil sauce – absolutely divine.
My Grilled Meatballs (15 TL) were tender, satisfying and nicely charred on the outside. I found the small slice of potato rather dry and uninteresting, particularly as there was no sauce or yoghurt to perk it up. Steven’s Grilled Chicken (15 TL) was juicy and smoky, marinated with spicy chili and herbs.
Service had been swift throughout, but tailed off towards the end of the meal, so we ended up missing out on the chocolate pudding. Instead, we settled for the Semolina Cake with Cream (7 TL), which was a light and grainy sponge soaked with delicious sugar syrup.
We found ourselves back in Karaköy at lunchtime and had heard good things about the Bej Karaköy. The cosy interiors are cool and arty and it seems to attract a creative crowd taking a break from visiting the nearby art galleries.
My Chicken Schnitzel (22 TL) was absolutely delicious, served with chunky fries and a slice of lemon. Steven’s Grilled Cheese, Pesto and Tomato Sandwich (12 TL) was tasty and simple, served with a fresh green salad and cherry tomatoes. We washed them down with some Turkish tea (6 TL) served in a small glass on a pretty blue china saucer.
Service at Bej Karaköy was unfortunately rather charmless during our visit, which I hope was a one-off, as the place itself is great.
ADA Cafe & Bookstore
We spent our last few hours in Istanbul picking up some Turkish tea, baklava and Turkish delight on the Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoglu. Having spotted ADA Cafe & Bookstore earlier in the week, we stopped there for a quick bite before heading to the airport.
ADA Cafe & Bookstore is a slick book and music store with a casual restaurant serving Turkish and international dishes.
We ordered two Turkish teas and were served quickly by the friendly, efficient staff. My Chicken Shish (21 TL) was succulent and nicely charred, served with some average potato wedges, tasty Asian style vegetables and BBQ sauce.
Steven’s ADA Cheeseburger (18 TL) was cooked Turkish style on the charcoal grill and came with American cheese, potato wedges and a fresh sweetcorn and black olive salad.
ADA Cafe & Bookstore is a handy spot in Beyoglu’s busy shopping area for a relaxing lunch or afternoon Turkish tea and cake, plus there is a selection of English language books available.
Why go to Shake Shack when Istanbul does grilled meat so well? Well, Shake Shack happened to be useful when we needed something quick and easy for a very late lunch after getting lost in Sultanahmet. Shake Shack hasn’t quite yet invaded Europe at present, with outlets only in London, Moscow and Istanbul, so it’s worth visiting if you want to try the now famous New York burger.
We visited the Tünel branch on Istiklal Caddesi, just a few minutes away from our hotel, and there was no queue so we were served immediately.
As expected, our ShackBurgers pretty much the same as the others we’d tried in Manhattan and London, but there are some fun local touches such as the Pistachio in Tünel and Tramway Treat concretes.
Perhaps because of the exchange rate, but it’s also somewhat cheaper than the London branch, so it’s not a bad bet for a speedy lunch fix.
Are you a fan of authentic Turkish food? Where is your favourite dining spot in Istanbul?
All photos by Chérie City