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Feb 18, 2008 08:54 AM

Reviews of Restaurants in Istanbul

Just returned from a 10 day visit to Istanbul and thought I would return the favor to everyone that wrote up their food experience there. Unfortunately, I didn't write down a lot of the names, but I will try my best.

Seasons Restaurant at the 4 Season Hotel
Our first night we got in late and stayed in the hotel. The experience was lovely and the food good, but I won't say it came close to being worth the price. Esp. after we had eaten around some more. But if you want true luxury dining, it fits the bill. The mezze is a good modern take and the spiced ice cream at the end is fabulous. My main course was so unremarkable, I don't remember what it was.

Balikci Sababattin, Sultanamet
The ONLY other place in the area worth going to. My turbot was perfectly cooked, the mezze was inventive and all the fish amazingly fresh. Avoid all other places like the plague. Each time we didn't, we regretted it greatly! I won't even bother listing them.

Kalçin Sokak – Eminönü
Tel : (0212) 528 03 90
For a place with a great view, the food is pretty tasty. Service was great and we got to see the water on our only sunny day there. Had the special kebob with red pepper and really enjoyed it.

We only had apps and drinks here, so I can't judge the real food. Also, we snuck in before the big Valentine's day dinner rush, so it wasn't a normal night. The cocktails, while crazy expensive, were good and it really is worth it just for a the view. Skip the dinner, have a drink and enjoy the sunset.

The Pudding Shop
We dropped in for b-fast. It was perfectly acceptable and cheap - two things we were looking for with the 4 Season prices. Didn't try the winter milk drink, which was probably a mistake.

Istanbul Modern Cafe
Istanbul Modern Museum, Salıpazarı
Tel : (0212) 292 26 12 -13
Great place to grab lunch, esp. on the free entrance Thursdays. Not the best food around, but good for a place with such a view. It did have a see and be seen feel to it, which can be entertaining

Recommended to us by the 4, it was a decent traditional Tturkish place. We ate of many of them and found them to be very similar. The mezze is predictable and you can tell they cater to the tourist crowd.

Another 4 recommendation. More festive than Alem. We had our first and last Raki experience. Still not quite sure what was up with the almonds and ice. Overall, a good sampling of Turkish food. I can live on the yogurt curry dip and be happy for a long time.

We ate at so many other places, but were taken there by locals so I don't have the info. While there I did fall in love with a number of dishes and highly recommend trying them (most are hard to avoid!)

Chicken And Orzo Soup (Tavuklu Şehriye Çorbası) (I will learn how to make this!)
Red Lentil Soup (Interesting to try the different kinds)
Kırkağaç Hamburgers (Kırkağaç Köftesi) (Why can't our "hamburgers" taste like this?)
Ground Meat Turkish Pizza (Kıymalı Kır Pidesi) (The mixed pizza is good for trying different things all at once.)
Yogurt Soup So fabulous!
Anchovy and Rice Pies (Hamsili Pilav) My final meal there and one of the best!
And my new addiction:
Turkish Ravioli (Kayseri Mantısı) I'll never be able to make them, but I will find a place to buy them. I probably had it over 6 times while there. LOVE it.

Things I wish I had tried:
Pomegranate juice....I didn't try it bc of a bad juice incident in India, now greatly regret that!
Raw Köfte (Çiğ Köfte) Just couldn't go there, which is bad of me.
Seseme Rings They were all over and we kept meaning to buy one. Some how didn't.

Things I didn't love....
Turkish Burnt Rice Pudding (Firin Sutlaç) I tried it 3 times. Each sorta flavorless
Turkish Delights. I do enjoy the double cooked ones, but I think my Western palate is limited and can't get around the rose taste
Apple Tea Got suckered into trying it and there is a reason it is only for the tourists!

Hope this is helpful.

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  1. Haha, I actually found apple tea quite comforting, even if it tasted more like Apple JACKS than apples.

    The "winter milk drink" at Pudding Shop--yes, mistake! Salep is a tasty treat and Pudding Shop's is extra thick and soothing. And yes, the pomegranate juice is heavenly.

    I think of myself as a VERY adventurous eater and am rarely sick/uncomfortable from any foods overseas, and even I couldn't even imagine trying the Çiğ Köfte. The only traveler I met who had tried it had been in Turkey a decent amount of time...maybe 7 weeks? Not worth ruining a 2-week vacation (or my later 5-day Istanbul trip) for one dish, if anything goes wrong... :)

    2 Replies
    1. re: NancyC

      Yeah, my tummy doesn't love milk, though it seemed to have no problem with the yogurt. I so regret not having the juice, but the bad experiences tend to stick with you for a while.

      I am glad I wasn't the only one who couldn't quite do the Kofte. I wish I had more time there to keep exploring - it was a fabulous experience!

      1. re: aebp25

        Sounds like a fantastic trip, and I agree about the apple tea. Technically, it is apple flavored warm Tang. Comforting maybe, but not much of a culinary experience. Ironically, it is not even a part of the traditional cuisine. I am betting it got somewhat popular in the late 80s when the cafes started offering it as a more mainstream (and cheaper) alternative to linden or sage teas (both my favorite herbal teas, ever). Tourists started liking it; it was exotic, but not too exotic as sage, which is known as a savory herb in most other parts of the world. Then it kind of caught with the locals, but still nowadays mostly tourists drink it.

        Also, don't feel bad about not trying the cig kofte. I lived many many years in Turkey, and I only ate cig kofte when it was made from meat from trusted butchers, and only at home.

    2. Thanks for sharing your experiences. They pretty much jive with the two trips my wife and I made. I thought the food was decent at Hamdi the first time I went, and a pretty major disappointment almost compensated by the view the second time. But then I guess Ciya Sofrasi will spoil you.

      Simit (the circular bread with the sesame seeds) is not bad, though for my taste, it's not so distinctive that I'd go out of my way. A few hotels that I stayed at had it as part of the buffet breakfast (including the divine Empress Zoe in Sultanahmet). Toasted with a little fig jam, it's pretty good, but not particularly standout as a better than you could imagine kind of bread. I did remember having some very good straight up baguettes though.

      Sutlac is something I've tried a few times and been similarly disappointed for the most part. The one place where I might suggest trying differently, next time you're in town, is going to a real muhallebicisi (the Turkish for "pudding shop") -- at Sarayi Muhallebicisi, the sutlac is served up with slivered pistachios in it, and the flavor is a little more delicate and complex than at your average joint. But I'd still opt for a tasty Künefe and an unsweetened Turkish coffee in a heartbeat.

      My wife and I really like Turkish delight. I don't know if I'd make like C.S. Lewis and sell out my family for it, but I think of good Turkish delight as the best damn gumdrop you'll ever have in your life. We especially like the rose flavored stuff (go figure), and the stuff that has pistachios embedded in it. We also liked apple tea, though I typically would only drink it if it was on offer, and not actively seek it out myself.

      Will have to keep an eye out for Kayseri Mantisi. Would have to imagine a halfway decent Turkish restaurant would have it.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Dr.Jimbob

        On the topic of apple tea. I can't say whether this is entirely a tourist thing or not, but there are different kinds of apple tea. Mostly you'll be offered a rather nasty powdered tang-like instant beverage which is both cheap, fast and easy to make on a moment's notice (when they see you eyeing that rug...quick! Make some tea!). But you can also get chopped dehydrated apple bits that is sold as tea. This is steeped in hot water and makes a quite nice apple beverage. I bought some of the latter home with me and drink it once in a while. When we were driving around Turkey, we went through a region absolutely full of apple orchards where the apples - mountains of them - were shovelled into enormous heaps alongside the roads. They were clearly not intended to be eaten as apples, as they were quite beaten up. We figured out that this crop is probably destined for the apple tea industry. What else could it be? I don't think animal feed, as they don't raise pork (the most likely animal to eat apples).

        1. re: Nyleve

          I bought some of the chopped dehydrated tea to bring home. I thought it was good.

          How is Kayseri Mantisi different from regular manti? I looove manti, and from conversations with various locals it seems it's EVERYONE'S favorite dish! I had a horrible attempt at making it at home, could not figure out how to make the skin (despite having done it under guidance at a restaurant in Goreme) so I just loaded the sauce with garlic and hoped everyone thought those giant lumpy dumplings tasted OK.

          I am totally craving Ciya Sofrasi. I wish we had one in NYC. And I could pass on ALL Turkish desserts (especially since I think Turkish kunafe pales compared to Syrian) if I had unlimited access to Mado ice cream.

          1. re: NancyC

            I think we were only offered the Tang version of the tea. I did bring home some of the pomegranate tea for my MIL. She seems to like it quite a bit.

            I am not quite sure if there is a difference between the Mantisi - if we are talking about the same thing it is tiny, tiny ravioli made with lamb that has a yogurt sauce. I had it served a different places with chili oil, just chili flakes, dried mint, etc....

            I just found out there is a fairly decent Turkish restaurant in Denver - I can't wait to try it out!!!

      2. Actually, the Çiğ Köfte is quite good if you can get around the fact that it's raw meat. I had really good versions of it at Recep Usta (which is from Diyarbakir, but also has branches in Ankara and maybe elsewhere) and also home-made versions. It's a bit spicy, kinda chewy, definitely very flavorful. If you try it at Recep Usta, they actually have a person mixing up a huge bowl of it as a display and they bring it to every table as an appetizer. I recommend trying at least once before you decide you hate it! :P

        3 Replies
        1. re: liujenny

          Here's a picture of the Çiğ Köfte at Recep Usta, I suppose it's not a terribly good one, but here it is anyways.

          1. re: liujenny

            Looks good to me! Istanbul will be my last few days of my trip so perhaps I'll try it... I have a layover in London and I could recover there if necessary... except that might spoil my dinner at Gordon Ramsay's...

          2. re: liujenny

            Just back from Istanbul and definitely regretting that I never tried Çiğ Köfte or Kokoreç! Despite intense focus on food it never quite worked out. At Hamdi I asked but they only had Çiğ Köfte in the evening. Some classics we did try:

            Sahlep: the version at Saray (several branches, one on Istiklal Cad has five levels) is excellent with a slightly fermented tang that makes you know it is th ereal thing, with ground pistachio and cinnamon on top

            Kazandibi: Again, Saray is the place to get this! Who knew a sticky pastry made with chicken breast could be so good?

            Simit (especially the ones covered with toasted sesame seeds) are vastly improved when eaten with the semisoft, very flavorful, ubiquitous fresh cheese.

            Sage tea: We had it at Çiya Sofrasi and in addition to being soothing and delicious, it has the most beautiful chartreuse color in its tulip-shaped tea glass.

          3. When I was in Turkey in August, I must have stolen a good chunk of your eating itinerary! We crashed Hamdi in the middle of a shopping excursion at the Spice/Egyptian market and our loud plastic bags must have proven too much for the waiters to handle because they definitely ignored our pleas for water refills in their insanely tiny glasses. I thought the food was average Turkish restaurant, but there was a yogurt-eggplant dish that was amaaaazing.

            I agree with you, 360 is a great spot to watch the beautiful people of Istanbul and since its right off Istiklal Caddesi, there plenty to do, wandering around Beyoglu.

            Sultanahmet wasn't a total loss. My friends and I went to dinner first at Doy-Doy (food was ok, the sweeping view of the Blue Mosque was amazing...perhaps a creeping culinary trend in Istanbul?) and then at a reknowned kofte place at the end of Divan Yolu (the name escapes me). We didn't realize how GOOD the kofte was until we had a sampling of AWFUL awful kofte from other places.

            I love the Istanbul Modern--in August there was a retrospective of modernist movement interpreted by historic Turkish artists and the paintings were foreign but familiar too. The cafe is cute, but be warned, the summer season is high cruising season and your view of the Bosphorous can be blocked by a huge wall of ships. I can't wait to go back!

            3 Replies
            1. re: Eaterlover

              The renowned place on Divan Yolu is Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi. The kofte there is really spectacular.

              1. re: NancyC

                Thank god you remembered, NancyC! I've been scratching my head for months. And yeah, once I had kofte at Tarihi, nothing else was even close anywhere else in Istanbul.

                1. re: Eaterlover

                  whoa eaterlover, thats a bold claim. allow me to retort.
                  my wife was a bigtime Tarihi fan. I mean she couldnt get enough of those meat logs. I converted her with just one visit to Kofteci Huseyin patties. Its close to Taksim in Beyoglu, a bit off the radar of most visitors but as the Turk says, "bilenler biliyor." Those who know know. I will try to find the address. otherwise google it. next time you are in Istanbul this is a must. I am sure if you do you will join our side.

            2. i am pretty adventurous when it comes to trying new cuisines, and usually insist on trying the local flavor when i travel. but overall i found the local flavor in istanbul to be quite lackluster. we did find a couple good restaurants, a little more on the touristy side for my own personal taste, but definitely worth a mention as it was the best food we had while we were there...

              * sarnic, a restaurant in a 1500 year old cistern in the heart of sultanahmet, just blocks from the blue mosque and hagya sofia. i had the aegean lamb special and it was very good. we were a little disappointed that there was not a fire burning in the fireplace -- it was december and quite cold, so we were looking for fireside dining that night.

              * vogue, a restaurant at the top of an office building (besiktas plaza) with a panoramic view of the bosphorous and sultanahmet from the business district. this was an excellent meal by any standard. the music from the nightclub was a little loud for my taste, but the food, the service and the view made up for it. i am often reminded of the salads we enjoyed there -- the best i've ever had. they were so good that when our food came to the table, we kept the salads to finish afterward. mine had goat cheese, pancetta and pine nuts on arugula in a basil vinaigrette, my friend's had fresh fruit on arugula and other mixed greens in a refreshing lemon dressing. both were outstanding. honestly, i can't remember what we had for our entrées -- i do remember that they were very good and we ate everything -- but the salads eclipsed them all. i highly recommend this restaurant! phone 0212.227.44.04; website:

              after dinner we took a walk down istiklal, which seems to be the center of the nightlife. most of the bars were a little too "american" for our taste, we were looking for something more turkish, but we stopped off for dessert. incidentally, i enjoyed the winter milk drink -- i think that's what was called salep (although i could be wrong). i found the "chicken pudding" a little odd, partly for the name, but mostly for the texture.

              you can see our photos here:
              Day 1 (18 photos)
              Day 2 (59 photos)
              Day 3 (55 photos)
              Day 4 (47 photos)

              1 Reply
              1. re: benay

                Oh how i wish that the bars in Beyoglu were "American," as you put it. An American bar usually has decent cocktails, a knowledgeable bartender and maybe a dartboard if the place is fancy, and ice.
                Truth be told, Turkey's got more of a cafe culture. So bars resemble cafes ordinarily. For a good local Turkish bar where you can sit outside and watch activity in the back of the fish market, go to Asmaalti Bar on Kalyoncu Kullugu Caddesi. Alternatively, the bar inside the Buyuk Londra Hotel on Mesrutiyet Caddesi is a very trippy experience. A dingy chic place called Gizli Bahce is found in Nevizade. Its a 4 story house that is falling apart. Great music and hip casual scene. There is no sign but its just across from Imroz.
                Badehane in Tunel is a great place for a beer, particularly on Tuesday night when Selim Sesler, the famous Roma clarinetist, is playing. tables here fill up with Beyoglu hipsters, arty folks, expats etc. this place used to be very "Bohemian" and still is to a degree.
                please write back with those American bars you found, I am dying for an Coors Light and a game of shuffleboard.