three great places - Istanbul
Written by Tristan Rutherford
Istanbuls burgeoning culinary scene is being influenced by Ottoman, Aegean, and all-organic ingredients. These three pioneering restaurants leave the humble kebab firmly on the counter.
The essence of Kantin lies in its ingredients. Owner-chef Semsa Denizsel is surely the only restaurateur in Istanbul to have reintroduced an 8,000-year-old heirloom variety of Anatolian wheat – just to make the perfect sourdough bread. Such striving for perfection renders Kantin the most reliable eatery in a city of 15 million. In the words of Turkish food blogger Tuba Satana (istanbulfood.com), Kantin is one of the safest places to eat in the city, other than home.
Kantin is anchored in the upscale ladies-who-lunch zone of Nisantasi, but it eschews pretention and printed menus. Whats fresh that day – from citrusy tabbouleh to dill-infused köfte – is posted on a chalkboard instead.
Try passing through Kantin’s new downstairs kitchen takeaway after lunch. Find chutneys, sauces, relishes, and falafel pre-packed for the journey home.
Frances famed Michelin guide doesn’t yet award restaurant stars in Turkey. But when it does, Tugra will be top of the list. Located in the Ciragan Palace Kempinski – hands-down the most elegant hotel in all Istanbul – this a Franco-Ottoman gastro-experience par excellence.
A clue to the level of fine dining practised here is in the tableware: in place of silver cloches, a succession of courses arrive under copper sultans turbans, which waiters lift up in tandem to display each dish. The view is similarly one-off. A procession of ships, tankers, and cruisers squeeze through the Bosphorus strait just 100m away. For the full effect, book a table on the terrace.
Those who deign to dine here will find a refined reinterpretation of classic Turkish dishes. Try saffron-scented dolma, marinated sea bass, and pistachio-dusted lamb.
What can you expect from a chef who returned from a Michelin 3-star kitchen in New York to pen the bestselling cookbook Aegean Flavours? Lokanta Maya is a contemporary Turkish restaurant where sea bass, squid, and mücver (courgette fritters) never tasted so good.
The décor seems more inspired by the chefs time in New York than ancient Ottoman, but Lokanta Mayas component parts are strictly Mediterranean. Additions of pine nuts, walnuts, quince, currants, sumac, and olives lend a distinctly un-Turkish lightness to every dish.
The oh-so-subtle creations of owner-chef Didem Senol are best sampled on the starter list. Buttery asparagus comes with an inner crunch. Chicken liver paté brims with fruit and spice. The beef carpaccio is drizzled with Didem’s fathers olive oil to add a nutty overtone.
Kemanke Caddesi 35, Karaköy
Tel: +90 212 252 6884
Mon–Sat, 12pm–5pm & 7pm–11pm