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From swish to fish. Andrew Finkel checks out some top Bosphorus bites
The name of the restaurant isn’t important – it shut its doors years ago. The food was never all that good, despite all the hype and the battle to get a reservation. The most memorable thing about it was the location – a perch in Ortaköy, a sleepy Bosphorus village just awakening from its slumber and even more beautiful than it is today. But it was less the glorious view that I remember than the way the restaurant was designed to be ignored. There were even gauzy black blinds to ensure that instead of gazing out of the window, we would be straining to see who was at the next table. This was the ultimate Istanbul extravagance – to be able to afford the best view of the city and yet be too jaded to notice it.
It was a world turning upside down. Once upon a time, the whole point of an Istanbul evening out was to clink a glass and sip in the dark serenity of the Bosphorus lapping at the table. In an age before valet parking, going out to dinner meant an unhurried stroll along the water’s edge. It felt like being on holiday, even at the end of a working day. While once a view of the Bosphorus was the ultimate status symbol, instead of looking out we began staring at ourselves.
Since then Istanbul has grown even more sophisticated and in many ways far more earnest and adventurous about its food. The buildings have grown taller. The views from fancy eateries like Mikla in Pera or Ulus 29 above Kuruçeşme are no longer a glimpse onto an intimate patch of water – a fisherman casting his line by the light of his boat’s lantern – but grand Manhattan-style panoramas of lights flickering all the way to the horizon. And there is as much theatre on the plate as outside the window. But the Bosphorus still flows, and a meal along its edge remains a unique pleasure.
There are still hundreds of Bosphorus restaurants with menus as stylised as the tea ceremony – cold meze, hot meze, fish and more usually fruit or something equally simple for dessert. While there are variations on this theme, the ritual as practiced at Les Ambassadeurs – the restaurant of the Bebek Hotel – is particularly pure. The dining room has a quiet dignity. The lighting is low and the design seems untouched by any notion of interior decoration after 1985. What this means is that there is no distraction from the wall of picture windows virtually level with the Bosphorus. As in an infinity pool, you might think you were in the sea…
Karaköy, where the Bosphorus empties into the Sea of Marmara, was an important commercial district in the 19th century (not that long ago you could buy stock certificates from street peddlers outside the old exchange building). Now it is a neighbourhood on the edge of everywhere: the historic city, Beyoğlu, a busy ferry port for commuters and the passenger harbour for those arriving in Istanbul by sea. Rudolf is part of the Karaköy revival and transformation into less a Manhattan than a Brooklyn – a less stuffy, livelier part of town.
The restaurant inhabits the ground floor of the new Morgans Hotel (10 Karaköy), a converted 19th-century office block built on the site of an ancient hospital. The building was sold off by the Balıklı Greek charitable foundation and the fishy (balıklı) motif is used to good effect throughout. The hotel lobby is in the converted atrium and the result is quietly spectacular, with vast light fixtures imitating the air bubbles in an aquarium, rising four stories to the top…
Turn your back on the Old City and make for the water. Andrew Finkel takes a drive along the Bosphorus’s lower shore: from the half-abandoned docks of Karaköy, past mammoth cruise ships and hangars for modern art, to the palaces of Beşiktaş and Ortaköy
Andrew Finkel extols the charms of a trip up the western, European, shore of the Bosphorus, whether by water or by road
Over 56 pages, we cross the Bosphorus to explore the lower reaches of the Asian shore. Sailing past the ruins of stately Haydarpaşa Station, we land at the busy Kadıköy docks, wander round Moda’s old cosmopolitan backwaters and head upstream to the sparkling hilltop mosques of Üsküdar
Continuing our tour of Bosphorus villages, we cross back to a more untamed Asian shore. Heading upstream again, we start in Beylerbeyi and Çengelköy, with their grand views of the Old City, and make for the fortress of Anadoluhisari, where the Bosphorus narrows and the yalis are at their most captivating. Our journey ends on the hilltop of Anadolukavağı, with the Black Sea in our sights
The potato was a latecomer to Turkish cookery, but today it is hard to imagine life without it. The humble spud, the ultimate in comfort food, is endlessly versatile,and also comes packed with goodness. Berrin Torolsan serves up some favourite dishes
Üsküdar – its history shaped by three powerful queen mothers and a tireless English nurse – has surprises to offer behind its unprepossessing façade: dazzling mosques, villagey tranquillity and epic views…
Lovely churches, a lively market, enticing ice cream, shady cafés… and they called this the land of the blind. Andrew Finkel introduces Kadıköy, and Harriet Rix mooches around the district of Moda. Photographs by Monica Fritz
Maureen Freely goes ‘Bosphorising’ with her father, John Freely, in search of her treasured childhood in Istanbul. Could it be that it was all so simple then?
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