The no-frills lunch: İskender Kuruluş
The kebab shop: Şehzade Cağ Kebap
The pide shop: Haçapuri
Where the locals really eat: Pandeli
The regional restaurant: Çiya Sofrasi
The breakfast spot: Yigit Sofram
The baklava café: Karaköy Güllüoğlu
The bakery: Day Day Patanesi
The date night spot: Aheste
Where to buy souvenirs: Misir Çarsisi
Where to stay in Istanbul
The Bank Hotel
This charming former bank has plenty going for it, including its central location near the Galata Bridge and ferry hub. Its relaxing interiors and quiet, comfortable rooms in neutral tones make it the perfect retreat in this lively city. A generous breakfast buffet heaves with simit, yogurt, fruit, honey, olives and cheese, or order a cooked dish, such menemen – eggs scrambled with tomato sauce and peppers. The Bank rooftop bar is prized for its view of the Bosphorus and city, which can be enjoyed with a cocktail or raki, making it a hotspot for locals. There are similar views in the serene Serica restaurant, where the menu has been informed by food historian Özge Samancı to reflect the flavours of the Silk Road. Try the manti (tiny dumplings), pumpkin pide and rice with saffron, bergamot and coriander, and Turkey’s traditional chicken breast pudding – a thick milk dessert (the shredded chicken is indetectable) served with burnt milk ice cream.
Doubles from €250, including breakfast, check availability at booking.com.
Our pick of Istanbul’s best places to eat and drink
İskender Kuruluş – for iskender kebap
This rich dish of sliced doner kebap with hot tomato sauce, pide, cold yogurt and foaming, melted butter is a good lunch. Invented in Bursa by İskender Efendi, eat it at İskender Kuruluş in Beşiktaş, run by the same family (who still run the restaurant in Bursa). Sit outside with a purple şira (tart grape juice). Dessert, kemalpaşa peynir tatlısı, is a small doughnut drenched in syrup.
Şehzade Cağ Kebap – for cağ kebaps
You can spot a good kebap shop in Istanbul by the queue. Some venues are standing only but Şehzade Cağ Kebap
has seating clustered around a covered alleyway, Hocapaşa Sokak, in Sirkeci. Order the lamb, cut from a horizontal (this is what makes it cağ rather than doner, which is vertical) rotating spit. Bico (skewers) are inserted into the meat, then a knife is slid under to create thin slices. Each serving comes with two thin lavaş breads. Add salad, sumac onions and ezme – a finely chopped condiment with tomato, red pepper, onion and hot red pepper.
Haçapuri – for pide
Pide, often boat-shaped and cradling fillings, are found all over the city. Haçapuri in Kadıköy is a bright and breezy spot with excellent versions. Kapali are enclosed pide, and açik are open – there are ground or cubed beef, spinach and cheese versions, or round (yuvarlak) peynirli yumurtalı pide, with cheese and egg. As with many places in Istanbul, only soft drinks are available to drink.
Pandeli – for traditional dishes
You’ll find the resolutely traditional Pandeli restaurant up a steep, blue-tiled staircase above the Grand Bazaar – take a sharp left once inside the entrance facing the Galata Bridge. The restaurant is airy, with interconnecting rooms, windows over the river, more blue tiles, white napery, chandeliers and dark wood furniture, all serviced by waistcoated waiters. The menu includes favourites such as tarama, cheese and herb börek, doner kebap and pilaf, hünkâr beğendi (lamb stew with roasted aubergine) and köfte. All dishes are simply presented and well made. Lunch is a stretchy time concept in Istanbul, so Pandeli is open from 12-6.30pm but not for dinner.
Çiya Sofrasi – for regional Turkish
Chef Musa Dağdeviren opened Çiya Sofrasi to showcase Turkey’s regional cuisine, including that of Gaziantep, where he grew up. Despite featuring on Netflix’s Chef ’s Table, this is a low-key, café-like spot. The daily changing menu includes meze, mains and soups – food can be ordered from two counters (one cold, one hot) and is paid for by weight (meze) or individual dishes. Salads are packed with local greens, including caper leaves and sevketi bostan (thistle). There’s also perde pilaf – chicken pilaf wrapped in dough – and candied fruit, veg and nuts for dessert.
Karaköy Güllüoğlu – for baklava
Visit Karaköy Güllüoğlu near Galataport for a wide range of baklava, kadayif, turkish delight and pastries. You can also eat there if you need a break – baklava and Turkish coffee are an excellent pick-me-up.
Day Day Patanesi – for simit
These savoury biscuit snacks from Day Day Patanesi near the Grand Bazaar can be bought in a mixed box of sesame, sunflower seed and nigella seed – fantastic with drinks.
Cuma – for café vibes
Settle into Cuma café with a linden ginger tea and a plate of pistachio-trimmed profiteroles. Stay for lunch to try yogurt-coated Georgian dumplings stuffed with porcini, grilled octopus with olive paste or little grilled meatballs on silky hummus. cuma.cc
Misir Çarsisi – for spice shopping
Buy a pot of syrupy lokma donuts and haggle your way around the Misir Çarsisi spice bazaar. Prepare to barter if you want to get the best price for everything from pepper, sumac and fenugreek to dried figs, pistachios and jewel-like lokum. Rüstem Pasa
Galata Simitçisi – for bagels
Queue up for still-warm bakes at Galata Simitçisi. This tiny takeaway, open for 30 years, is a bastion of tradition in trendy Karaköy, serving sesame-covered bagels from a brick oven. Try blackcurrant bakes and tahini rolls, or keep it simple with a twisted bagel and tea. 47a Mumhane Caddesi
Aheste – for date night
Duck into atmospheric neighbourhood restaurant Aheste, where white tablecloths contrast with bare-brick walls. The £20 meze tasting menu includes dishes such as caramelised roast aubergine, leek patties with smoked yogurt, and fishcakes topped with sage and crisp vine leaves. Or order à la carte and follow your meze with grilled umbra fish with zesty orange salad and chicken confit on olive-studded pilaf. ahesterestaurant.com
Karaköy Balik Pazari – for fish sandwiches
Bypass the touristy restaurants beneath Galata Bridge and head to the renovated fish market, Karaköy Balik Pazari. Once a clandestine collection of fishmongers, this renovated wet fish market is a slick corner where vendors display glistening fish. Stroll past stalls then pick up freshly barbecued mackerel in a warm wrap and eat it as you walk along the Golden Horn. 35 Fermeneciler Caddesi
Yigit Sofram – for Turkish breakfast
Stop off at café Yigit Sofram, where knick-knacks clutter lace-trimmed shelves, and tables are laid with green gingham cloths. Order halloumi cooked in butter, with little dishes of salad, honey, Turkish cream and warm pockets of bazlama bread. Or go for cheesy gözleme pancakes stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and minced meat. facebook.com/yigitsofram
Moretenders’ Cocktail Crib – for cocktails
Follow the locals and head to the Moretenders’ Cocktail Crib bar. Its apothecary-like wall of bottles contains homemade concoctions made with Turkish ingredients (basil and black pepper rum, sage syrup, orange blossom liqueur). Try gin-forward All Good in the Hood with cinnamon-laced vermouth, ginger and homemade red plum syrup. @moretenders
Yeni Lokanta – for wood-fired Turkish
Try seasonal dishes from the wood-fired oven at modern Turkish restaurant Yeni Lokanta. This pretty tiled space is where chef Civan Er serves pan-fried goat’s cheese drizzled with chilli honey, oven-roast lamb shanks with samphire, and sumac steak tartare. Fish of the day is all caught wild – try monkfish “en papillotte” with raki and ezin cheese, or mersin prawns on artichoke purée, pistachios and zaatar. yenilokanta.com
Shang Palace – for upscale Cantonese banquets
Lo Hei salmon is Shang Palace’s signature dish: sashimi surrounded by finely julienned radish, carrots and cucumber, with peanut and tahini dressing. It’s a light, appetising dish that prepares you for the carb-forward menu, which includes dim sum (try the steamed shrimp har gow topped with gold leaf ). The barbecued duck is a refined affair, with the skin served with pancakes, shredded spring onion, cucumber and hoi sin, along with finely diced duck meat in lettuce cups. Dry braised, hand-pulled noodles with seafood or vegetables is another highlight on this Cantonese menu, which ends on a playful note: the Mango-Mango dessert is comprised of tiny, swan-shaped choux pastry filled with cream and fresh mango. The tranquil restaurant with curved banquets, gold screens and low lighting provides the ideal backdrop for a theatrical tea pouring by a Kung Fu tea master.
Olea – for Italian food
Take a break from local cuisine and enjoy a long lunch among the local and international jet set at Olea. Its mission is to bring the Aegean to Istanbul, amid olive trees and the best view of the Bosphorus. The five-star Mandarin Oriental in the Kuruçeşme district is a beacon for the glamorous, with many guests arriving by yacht (you can also catch a ferry – Arnavutköy Ferry Terminal is a short stroll away). You could grab a quick pizza and glass of sangiovese, but the exceptionally kind and efficient front of house team and impressive surroundings mean you’ll want to linger over ricotta-stuffed courgette flowers, saffron risotto with porcini or tiramisu. Istanbul’s most comprehensive selection of Italian wines is here, too, and it spans all regions.
Kempinski’s – for Sunday brunch
The first of your many choices at Kempinski’s Çırağan Palace is whether to sit inside (to be nearer to the food) or out (with views of the pool and Bosphorus). Unlike the eggs-centric brunch of many hotels, Kempinski’s is vast and varied. Start with sashimi, blini, seafood, cold meats, steak tartare and meze. Pasta is plated up by toqued chefs, as are noodles and roast meats. Help yourself to cheeses and bread drizzled with honeycomb. The dessert selection has its own room – a grand, wood-panelled space – and includes tarts, pastries, cakes, fruit, baklava and turkish delight.
Photographs by Jeff Heger/Getty, Alex Crossley
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