Swine and Cheese

A passion for Pigs and Food

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Istanbul weekend

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This October Neale and I went for a long weekend to Istanbul with four friends. As ever we were travelling with a group of foodies so we were keen to sample genuine Turkish cuisine. I had booked rooms in a small hotel called Ibrahim Pasha in the Sultanahmet district, touristy but very handy for all the sights. In fact our hotel was in a good location as we were within stumbling distance of the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque which you could see really well from our hotel rooftop terrace,

Blue Mosque in background

Blue Mosque in background

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

and the Aghia Sophia. Having said that the hotel was OK, not amazing, which considering we had paid £190 for each of the two nights did not seem good value. To be fair I had left booking our accomodation too late so all the recommended hotels had been booked. Apparently October is a popular time to visit.

Having done a bit of research I was keen to avoid the usual touristy recommended restaurants but fell foul on the first night with ravenous friends who stumbled onto the Balikci Sabahattin restaurant on the way to my target restaurant. We had to queue for a bit but it was really buzzing and most people were eating outside despite it being chilly. I noticed everyone seemed to be wearing white duvets crossed with a puffa jacket and sure enough we were handed our complimentary duvets at our table. The salted sea bream was nice and generally the food was tasty without being exciting but it was the atmosphere that made it a great stop. The next day we ended up at another tourist restaurant for lunch, the Hamdi Et Lokantasi with an amazing view of the Galata bridge and the Bosphorus. This I have got to admit did my favourite food by far, the most divine kebabs I have ever tasted, albeit served by jaded staff. Also watch out for the really scary 150 year old peasant woman in the ladies loo. Sally and I made the mistake of not taking any money with us the first time and if looks could kill. Only after handing her a note on our second visit, which I realised was far too much, did she begrudgingly break into a semi- smile! Goodness knows what was waiting for the men in their loos!!

Hamdi Et Lokantasi restaurant

Hamdi Et Lokantasi restaurant

Galata Bridge

Galata Bridge

That evening we went to the Khorasani restaurant recommended by our hotel manager, Ozgur. Ozgur knew everyone in Istanbul and the owner of this restaurant seemed to be a good friend. Regardless we were well looked after, the food was good, the owner very entertaining. We certainly seemed to imbibe enthusiastically and so it seemed only natural for us to be herded round the corner to his nightclub/hubba bubba bar, average age a good twenty years younger than us. Great fun though can’t say I felt great the next morning.

Our last day was spent at the Grand bazaar where Tony and Bindy got ripped off with their 2′ x 2′ hand knotted rug but which looked more like a machine made postage stamp to me. Still I think they are pleased with their doormat although like most of the stuff in the Grand Bazaar it is probably cheaper just to nip into Selfridges when you get home! We then went to the Topkapi Palace and thank goodness we gave in to the persistence of the private guide, Aman, who was a student doing a PHD in Politics. He was an excellent guide and it was very humbling to be led around by such an educated and knowledgeable man with a clear understanding of our western attitudes towards Islam, very enlightening.img_05421

The Harem

The Harem

The restaurant I had booked for the evening was the one I had been most looking forward to, the Cezayir in the trendy Beyoglu district. A restaurant/cocktail bar in a large, redundant school building with lots of areas to relax and a big main eating area. I was so disappointed when we arrived to be told we were in a badly lit, closed off room as there was a private function. The atmosphere was stuffy and all the other diners seemed equally fed up at having been shunted into a side room. Added to that the food was the most pretentious we had encountered in Istanbul, mind you I should have expected that the minute I read the words trendy, minimalist and chic in a write-up and the food itself tasted OK, certainly not great.

I suppose Istanbul like all capitals is pricey and touristy. Having been for our summer holiday to the Bozburum peninsula in Turkey, the difference in the attitude of the locals we met couldn’t have been more marked. Certainly no worse than London though and definitely worth a visit.

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Written by Sarah

October 21st, 2009 at 5:12 pm