The 5 Best Niche Restaurants in Istanbul
September 10, 2018
by Jamie Fisher
During the first year that I lived in Istanbul, the rich history and culture were more than enough to keep me happy. However, one can have their fill of even Turkish restaurant foods. It was then that, after penetrating deeper into Istanbul’s back streets, that I discovered yet another layer of what this city has to offer. Some places focus on a story or a demographic or a people native to Turkey that I had not considered before, others are eager to be open-minded and offer something different. It taught me that there is genuinely something for everyone and every mood here in Istanbul. These are niche restaurants, and their value is not always readily discernible from the exterior of the building. Persevere and you will find some hidden jewels.
What do you look for when travelling? Worried that you will not find what your soul really craves? Cast an eye at some alternative places to eat in Istanbul that you might not have expected.
Istanbul 360 – Business class experience.
After twelve years of London life, it’s true that there are occasions when I need to escape the noise and crowds of Istanbul and enjoy something more akin to a business class experience, I really can’t recommend Istanbul 360 enough. Located on the top floor of one of the highest buildings on Istiklal Caddesi, close to the famed Taksim square, Istanbul 360 boasts a high-class dining experience and cultured atmosphere coupled with a breath-taking view of the city. Istanbul 360 caters for the higher end client, by offering an excellent gourmet range of food that would be found in the better restaurants in a modern European city, whilst faithfully also providing classic Turkish cuisine with a twist. A fully stocked bar with local and foreign wines and whiskies complement a very international dining experience. What I especially appreciate is the efforts that the establishment have made to invest in the restaurant’s ambience. It is designed to keep out city noise, whilst the glass walls make it possible to view the cities incredible skyline in almost – yes you guessed it – 360 degrees. The theme is dark, by providing subdued lighting and open fireplaces to create a personalised dining experience that is difficult to match.
Leb-i Derya – Art for art-lovers.
Sometimes I want something with an equal view but without the grandeur and sense of occasion that Istanbul 360 carries. For an artisan environment but without missing out on stunning views of the Bosphorus, I like to duck in and enjoy a meal in Leb-i Derya. Leb-i Derya boasts a minimalist design and structure, whilst providing a rich menu of international dishes and also Turkish dishes – with some artistic licence applied. Whilst not a seafood restaurant as such, the restaurant also prides itself on providing fresh fish and shellfish. Leb-i Derya is also located not far from Taksim square in the artistic quarter of European Istanbul. Its surrounds include cultural centres, small handicraft workshops and the Istanbul modern art museum. The Restaurant itself is located on the Kumbaraç Yokuş (or Kumbarach hill), the name Leb-i Derya means by the sea and the view does not disappoint. Whilst there are no average meals in Leb-i Derya , customers should expect to pay approximately 80-100 Lira for a full meal.
The alternative scene – Tavanarası.
Restaurants in Istanbul commonly follow a theme. I like the challenge of finding the exceptions – this is certainly one of those. For a social atmosphere with a contemporary musical feel, yet one that has an alternative crowd, search your way to Asmalı Mescit street and look for the hidden door and the tiny plaque that shows the way to Tavanarası. Work your way up the tiny stairs or the even smaller elevator and you arrive in this restaurant that literally means “amongst the roofs”. The view, as the name suggests, looks over the rooftops of a more ancient part of Istanbul. The walls are lined with mementoes and images of indie artists, expressing the desire of the establishment to continue to roam the indie universe. Check out the gig listing to see what select local artists will perform. But importantly, lest I digress, this is a restaurant, the food is hearty and delicious, with touches of art and independence on traditional recipes. European and local Turkish beers are available. Looking for something a little different – enjoy it if you can find it.
Arada – Shhh! Its hidden!
The vast numbers of immigrants to Turkey in the last few years has prduced a number or rich cultural influence. However, I love the fact that this little gem however has been around before the larger numbers arrived. Hidden in a traditional backstreet just above Kemeraltı street, in the area of Çinaraltı, we have the beautiful Arabic cafe restaurant of Arada. This is not a merely a source of perfect Lebanese falafel and humus, it is this and much more and seems to provide foods from every corner of the Arabic speaking world. This is a place open minded and free to hold art lesson and poetry, so I like to randomly drop in and be suprised by what they have to offer on a given evening. Further to this is the wonderfully diverse Arabic people from various countries and the opportunity to hear their stories.
Niche restaurant – A niche and an escape.
The centre of Istanbul is fascinating and there is no end to exploring. However, there is an end to my energy and ability to deal with noise and crowds. If you can sympathise with me, maybe you would consider the aptly named, for this article, Niche cafe. The cafe is located north of the city in close to the town of Sariyer, in the area of Rumelihisar. Take the river transport to Bebek or the metro to Boğaziçi Üniversitesi and stroll towards the river to find this niche location. Ostensibly aimed at a younger crowd, located near to the University, it offers a bistro dining experience with entertainment from Turkish comedians and live music. If you are looking to escape the city centre and find a taste of the real Istanbul contemporary social experience, Niche is for you