• beyoglu anonymous

    March 28th, 2013

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    The most talented people in any profession don’t need to advertise. In fact, advertising or drawing undue attention often does more harm than good. If you not only know your trade, but have mastered it, your reputation will be more than enough. Last night I checked out a bar in Beyoglu that doesn’t even have a name. It doesn’t need one. Most people will probably end up calling it Alex’s Bar, as its proprietor, and his personality, are the driving force behind the experience. Not only is Alex a man who knows his drinks, he’s a man unafraid to refuse an order if he feels he can’t prepare it to his professional satisfaction. He’s not about to make a mojito out of season, especially if he doesn’t have the proper mint to create it. He will also mix single malt whisky as he puts it to, “Simultaneously defy ridiculous convention as well as perfect a fine drink.”

    I won’t use euphemisms like cozy or intimate to describe the bar. It’s small. It’s tucked away in a little alley down at the Tünel end of Istiklal Caddesi. That, it seems to me, is part of the recipe. A good drink isn’t something to be quaffed in a corner with booming music and a vast crowd, but something to be enjoyed and shared. And part of the enjoyment is conversing with the no-bullshit artisan behind it. In fact, that’s key to the alchemy. If you’re in Beyoglu and you want a proper after work cocktail or aperitif, look for the place with the covered windows and dapperly dressed, likely bearded gentlemen behind the bar at number 7b Gonül Sokak from Tuesday to Saturday sometime after 5pm.

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  • serdar-ı ekrem sokak

    March 26th, 2013

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    When I first moved to Istanbul I rented a flat in the Galata neighbourhood which was scruffy but interesting area on the city map. Later, like a lot of Beyoglu, it became a bit disillusioning. As we all know, economic progress doesn’t necessarily benefit a neighbourhood’s character or hospitality. Especially when the new businesses and residents decide to do a sad or cynical interpretation of someone else’s culture for the benefit of non-residents. So it became easy to give the Galata neighbourhood a miss without missing anything at all. However Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak seems to have undergone a mostly positive transformation, comfortably mixing old and new and featuring design businesses and small boutiques which draw on the local culture and architecture as much for the benefit of Turks — at least so it seems from the people sitting in the street-side cafés and coffee joints — as for outsiders. Change is an inevitable consequence of urban life just like human life. Fortunately it’s not all for the worst with businesses like Georges Galata, which in my opinion has the ultimate night time supper terrace, summer or winter, as well as Sntrl Dükkan and Mavra, which provide good street-side perches to people watch in the company of your friends and neighbours while sipping a glass of wine. On this Sokak, at least, it feels good to be back in Galata again.

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    Sntrl Dükkan

    Sntrl Dükkan

    Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak

    Georges Galata

    Sara Tabrizi _Executive Chef, Georges Galata

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  • şişhane sweetspot: the kamondo mansion

    February 27th, 2013

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    If I were to plan an indulgent escape for adults, without leaving the city limits, I would stay in the slightly spooky, somewhat spare restoration of the Kamondo family’s 19th Century mansion. Home to the Adahan Hotel, Comedus, Baylo and Gram, there’s something particularly louche about this street corner, especially in the evening hours.

    18:00 – 18:15 …
    check into the Adahan Hotel.

    18:15 – 19:45  …
    for your discretion. adult only content.

    19:45 – 20:05 …
    compose yourself, make yourself respectable — at least briefly.

    20:15 – 20:30 …
    go down to Comedus and stock up your room with some essentials (for later).

    20:35 – 21:00 …
    take in the view at the Adahan restaurant upstairs with an aperitif

    21:00 – 23:00 …
    enjoy some more Mediterranean delights. restrict yourself to those on the menu, for a while, anyway.

    23:00 – 02:00 …
    indulge at Baylo, a New Yorkistan style bar that knows how to make a drink.

    02:00 – 02:05 …
    stumble back upstairs to your Adahan suite room

    02:05 – 04:00 …
    this is when your supplies from Comedus will come in handy. once again, adults only.

    04:00 – 10:30 …
    get a little bit of sleep. especially before the sun rises.

    10:30 – 11:30 …
    coffee and late breakfast at Gram.

    11:30 – … ?
    get some fresh air already! some sunlight! resume the healthy living. for a while.

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  • Istanbul’s Irish pub

    February 6th, 2013

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    Sometimes life doesn’t feel real enough. There’s socializing and then there’s socializing. One type involves trying to impress people, another involves sharing in a good drink and an honest conversation. For the latter, there’s few more genuine places to than the U2 Irish Pub just off Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoğlu. Owner Leo is a true innkeeper and proof that you don’t have to come from the British Isles to operate a proper public house. A pub is a place that should offer welcome to any class of lady or gentleman, and Leo does just that. At little more than four metres square it’s also proof that some of the best pubs don’t need to be big. He’s been open for about six years and leaves a friend or regular in charge on the few occasions when he needs a holiday. The smoking lounge is essentially the stairwell connecting to the street to the upstairs lavatory, a genial place to indulge a nicotine urge and chat with the latest stranger you’re about to turn into a friend.

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    U2 IRISH PUB
    Bekar Sok. No 21, Beyoğlu, Istanbul / +90 212 2434045 / www.u2istanbulirishpub.com

  • Sometimes at Hepsi Hikaye

    January 13th, 2013

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    There’s nothing quite like a good conversation over a meal between friends. These days, however, it’s not always easy to find the time or the right venue to make such a thing happen. Restaurants can be too loud or too impersonal. Hosting at home requires you to make a serious commitment in terms of preparation and work, and can take you away from the friends you want to get close to. Fortunately, the Bebek club of ideas, Hepsi Hikaye (Everything’s a Story) is now hosting intimate, multi-course dinners on Friday and Sunday nights, dubbed “Bazen” — meaning sometimes in Turkish, and is also a combination of the two Organizers, Banu and Zeynep’s name — with a menu designed and prepared by chef Melih from Alaçati’s well loved restaurant, Agrillia. If you’re looking for an alternative to the typical night out, it’s definitely worth a look. The food Friday night —prosciutto fagioli soup, lor cheese and lentil salad, cottage pie, porcini papardelle, and beautifully prepared beef — possessed all the warmth of a home cooked meal without the burden of dishes. The wine was truly excellent too. It was a different kind of night out. One well worth having.

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    BAZEN at HEPSI HIKAYE
    +90 212 263 22 29   / +90 212 2630985

  • The stairwell refuge

    January 12th, 2013

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    In most business buildings, and many apartment blocks there’s an essential Turkish institution. Past the postboxes, across the scuffed, cracked tile floor, an illumined window, fogged with steam, behind which moves a shadowy indistinct figure. What’s brewing inside the uninitiated, non Turk might wonder? A magician in his lair? Almost. From that room, usually not much more than a metre or two square, a man or youth will emerge bearing a shiny silvery tray on which he carries an absolute Turkish necessity — piping hot, black tea accompanied by a tiny spoon and two little bricks of sugar. Outside pushed against the narrow corridor wall, a stool or two, maybe a chair with its vinyl cushion torn, exposing some yellow foam cushioning, and a table with an ashtray and stubbed out butt. This time of year, this is the cheapest refuge from Istanbul’s rain-spattered streets, where for less than 50 cents you can buy yourself a quick infusion of warmth and escape the bone-clinging chill that the wet season brings. The hallway tea room. A Turkish institution that earns its rent in 75 kuruş increments.

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  • Go Galatasaray!

    January 3rd, 2013

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    The football club bearing the above name may be having a lousy season this year, but the neighbourhood in Beyoğlu is winning hands down on several counts. I’d like to list a few ways this colourful intersection between Taksim and Tünel currently scores as the number one place I’d maroon myself in the unlikely event that I ever be forced to maroon myself somewhere. Following are four reasons to go to the Galatasaray Mahallesi right now …

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    BEST COFFEE. Let’s start with the most important drink of the day. After nearly eight years and countless kilos of bitter beans, thousands of litres of scalded milk, and several burnt lips I have finally tasted caffeinated perfection. Or the closest thing I’m going to find to it in Istanbul. Kronotrop in Galatasaray, the “Espresso Blend Atelier” wins hands-down, without a doubt, absolutely, definitely — sorry if I’m overselling this — for the best espresso and espresso drinks in town. Camera-shy Çağatay Bey’s tiny little shrine to espresso is the genuine deal. Having long fostered the suspicion that he wasn’t getting his money’s worth when he had his morning brew, the Ankara-born owner has dedicated the last couple of years to researching the art of the espresso. This isn’t just about getting the correct bean (though he’s done that with direct trade, organic coffee). It includes using the right water, sourcing farm fresh milk and treating his trade with the respect it deserves. He’s also got a nice little selection of foreign newspapers and magazines for sale. But forget those for now — this is really about the coffee. I started off with a simple, unadulterated double espresso. No sugar, no additives. It was a true delight. Not bitter, but beautifully balanced. I normally drink Americanos because I find most espressos in this city too bitter. This wasn’t the case. Then I moved on to have not one but two separate flat whites made with farm-fresh milk. And another nice feature, despite all the coffee I drank … no jitters, no palpitations, no awful acidic stomach. The only problem with Kronotrop is that it’s diminished my ability to enjoy coffee elsewhere in the city. There may be more vibrant, funkier coffee joints, but in terms of taste no can touch Mister Çağatay’s espresso. Just don’t ask him for tea or Turkish Coffee. This place is devoted to the patronage of “Coffee Snobs.”

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    BEST CHEAP LUNCH/SNACK. Next up is the best damn wrap in town. Since being featured in Anthony Bourdain’s television series, Dürümzade has become a local legend. Deservedly. This is without a doubt the best grilled sandwich maker in town. Serving up a perfectly spiced, crisply charred wrap this is easily 2013’s champion for most satisfying 5tl lunch. Just thinking about the texture, taste and aroma makes me famished. The ustalar are a really jovial bunch, which just goes to show that fame doesn’t necessarily need to go to your head.

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    BEST FOOD MARKET. In fact to avoid overspending at the most entertaining food market in the city, go to Dürümzade first. On an empty stomach you can easily burden yourself with so many groceries at the Balık Pazarı, you’ll be in danger of dislocating your shoulders. Despite its name this market isn’t just about fish, though there’s plenty of fresh daily catch on offer. Crisp produce. Exotic poultry. Pickled delights. Scary animal parts. You name it, they’ve got it. Except for Kolhrabi / Yerlahana. That I couldn’t find, much to my disappointment. Still you can’t have everything, right? Oh yeah … to the man who remarked to his friends that my sartorial style was “Italian Villager”, there are plenty of yabancı who speak Turkish, though, perhaps I’ll give you first prize for the most original of comment I wasn’t supposed to understand.

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    BEST RUMMAGE. Then there’s Aslıhan Pasajı, which juts off the Balık Pazarı, and which I covered in an early post, which is probably the best vintage book rummage in town. There are so many fascinating glimpses into 20th Century Turkey here that it’s a must see. Especially if the weather isn’t clement you can warm your fingers thumbing through the wonderful magazines and periodicals for sale here. It’s well worth a peruse.

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  • Istanbul’s Vietnamese Speakeasy

    December 30th, 2012

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    In a recent post I described what I’d do with a leisurely day left to my own devices, and in it one of the places where I said I’d finish my day was Cochine. On Saturday night, however, I was able to put the place to the test with 15 friends for dinner and drinks. From now on, If I have my way, I will never veer from eating out  anywhere but owner-operated kitchens. It makes all the difference. Food preparation is a kind of alchemy. It’s not just the ingredients, or the measurements, it’s the spirit of the people putting it together that determines whether or not they create gold.  There’s a lot of gold at Cochine, located on Kumbaracı Yokuşu, thanks to the complementary talents of its owners Melis Onderoglu Maxwell (pictured immediately below) and Chris Maxwell.

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    It would be all to easy to walk past Cochine’s discreetly marked doorway. From the street you can’t see inside and the entrance is just around the lane with a heavy door and buzzer monitored by  a camera. But don’t be intimidated by the speakeasy appearance of the door or the decrepitude of the graffiti-spattered street. Inside is a welcoming interior put together by the owners, exuding their charm and good taste, bathed in golden-red light. The staff that greet you offered the kind of relaxed welcome you want when the heavy iron door swings open. Now don’t waste anytime. The first thing you need to do is order one of their signature Earl Grey martinis, without a doubt my new favourite cocktail — and don’t be deterred from trying it even if you don’t like the tea of the same name. It’s the best way to shake things up a little before dinner.

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    And the verdict on the food? In a city where disparate far-east Asian cuisines are all too often lumped together and served under the same roof — Japanese-Chinese-Thai from one kitchen? — it’s nice to see one small but adept kitchen focusing on providing food from one region, in this case, Vietnam. Chris Maxwell, who originally hails from New Zealand knows his way around the world of food. His years travelling the globe and working in some of London’s top kitchens have paid off. The vote at our table of 15 was unanimous. The food was a sensation we all wished to repeat. True alchemy. Now all I have to do is find out where they source my favourite vegetable in the world — Pak Choy.

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    By the way, if you don’t yet have plans for New Year’s this year, there are still some seatings available. I know I’ll be spending many hours in 2013 seated in Cochine. Oh yeah, and before I sign off … Happy New Year!

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    COCHINE 

    Tomtom Mahallesi Kumbaracı Yokuşu, Camcı Fevzi Sokak No. 36/A, Beyoğlu, Istanbul
    +90 212 243 92 81

  • Festive cheer about town

    December 22nd, 2012

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    Sometimes you’ve got to overdo it to do it right. One might even say ’tis the season. Once you’ve accomplished all there is to accomplish, it’s time to live it up. So here’s my agenda for the perfect day of moderating the moderation, and lounging about before it’s time to get all ambitious again for a new year.

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    Start by finding yourself a good breakfast. You can’t go wrong with a mid-morning breakfast at either Auf or Unter, currently stealing my heart with the beautifully appointed interiors, honest food and fantastic staff. You’ll get a great cup of coffee and something really satisfying from Zeynep’s bakery or Esra’s kitchen. These two love food, and so do their people. It’s a welcoming way to while away the bleary morning hours. When you’re done, maybe amble your way towards Nisantasi and finish off the last of your seasonal shopping, and check out the over-the-top street decorations. They’re a big hit with someone I know.

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    This time of year, I don’t think lunch should be rushed. Lunch should be a long, lingering affair, to the extent that maybe you never make it back to the office. That is if you’re unfortunate enough to still have to go to one. Arrange to meet friends, lots of them, somewhere exactly like Park Samdan, and splash about a bit of wine, between courses. Eat too much chocolate. You’re going to get fit in the New Year, remember?

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    When things start to get a little dim, don’t worry, it’s not you. The days are short. It’s not the end of the world — sorry, Mayans. It’s either time for a nap, a hamam or a new venue. What better venue for the early evening than a cheerful pub? Head to the Bosphorus Brewing Co and sidle up to the bar and get yourself a proper ale, or a homemade ginger ale, if you haven’t yet overindulged sufficiently. Phillip Hall and family have pulled out all the stops to bring the refreshing taste of real ales to Istanbul. Judging from the enthusiasm of both Turks and foreigners, the Hall family are here to stay.

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    Once you’ve done with the ale aperitifs, It’s time to slink into a dark corner. Make yourself a reservation at Cochine on Kumbaraci Yokusu in Beyoglu. This secluded spot was once the den of four artists, and it’s now the place to quench your nighttime appetites in the seductive, low warm light. Owned by chef Chris Maxwell and partner Melis Onderoglu Maxwell, an incredibly charming couple who met in London and decided to move to Melis’ homeland to open up this swanky nightspot, featuring French-influenced Vietnamese food and their signature earl grey martinis, it’s a cozy little spot to keep indulging until you can indulge no more. Chris and Melis are fantastic hosts — it’s not just the fireplace that exudes warmth. This young couple have a feel for old world charm.

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    Any questions? If so, you now know where to find me. Happy holidays.

  • Behind the scenes at:

    December 13th, 2012

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    Yesterday I had a fantastic opportunity to go into the kitchen and bakery at Auf and see magic being made. Talk about talent. Talk about love. The heat in this kitchen wasn’t only radiating from the ovens, it was glowing from a passionate love affair with food. The people I met on Esra and Zeynep’s team were so alive, and so full of ardour for what they were doing — a philosophy graduate who would rather bake, a former English teacher who’d prefer to create — all working really long hours and pulling it off with incredible smiles. Every day the women (and man) in the kitchen create a new menu, based on seasonally available produce and ingredients which might change anywhere up to 15 minutes before the lunch crowd storms in. Yet this is not a tense environment, and I don’t think simply because there was a yabanci in the house. My sense was that Esra and Zeynep have created a remarkably democratic environment where everyone’s opinion, as well as talent, counts.

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    These guys are true, dedicated foodies. The concentration, the vigour with which prepare a meal is really inspiring. Despite having a big hairy guy pointing a camera in their face, no one missed a beat. Like many I’ve harboured a fantasy for years about owning a restaurant, but now I have a new appreciation for the type of dedication it takes. Read More…