No visitors should miss a classic sightseeing tour of Sultanahmet, the touristic heart of Istanbul. We all know where to go for the ‘must-see’ sights, but you may not know where to eat and drink. Sultanahmet boasts some fantastic options, whether you are looking for a casual meal, fine dining, breakfast, or a coffee break.
Budget eats around Sirkeci
Şehzade Cağ Kebabı
Need a kebab break while wandering the streets of the Old City? Head to Şehzade Cağ Kebabı. Not far from the Sirkeci train station, this place offers a delicious kebab not commonly found in Istanbul: Erzurum cağ kebabı. This special dish from eastern Anatolian features lamb meat marinated for hours in onion, salt, and pepper; then cooked and turned horizontally on a skewer over a wood fire. If you’re keen on meat, this is something you don’t want to miss.
Open Mon-Sat, 11am-10pm. Hocapaşa Sokak No.6 D:4, Sirkeci; T: (0212) 520 33 61
Meşhur Filibe Köftecisi
Just across the street is another eatery, Meşhur Filibe Köftecisi, a köfte house packing a longstanding history into its small venue. The story started in 1893 when Mehmet Saltuk migrated from Bulgaria to Istanbul. Over a century later, this humble family business is now being run by the fifth generation. A simple, yet classic, meal is piyaz—a white bean salad with lettuce, carrot, and lemon and oil vinaigrette. The star of the show is the succulent handmade köfte—beef meatballs mixed with a perfect amount of cumin before being cooked to perfection on the charcoal grill and served with lightly charred tomatoes and green peppers. For dessert, try revani—a dense white cake slathered with sugar syrup.
Open Mon-Sat, 11am-9pm. Hoca Paşa Sokak No.3, Sirkeci; T: (0212) 519 39 76
Lokantas around the Grand Bazaar
Just a few paces away from the Grand Bazaar, Aslan is a modest sized lokanta (tradesman restaurant) serving food since 1988. Located on the second floor of a commercial building, and overlooking the bazaar, it offers a menu that changes daily and consists of hot meals, olive oil dishes, and a variety of classic Turkish desserts. What sets Aslan apart from most lokantas is the fact that fish is served. Depending on the season, sea bass, gilt-head bream, salmon, and blue fish are some of the choices on offer. Tea and Turkish coffee is on the house, plus there is a more energetic waiter service than is typically found in these kinds of lokantas.
Another of Aslan’s particular strengths is its desserts, or tatlılar. There is often syrupy pumpkin, quince slices with thick cream, künefe (a cheese pastry soaked in syrup and covered with tel kadayıf, crisp and wiry shreds), and even the Ottoman treat, kazandibi: a creamy, caramelized, blancmange style pudding—also known as chicken breast pudding—which might sound unusual, but is unfathomably yummy.
Open Mon-Sat, noon-4.30pm. Vezirhan Caddesi No. 70, Çemberlitaş; T: (0212) 513 76 10
Established in 1959, Havuzlu is a lokanta that is always full of people coming and going between shopping trips. Here you can grab a quick lunch of classic Turkish and Ottoman food without leaving the Grand Bazaar on a hurried shopping day, or simply take a tea break on the first floor. Lunch begins before midday and most of the food will be gone by 3pm.
The food is simple but hearty, and there is always a large range of options to choose from: soups, grilled options like karnıyarık (eggplant stuffed and grilled with meaty tomato sauce), moussaka, mantı, sulu yemek (a kind of Turkish stew or casserole), olive oil mezze, and—of course—döner kebab. There are also around 20 classic Turkish dessert options on a daily basis such as şekerpare and kemalpaşa (soft pastry desserts in syrup), fırın sütlaç (baked rice pudding), and krem karamel (crème caramel). The ayva tatlısı (stewed, syrupy quince dessert) is one of the highlights of the menu, and is only available in winter.
Open daily, 11am-7pm. Gani Çelebi Sokak No. 3, Grand Bazaar; T: (0212) 527 33 46
If you want to treat yourself like a sultan, Matbah restaurant is the place to go. Promising to take guests on a journey back in time, the restaurant offers authentic Ottoman palace cuisine prepared by staying true to the minute details of the original recipes. Many of the dishes listed on the menu have a date, and are accompanied by small facts or ingredients, like this taken from Sultan Mehmed’s Kitchen Records, 1473: “As a sign of the value he gave to his statesmen, Fatih would have the pilafs he ordered for them stuffed with pieces of gold the size of a chickpea.”
The restaurant is located within the Ottoman Hotel Imperial and has a large outdoor space that is open during summer but covered during winter. Trees growing through the restaurant add a pleasant touch of greenery to what can otherwise feel like quite a white, bright space. The view is strikingly atmospheric, particularly when seen from the restaurant area set under a floral patterned glass dome, which looks out over the Zeynep Sultan Mosque and the Caferağa Medrese.
Open daily, 11:30am-10:30pm. Caferiye Sokak No.6/1,Sultanahmet; T: (0212) 514 61 51; www.matbahrestaurant.comBook a table
Opened in 1927, Balıkçı Sabahattin is a family-run restaurant housed in a wonderfully restored Ottoman mansion, nestled on a quiet side street behind the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The restaurant has developed a well-deserved reputation as one of Istanbul’s top seafood restaurants and the reasons for this are very simple: it serves fresh beautifully cooked fish and seafood that melts in the mouth.
The starters and mezze options are noteworthy too—try midyeli pilav (rice with mussels) and fener kavurma (roasted monkfish). As most Turkish people will confirm, fish and rakı (a Turkish anise spirit, mixed with water and ice) are very good friends. There is also a decent range of good wines available and waiters are more than willing to assist you in making a selection. During the summer, outdoor seating is in high demand. As outside spots are extremely popular on weekend evenings, brace yourself to wait for a bit, even if you have booked ahead.
Open daily, 7am-midnight. Seyit Hasan Kuyu Sok. No.1,Cankurtaran; T: (0212) 458 1824; www.balikcisabahattin.com
Al fresco breakfast
As you might expect from The Four Seasons Hotel, this restaurant is spectacular. It is housed in a huge glass pavilion, with both indoor and outdoor areas, beautiful lacquered wood surfaces, and mosaic tables lending it an almost Moroccan look. Its daily breakfast includes Turkish, Continental, and American options, or you can order pancakes, waffles, bagels, egg dishes, and much more from an à la carte menu. Served only from October to May, the Saturday brunch buffet provides international tastes made from local ingredients.
Breakfast is served daily, 7am-11am; from October-May, Saturday brunch starts from 11.30am-3pm. Tevkifhane Sokak No.1, Sultanahmet; T: (0212) 402 31 50; www.fourseasons.com
Armada Teras Restaurant
This hotel restaurant offers unparalleled views of Istanbul’s skyline, from the Blue Mosque, to Kadıköy, to the Princes’ Islands. Besides the hotel’s regular breakfast, the weekend brunch buffet is where you can start a day with the city’s view and summer breeze, along with unlimited regional cheeses, menemen (Turkish-style scrambled eggs, with tomato, green peppers, and spices), and other Turkish breakfast essentials. The restaurant also provides lunch, dinner, and a bar service with a wide-range collection of Turkish wines.
Brunch is served on weekends, 11am-2pm. Ahırkapı Caddesi No.24, Cankurtaran; T: (0212) 455 4455; www.armadateras.comBook a table
Run by a South African coffee company, Brew Coffeeworks is located on the ground floor below the Legacy Ottoman Hotel in Sirkeci. Only meters away from the Spice Bazaar, this modern coffee shop is popular with tourists and expats looking for a quality caffeine fix. The high ceilings and double-height arched windows create a spacious, light environment with marble walls and modern blue and wooden decor.
Great coffee is the main concept here. To prove how serious the baristas are, a special blend of 100% Arabica beans from Brazil, Guatemala, Colombia, and Ethiopia is roasted and ground in-house. Besides the comprehensive coffee list, a small food menu also offers snacks and sweet treats; there are breakfast croissants, toasts, sandwiches, freshly baked brownies, cakes, and tiramisu. On summer days, an affogato (made by drenching a scoop of Mövenpick vanilla ice cream in an espresso shot) is a great pick-me-up, and the thick walls of this old building offer a cool spot to take a break from the crowds and heat outside.
Open daily, 7am-10pm. Hamidiye Caddesi No.60; T: 0532 575 30 33; www.brewcoffeeworks.com