Dining Out 2 minutes 27 March 2023

Three Istanbul restaurants that made an impression on our inspectors

Istanbul's abundance of beauty is bound to make a lasting impression on any visitor. This city is steeped in history, and the sight of the Bosphorus, its unique lifeline, will stay with you for a lifetime. The restaurants in our MICHELIN selection often share in that beauty, too. Our inspectors have selected three establishments where the captivating splendour of Istanbul comes into its own.

Neolokal – historical grandeur

Strolling through the Karaköy neighbourhood, you will find yourself immersed in the Istanbul of yesteryear. As you wander along the narrow streets, you are surrounded by imposing neo-Classical façades with alluring Ottoman-style details. Your adventure at Neolokal begins at the foot of the tiny backstreets leading to the vibrant Pera neighbourhood. All the way to their table, our inspectors encountered one culinary temptation after another.
This building was once the financial heart of the Ottoman Empire: from the mid-19C until the 1990s, it was the headquarters of the National Ottoman Bank and housed the stock exchange as well as various insurance companies and other businesses. Today, it is most notably home to the Salt Galata cultural institution. The imposing decor, in which you will detect early Art Nouveau and other architectural influences, gives you a sense of how important this place used to be. The character of this building has been preserved and brought into the 21C with the utmost respect for its past.
Go past security, walk along the wide corridor and take in your first impressions of the vibrant Neolokal at the back of the building. At the entrance, you are greeted by the buzz of activity coming from the state-of-the-art kitchen, where a large team is at work. A wooden staircase leads you to the upper dining area, where the restaurant's charm really unfolds. Floor-to-ceiling windows afford views over the rooftops of Galata and the minarets of Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmed Mosque. This is a setting that will stop you in your tracks.
A table on the spacious terrace is an absolute must. Here you can experience the heart of the city at a remove from the hustle and bustle. The minimalist-style dining area with its colourfully decorated bar is also charming. Neolokal lets Istanbul put its best foot forward. This restaurant serves as a bridge between old and new, both architecturally and with its original medley of old recipes and its focus on sustainability and local suppliers.

Image: Neolokal

AQUA – the glint of the Bosphorus

To use the words of one enthusiastic MICHELIN inspector: "If you are searching for that dreamy setting in which to pop the question, then look no further: AQUA is the perfect venue for that special moment!" He was clearly impressed by the spectacular AQUA – and with good cause. After all, the Four Seasons hotel's restaurant is right on the waterfront. The view of the ships coming and going on the Bosphorus, the Bosphorus Bridge and the Asian part of the city is truly unique.
The romantic atmosphere at this restaurant is unparalleled. Whether you are having lunch under a blue sky or looking deep into each other's eyes in the evening as the sun sets in the background, a special experience awaits you here. Should the weather take a turn for the worse, shelter is available. There are plenty of windows, ensuring that you are never deprived of the splendid view.
The riches that the Bosphorus has to offer also take centre stage on your plate. During our visits, fish and seafood were the stars of the show in contemporary dishes that were both Asian and Mediterranean in style. AQUA certainly bears its name well.

Image: Aqua

Matbah – in the shadow of Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque

No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a visit to the world-renowned Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque. This imposing building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and understandably a very popular tourist attraction, hence all the shops and restaurants in the vicinity. Be sure to take the time to leave the crowds behind and step into Matbah's stately premises, where you can see the historical mosque from new angles.
In summer, the place to be is the secluded garden with the beautiful minarets towering over you. Adjacent to the historical Caferağa Madrasa (once a religious school), the terrace is done out in traditional turquoise, green and khaki pastel colours which make for a quintessentially warm Turkish ambience. Upstairs, you come to the covered winter garden, which overlooks Zeynep Sultan Mosque, the Sultanahmet neighbourhood, and plenty more. Classic, typically Turkish opulence resides in every detail of this restaurant.
Our inspectors were enchanted by the charms of Matbah's rich local history, also in terms of the food. Time-honoured dishes such as lentil-stuffed cabbage leaves (following a recipe dating back to 1844) and goose kebab (a 1539 recipe) have been revived here with respect for tradition. Matbah brings Turkish history to life.

Image: Matbah

Illustration image: Neolokal

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