Travel 2 minutes 17 May 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. The city is steeped in history and the sight of the Bosphorus will stay with you for a lifetime. The MICHELIN Guide Inspectors have selected three restaurants that share that captivating splendour

Istanbul Romantic Restaurants Editor's Pick Michelin Star

Neolokal – Historical Grandeur

Strolling through the neighbourhood of Karaköy, 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 that lead to the vibrant area of Pera.

The restaurant is nestled in a building that 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 alongside various insurance companies and other businesses. Today, it is most notably home to the Salt Galata cultural institution. The imposing décor, with early Art Nouveau and other architectural influences, gives you a sense of how important this place used to be, and the character of the building has been preserved and brought into the 21C with great respect for its past.

As you arrive, go past security, walk along the wide corridor and take in your first impressions of this vibrant restaurant 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, then a wooden staircase leads you to the upper dining area, where the restaurant's charm really unfolds. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide stunning views over the rooftops of Galata and the minarets of the Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmed Mosques. It's a setting that's bound to stop you in your tracks.

A table on the spacious terrace is an absolute must; here you can experience the heart of the city while distanced from the hustle and bustle. The minimalist dining area, enlivened by a colourfully decorated bar, is also charming. Neolokal serves as a bridge between old and new Istanbul, both architecturally and in its original medley of time-honoured recipes with a focus on sustainability and local suppliers.


AQUA – The Glint of the Bosphorus

To use the words of one enthusiastic MICHELIN Guide 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!" They were clearly impressed by the spectacular AQUA – and for good reason. After all, this restaurant inside the Four Seasons hotel is right on the waterfront, and the view of the ships coming and going, the Bosphorus Bridge and the Asian part of the city is truly unique.

The romantic atmosphere at this restaurant is unparalleled. Whether you're having lunch under a blue sky or looking deep into each other's eyes 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 inside too, ensuring that you're never deprived of the splendid view.

The riches that the Bosphorus has to offer also take centre stage on your plate. During the MICHELIN Guide Inspectors' visits, fish and shellfish were the stars of the show, in contemporary dishes that were both Asian and Mediterranean in style. AQUA certainly bears its name well.


Matbah – In the Shadow of the 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 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, as well as by 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.


For more establishments that show off the beauty of Istanbul, see our run-down of restaurants with a view of the city's skyline. For Turkish cuisine a little closer to home, check out our interview with Ahmet Dede, who owns Two Michelin Starred dede in Baltimore, West Cork.

If you're on a trip to Istanbul and need somewhere to stay, then Michelin also recommends a range of hotels.

Hero image: Neolokal


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