As synonymous with Turkey as woven textiles and evil eye charms, meze dishes are a great way to discover the cuisine of Istanbul. From modern meze maestros to traditional tables, Lucinda Turner discovers what’s on the menu
A mainstay of cuisine across Turkey and beyond, meze are a delicious way to discover the best that the Istanbul food scene has to offer. A meze meal consists of a selection of small plates and such dishes have been served in the region for centuries. The diverse offering in Istanbul means there is something to suit every taste.
From traditional hard cheeses and stuffed vegetables to modern fusions such as Turkish ravioli and the introduction of the avocado, this age-old dining tradition shows no signs of waning in popularity. Whether they are enjoyed as a precursor to a larger meal, as a snack with drinks or as a feast in themselves, when it comes to dining in Istanbul, meze should not be missed.
Duble Meze Bar
A recent addition to the Istanbul meze scene, the Duble Meze Bar can be found atop the luxurious Palazzo Donizetti Hotel – but don’t let Istanbul’s dazzling skyline distract you from Duble’s exceptional menu. Influenced by seasonal ingredients as well as traditional Turkish fare, the elegantly presented dishes feel undeniably modern in these glamorous surroundings. Highlights include the tulum (goat cheese) pâté with flaked pistachio and the crispy anchovies with aioli (garlic mayonnaise), both of which offer a fresh take on classic combinations. For diners who wish to order more than 40 plates of meze, a special bar situated above the main restaurant is available, making the experience all the more special.
Duble Meze Bar, Palazzo Donizetti Hotel, Asmalımescit Mahallesi, Meşrutiyet Caddesi 85, Beyoğlu, +90 (0)212 244 0188
Meze by Lemon Tree
Meze by Lemon Tree takes its meze seriously. Since opening in 2010 this delightful little restaurant has won a variety of awards and is a must-visit for anyone wanting to discover the true spirit of meze dining in Istanbul. Though modern influences penetrate the menu, the dining experience is a classically lengthy Turkish dinner with multiple meze courses punctuated by the serving of rakı (a Turkish alcoholic beverage). Located opposite the grand Pera Palace Hotel in the city’s elegant Beyoğlu district, Meze by Lemon Tree draws visitors back again and again. The şaman bayıldı (fried pepper stuffed with cheese, pistachio and onion) is a firm favourite – or speak to your waiter, who can advise which of the daily meze specials might be the perfect choice.
Meze by Lemon Tree, Asmalımescit Mahallesi, Meşrutiyet Caddesi 83B, Beyoğlu, +90 (0)212 252 8302
Although the building that houses Sofyali 9 dates back to the 1800s, the restaurant has only inhabited this historic location for 15 years. However, that doesn’t mean the chefs aren’t committed to honouring the strong heritage of Turkish cuisine and decor. As you enter the space, spot the colourful lanterns hanging from the ceiling, hear the traditional Turkish and Greek music, and smell the aroma of spices, everything seems utterly timeless. The menu is strictly traditional; stuffed chard leaves, grilled octopus and baklava are mainstays. The restaurant is always busy on Friday and Saturday nights so be sure to book a table to enjoy a taste of authentic Istanbul.
Sofyali 9, Asmalımescit Caddesi, Sofyalı Sokak 9, Beyoğlu, +90 (0)212 252 3810
A family-run institution since the 1970s, Yakup 2 was founded by Yakup Arslan, and the restaurant which shares his name has since become legendary in the Asmalımescit district. Yakup 2 boasts a large outside terrace garden as well as ample indoor seating, giving customers plenty of space to enjoy the culinary treats on offer – the menu is heavily influenced by the family’s Greek and Armenian roots. Head chef Cemal has been with the restaurant for over 30 years, creating delicious versions of old favourites and experimenting with fresh dishes to please both regulars and new visitors. Be sure to order the legendary calamari and sit street-side on a balmy summer evening to soak up the atmosphere of the neighbourhood.
Yakup 2, Asmalımescit Caddesi 21D, Beyoğlu, +90 (0)212 249 2925