ISTANBUL: NOT CONSTANTINOPLE
If I could bring back any three places from the restaurant heavens, where good eateries go to die, they would be, in no particular order
High Holborn, a short lived high-end place which garnered a well deserved Michelin star and then closed almost immediately to become a chain pizza restaurant.
The Sutton Arms, where Rosie Sykes cooked so splendidly that DH ate there over one hundred times between us in the two years she was behind the stove.
And, last but certainly not least, The Angel Mangal, the much missed and never bettered uber-Okabasi, where superlative grilling, combined with huge salads and pungent context wines, made Turkish food a staple of the DH diet.
We still bemoan our loss of it and its charmingly taciturn owner, Mustapha whose lips would twitch into a micro smile at the mention of his beloved, but under achieving football team, Besiktas.
So, because of that, I had high hopes for Istanbul, which makes it even harder to report that it has been such a disappointment, on the food front at least.
You could say that, thirty countries in to the EAT MY GLOBE trip, I am just jaded. But, the same was true in Madrid last week and yet, at the first sight of Jamon and with the first whiff of frying Puntillitas, I still did a strange, but oddly erotic, little dance of delight.
You could ask if I have not “gone native” enough, and stayed too close to my guesthouse slap bang in the middle of Sultanahmet and two minutes walk from The Blue Mosque. But, the fact that my favourite pair of calfskin Merrill’s are now worn out and consigned to the bin should be a testament to the fact that I have traipsed over half of Istanbul, Old and New cities in search of decent grub.
You could even ask if a cuisine based predominantly on grilled meats is ever going to be that good. To which I would reply “don’t be so bleeding stupid” and point you towards pictures of Morocco, South African Brai and just about everything I ate in Argentina and America.
I have had a couple of Pide, which just confirm my “snot on toast” opinion of the pizza genus and, I have supplemented the grilling of more standard meats such as chicken wings and lamb chops (all served with the rather odd double starch combo of rice and chips) with the “sadakat” option of offal and still found it lacking any spark.
It should tell you all you need to know, particularly if you are aware of my “fish does not make a meal” philosophy, that the best thing I have had to eat has been a Balik Ekmek, a sandwich, served on the edges of The Bosphorus in the early evenings, which combines freshly grilled mackerel, a good slosh of lemon juice and sharp, raw onions. Delicious, but hardly the keystone for a six-day trip.
In the end, the ingredients are simply not good enough and the techniques not good enough to cover the failings of the ingredients.
If the food is mediocre, then fortunately, there is much in Istanbul to distract me from a disappointed belly. Its monuments are rare treasures and I have filled my time happily wandering from extraordinary sight to extraordinary sight. I have seen The Topkapı Dagger and The Alexander Sarcophagus and I have even let a large bearded Turk beat me up whıle I was good and sweaty.
Yet, this is not a trip about the joys of antiquity. It is about the food and, on that basis, Istanbul, like Besiktas, must rank amongst the also rans of the EAT MY GLOBE adventure.