Happy new year everyone! I'm back from my trip to Istanbul, and what a trip it was. Meatballs, baklava and fireworks were as fabulous as I expected. Snow and seagulls were less anticipated but no less spectacular.
We stayed at the Ibrahim Pasha hotel, sadly more expensive than we originally intended due to the weak pound, a gorgeous boutique hotel right in the heart of Sultanahmet. We were mere steps away from the blue mosque and with a well stocked library, cosy log fires and a resident dopey labrador to boot, I was in seventh heaven.
We started our mornings with a sumptuous Turkish breakfast. The generous spread of rustic breads, honey, juicy jams, olives, halloumi and other cheeses, boiled eggs, oranges and strong, sweet tea really hit the spot and set us up perfectly for days spent sightseeing and, er, more eating.
Street food was simple and tasty. I tried a Simit, a kind of sesame encrusted Turkish bagel. Carts selling these and roasted chestnuts tempted us at every corner, as did the patisseries selling sticky baklava and fleshy, rose-scented turkish delight.
Our first lunch was at Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi, a small, busy and traditional restaurant in the central tourist area of Sultanahmet. We were whisked to a table, where we chose from the short-and-sweet menu of kebab, kofte and a choice of two salads.
My pre-trip investigations on the Chowhound boards indicated that the meatballs were to die for, and they certainly were melt-in-the-mouth delicious (especially when coated with a zingy chilli sauce, doled out to each plate by a white-jacketed waiter). The lemon-drenched white bean salad was also perfect in its simplicity.
We also tried the local sour and salty yoghurt drink, Ayran, which was the ultimate post-chilli palate-cleansing refresher.
Dinner at Cafe Rumeli was spent in a cozy candlelit nook, devouring heaps of vegetarian mezze and a delicious, slow cooked tomato, rosemary and lamb dish.
Other eating places of note included Balikci Sabahattin (Sabahattin the Fisherman), a classy fish restaurant with calamari in possibly the lightest batter I have ever crunched. We fought over the last dregs of sweet red peppers and aubergine in soured yoghurt before tucking into the catch of the day. We chose our fish variety (sea bass for me, snapper for him) and whether it was to be grilled or fried. Fresh, simple and delicious.
We also took a short tram ride to Hamdi, which served miriad kebab varieties in a rooftop dining room with views over the Bosphorus. The sublime sesame pitta bread was puffed up like pillows, the baklava was unctuously gooey (as it should be!) and tiny cups of bubbling, mud-like coffee finished off the meal in true Turkish style.
Our final night was spent chowing down in-room on some takeaway Turkish pizza with sheep's cheese followed by yet more baklava and washed down with a few beers. We then saw the new year in from the roof terrace of our hotel, complete with a view over the blue mosque and flocks of seagulls erupting overhead at the first sound of fireworks.
We survived, unscathed by the gulls overhead, and were very sad to leave the following afternoon. Istanbul was a fantastic place to spend new year, with atmosphere, history and tasty rustic treats galore.
Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi, 12 Divanyolu Cad, Sultanahmet. Tel +90 212-520-0566
Cafe Rumeli, Ticarethane Sok. 8, Sultanahmet. Tel +90 212-5120008
Balikci Sabahattin, Seyit Hasan Kuyu Sokak, Cankurtaran. Tel +90 212-458 1824
Haamdi, Tahmis C. Kalcin Sokak 17, Eminonu. Tel +90 212-528 0390