Istanbul is a bit of a culinary oddity – it is the world’s only transcontinental city yet finding global foods can stretch the patience. Nonetheless it, like most cities has its fair share of cool cafes, many situated in the neighbourhoods of Taksim and Cihangir. Here’s my personal pick of the bunch.
1: RENKLI CAFÉ
This delightful café is sneakily tucked away up a flight of stairs, a street behind the throbbing pulse of main shopping drag the Istiklal. Once inside however, you are treated to an oasis of calm. Painted in pastel shades of orange, blue and pink, the Renkli’s walls are tastefully garnished with illustrations of animals ranging from birds to bison as well as contemporary photography. There are hidden nooks and crannies decked out with sofas often commandeered by lovers. Another charming quirk is the presence of fairy lights hugging the staircase. If you love Yuletide, rejoice – it’s Christmas every day at the Renkli.
A touch of Vienna in the heart of Taksim with books and games abound, it also delivers reasonably priced food and drink. I had fish and chips but sadly had no time for the home made brownie. The apartment building it’s in looks shabby but the Klemari is a wonder.
You know the kind of place your mum would take you as a kid if you’d been good and which feels like a shelter from the world. Well Piraye is a bit like that. I have been here several times and the staff are always warm, nothing is too much trouble and there’s no rush to vacate after eating the way you get in some major cities. Plus there’s an English menu and green leather seats (if you care for décor).
Further into Cihangir and the ante is well and truly stepped up. There are 3 or 4 great cafes within throwing distance, the first of which is Kahvedan. Like most of them in this area it is very arty (which is OK by me) and plays groovy music (Chaka Khan I think). There’s a global fusion of foods: Asian, American and Turkish. Nice clean and crisp décor; white with mahogany trim. They keep it simple and it works!
5: IKBAL KAHVESI
Just up from the Kahvedan is the Ikbal. Bathed in pale yellow, it doubles as a museum to Turkish writer Orhan Kemal who frequented the place with books and posters a plenty. The Ikbal is cosy and a lot closer than the Pierre Loti (café).
6: KAHVE 6
Now this is something to write home about. Beautifully turned out (more bird imagery) odd ornaments sit on a bookcase by a standard lamp and sofa at the end of the main room. Guiding you there are long horizontal mirrors and leaf printed benches. It’s part café, part 1950’s lounge. ‘Welcome to our Nest’ it says on entering. Instead of the normal Breakfast, Soups, Grills, Desserts and Drinks, the menu (in English) opts for a more quirky series of headers eg ‘From the Barn,’ ‘From the Hen House,’ ‘From the Garden’ and even ‘From Heaven.’ Drinks are also originally titled: Gun Powder Green Tea, Mint Tea and Honey, Anti-Freeze, Anti-Depressant and Anti-Virus. Sharp, dreamy, quirky.
Minimal chic at the Rafineri; a lime green wall greets you at the front of house, while White takes centre stage out back and with cool artwork to boot. Pizza, Crepes, Bagels all present, the most bizarre thing about it was not so much the art but why they were playing Dr Hook and Meatloaf.
Back into Taksim, the small brick house Kiva feels like a miniature medieval banquet hall with circular lighting rigs, yet it’s bang up to date with DJ selected grooves on the sound system, kind of Steely Dan meets house. I’m also told they do fortune telling. It’s twilight when I arrive and the staff are doing their spring cleaning. They ask where I’m from and incredibly when I tell them, they don’t mention Ryan Giggs – a first for Istanbul. As for the menu there’s frozen peach and melon, an ice cream made up of: Vanilla, Banana, Caramel, Chocolate, Walnut and Strawberry and intriguingly named coffee’s such as the Café Nil (with Caramel syrup) exclusive to the Kiva.
Where else can you get mock stone walls and fake fire and it not feel naff? Somehow the Sadabad pulls it off. It is however authentic in its Burgundy/Gold and Black Turkish patterned seating and it’s definitely odd to see middle aged men playing backgammon to trance music. Way to go Sadabad!
(with thanks to all the cafes for their cooperation at short notice).