This post details an experience at Nicole Restaurant – for the full list of recommendations, please scroll down.

This is the experience I alluded to in one of my latest posts. Travelling to a city for a very short time is unfortuately the norm for most. We fly in, grab a postcard, take a selfie and then jet off again. I added up the time I was flying and standing around in airports for my last trip to Istanbul, and I spent more time doing that than I spent awake and enjoying the incredible city it is.

nicole_Hotel Italia viewBut that doesn’t mean I was going to waste my one night out at a dodgy kebab house with inflated prices on the main square. A short trip requires just as much research as a longer one, perhaps more. You don’t have time to muck around, making bad choices, getting lost and misdirected.

I asked for someone in the know – Eating Asia came to aid me, and after several very helpful tweets from Robyn Eckhardt on Twitter, I settled on Nicole, which was described as ‘local ingredients but french inspired, views to die for’. I had my walking tour booked with culinary backstreets the next day, and was going to get my fill of local dishes, so a little fancy fusion sounded perfect.

After a wander around the Galata tower with my companion Sally, a tipple at Sensus wine bar (as recommended by her drinking buddy and Time Out writer Rene) and an amble along the Istikal mall, I made her toddle down what I believe is the steepest lane ever to be walked in high heels by her, to find the TomTom suites which is at the bottom of the hill, and at the top of another hill.

nicole_grand view

Upon entering I was assured there was to be no tourist tat on offer – Nicole is modern, lean-lined, with glass-enclosed kitchen and contemporary table finishes. Nicole doesn’t have your postcard Istanbul view, but it’s no less intriguing. You’d think that after walking down that hill, we’d be starved for landscape, but the Galata hill is a big one, and from seven floors up, it looks back over the surrounding embassies, the Bosphorus and the Kılıç Ali Pasha mosque, to the curve of the golden horn, where far in the distance Topkapi shines in amber lights alongside the towering minarets of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

nicole_flowersFood is clever, and as I was to find out on my walking tour the next day, contains many of the local market ingredients. The dishes were very good over all – a few were genuine highlights, and a couple of near misses. But the most incredible part of the meal was the journey through Turkey’s wine regions. I’d had no idea that Turkey produced such enormous quantities of wine. I’d suspected a little of course, but more along the lines of what Jordan or Lebanon are doing – Turkey is, after all, a Muslim country. But it’s also a European country, Mediterranean, Byzantine, Alexandrian, Anatolian, Ottoman, and Ghazi. I think I could continue, Turkey has been inhabited since the Paleolithic era, so there’s plenty of influence from all angles. Whatever the background, there’s plenty of local vino, so let’s take you briefly through dinner and it’s vinous accompaniments:

Amuse Bouche with Kabatepe Blush, 2012: Clams with smoked salmon and beef tartare (a little like an oyster kilpatric, but more delicate, perhaps a little dominated by the smoked salmon), were followed by a triplet of canapes – a rice crisp with tuna bonito (amazing), a goats’ cheese cookie, and accompanied by a super rose from the Gallipoli Peninsula, reeking of blackcurrant and with length that would challenge the legs of Claudia Schiffer. This was followed by some home-baked bread with lemon butter. I’ve never had a savoury lemon butter before, and I am now questioning why other restaurants don’t serve it. Lovely.

nicole_green plums and almond soup_edited-1Almond gazpachio with Arcadia Sauvignon Blanc Narince 2011: The highlight dish, incredibly creamy pureed fresh almonds, with local green plums (a tart, melon-like taste, with the texture of a water chestnut, often found at markets in the region), toasted almonds and weensy asparagus spears. This came with a fairly neutral-nosed but richly textured wine made in Kırklareli (also Thrace, near Gallipoli), with Sauvignon and the indigenous variety Narince, which is a little like a cross between an apricot-perfumed and viscous Viognier, and a tropical, almond-finished Pinot Grigio.

nicole_prawns on toastBread and Prawns with taramasalata, rocket and green garlic with Arcadia Sauvignon Gris, Pinot Gris 2011: A pretty plate, but perhaps falling short after the spectacular soup. I struggled to find the taramasalata, and the green garlic, instead finding them like buttery little bites of garlic prawns on toast, but loved washing it down with the Gris blend, an unfiltered wine from Thrace with plenty of tropical character and perhaps just not quite enough acid or length of flavour.

Turkish Sea Bass with Spring vegetables and lemon balm with Cotes d’Avanos Narince Chardonnay 2012: the (slightly undercooked) sea bass came with a gorgeous mix of veggies: tender sweet broad beans, baby zucchini and peas, and ‘sea beans’, which I assume is like baby samphire. The Cappadocian Chardonnay was a little disappointing for an Australian – it seems to be emulating the buttery, over-worked style that was so popular with 1990s palates in my home country, and I’d have loved to see a leaner Chardonnay with the delicate flavours of the chosen food.

Lamb with chickpeas, onion and cinnamon was served alongside an Urla Nexus 2011: the lamb was served four ways, from minced to slow-cooked to rare to sous-vide. The dish was very well varied in texture, and provided an ample contrast of flavours to the enormous Merlot and Nero d’Avola blend, which was a punch-in-the-mouth wine with violets, leather, plums and clove, some slightly raw tannins and quite a bit of oak. Some would cross countries for wine like this – but for me, I’d like to see what this winery is doing in a few years, when hopefully they release a more subtle wine.

Dessert, or “Sweet Endings” was twofold – firstly, a strawberry soup with goats cheese ice cream, and secondly, a chocolate thyme sandwich with hazelnut financier. They were accompanied by a fairly mild mannered botrytis Sauvignon blanc (the 333 by Arcadia), and a very interesting 2005 Corvus Passito, which is produced on the island of Bozcaada, and was a little on the tart side, but showing some nice rancio, and great promise for the youthful winery. The desserts were quite frankly, enchanting, moan-worthy dishes. I adored the ripe summer berry flavours contrasted with the piquant creamy ice cream, and Sally dived into the multi-layered chocolate dish like a woman eating her last meal.

Nicole_winesNot a bad layout, was it? Tack onto the whole food and drink experience, some wholly subservient staff, completely pleasant in the face of our total lack of Turkish (at this stage, we, disgracefully, had not even learned how to say thank you – or teşekkür {tash-eh-coor}) and the dancing stormy skyline of Istanbul, lit with God’s electric lights. (and no, I don’t have a photo of the lightning – I was too busy looking at it to stop and take a picture).

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But what is French/Turkish fusion is not your thing? I’ve got a couple of extras for you, thanks to some experts in the field:

  • Eating Asia has a couple of other tips: Giritli and Kantin are detailed here, the former in the Ahırkapı area near the water around topkapi, serving up Cretan-inspired dishes in an Ottoman wooden house, the latter in the neighbourhood next to Beyoğlu, fancy but real streetfood, served on a tree-lined terrace (no booze). If you want to stick to meze, then she sais Lokanta Maya is your best bet. In vibrant Karaköy, modern, sleek, with an emphasis on seasonality and creativity. Nicole of course, is detailed above.
  • David Reeder at The Pro Chef Middle East says Olive is his favourite for a hit-and-run stay. It serves traditional and modern Turkish cuisine, and comes with that view over the two mosques that everyone seems to want.
  • Witt Istanbul give us the gorgeous Bebek Balıkçısı – seafood, service and swish location in Bebek.
  • Conde Nast give us the fancy and the funky, both in Beyoğlu. Milka is the former – arguably the most advanced culinary venture in the city with swoonworthy terrace. 360 is the latter, mixing a platter of modern Turkish meze with neon lights and dancing into the wee hours.
  • CNN Traveller give us their best option in the tourist district. Pandeli is an institution, just inside the main entrance to the spice bazaar. For the traditionalists, gorgeous tiled walls and old-school ambiance, and big serves of meat and starch for those who like it simple. The other end of the spectrum is Changa, housed in a century-old Art Nouveau building, fusion cuisine by Kiwi chef Peter Gordon near Taksim, where everything happens. They actually have a glass ceiling over the kitchen, so you can get a birds’ eye view (and the chefs can look up your skirt)
  • My last favourite was Topaz Restaurant – In the new hotel area around Karaköy, lovely, almost clifftop view over the river and Dolmabahçe Mosque, and excellent modern Turkish food. This time around, Sally also introduced me to the terrace atop Seven Hills Hotel, where she doesn’t rate the food, but I can assure you, the view is something else. Definitely stop in for a drink.
  • If you just want to stumble around a pretty area and eat street food, Ortaköy and Beyoğlu are your best choices – the former pretty and rickety, flat and near the water (also home to The House Cafe, Banyan and Zuma if you want to make a booking or just drink somewhere fancy), the latter hilly and winding, full of locals, cool wine bars and the like. Start at Galata Tower or Istikal and meander wherever your feet take you.
Blue Mosque sally_edited-1
View from the Terrace at Seven Hills

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Nicole

Rating*: 8.5/10

Pros: excellent service, interesting food, wonderful wine list, enchanting view

Cons: hard to pinpoint – my uneaten, undercooked fish was not noticed (or acted upon), but the service was so friendly, I should have just mentioned it.

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website

Reservations recommended, but walk-ins possible

ph. +90 212 292 44 67

email info@nicole.com.tr

Boğazkesen Cad. Tomtom Kaptan Sok. No: 18 Beyoğlu / İstanbul (walking distance from Galata Tower). Map

3 thoughts on “Istanbul – for one night only. Nicole, and your other best restaurants…”

  1. Read this and relived all those delicious tastes and flavours once again. The perfect one night only in Istanbul restaurant – with a great traveling companion. Thanks for finding this gem.

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