Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on January 2009
It’s been 21 years since Istanbul opened its doors in Shinjuku and, as popular eateries tend to do around that age, it’s spawned new restaurants in its image. We recently visited one of the youngsters, on the second floor of Akasaka Tokyu Plaza, and can say with confidence this Turkish restaurant is following in the fine family tradition.
Istanbul’s interior is accessed by a dedicated stairwell, which leads to the triangular dining space furnished in red velvet booths and with a wall-length window overlooking the triple-decker highway outside. On our first visit, a slow weeknight, a large projection screen was streaming Turkish TV. Our follow-up visit was late on a Friday evening; the screen was nowhere to be found, and other patrons included a family of four and two couples on dates.
The staff quickly produced picture menus, which was nice, as most dishes are written in Turkish (though an English version has helpful descriptions as well). From the Meze (appetizers) page, we ordered the small sampler (¥1,500), a platter of four dips of our choosing: ispanak tarama (spinach and yogurt), havuc tarator (carrot and yogurt), pathcan tarama (deep-fried eggplant with yogurt) and acili ezme (spicy veggies and herbs). All of these are also available à la carte (¥800-¥900), and are excellent when paired with ekmek (¥300), thick Turkish bread topped with black sesame seeds.
After these nibbles we dove into some patlican saksuka (¥800), sautéed eggplant, green peppers and tomatoes; Turkish-style potato salad (¥800) made with boiled spuds, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, scallions, bell peppers and hard-boiled egg; as well as the kabak mücver (¥900), zucchini fritters and tartar sauce. Our only complaints: our water glasses remained empty most of the evening, and even after we told the server we were vegetarian, the yaprak sarma (stuffed grape leaves, ¥900) were made with “only a little beef.”
In the drinks department, Istanbul has a few surprises. Highly recommended is the raki, an aniseed-flavored spirit that’s a close cousin to grappa and sambuca, and best drunk straight up or diluted with water (¥700). Several Turkish wines (¥700/glass or bottles from ¥3,300) and even the rare-in-Tokyo Efes Pilsener (¥750) are on offer, and Istanbul also does an excellent cocktail of vodka with cherry juice (¥750).
The food was tasty, but the highlight of our meals on both occasions came from the dessert menu. The incir dolma (¥700), walnut-stuffed dried figs, and cezerye (¥600), described as “a new type of healthy dessert, with carrots, ginger, coconut and cinnamon,” easily compete with the sweets on offer in the city’s many world-class cafés and pastry shops.
Now that’s something pops can be proud of.