When asked to describe Turkish cuisine, the first thing that pops into most people’s minds is hearty, spicy kebab. And while there are innumerable kebab joints all over Istanbul, you’re more likely to find Istanbulites crowded into meyhanes and tucking into grilled octopus and fish meatballs come dinnertime. Take a stroll through any of the fish markets or seaside restaurants in Istanbul on the weekend, and it will quickly become apparent that the city’s residents are crazy about their seafood.
One of the best ways to enjoy all that the sea has to offer is to do so while simultaneously taking in a spectacular view of said sea. We’ve put together a list of our favourite fish restaurants that not only serve delectable seafood, but are also located on the shores of the Bosphorus strait, prime real estate in Istanbul that almost always comes with a stunning seascape. For all of the following restaurants, we recommend booking in advance to get a table with a view.
Lacivert, located in Anadolu Hisarı on the Asian side, is the perfect spot to watch the sunset over the imposing Rumeli Hisarı fortress. Not only that, but you can also gaze at the Second Bosphorus Bridge while seated at Lacivert’s al fresco, waterfront dining area, situated right at the base of the bridge. You may even forget that you came here to eat, what with such a captivating view. Once you come to your senses, you can order à la carte or choose one of the restaurant’s many set menus, each of which features a different fish main. If you’re located on the European side, don’t forget to request a free transfer in their private boat, which is chartered from Rumeli Hisarı to Lacivert directly. www.lacivertrestaurant.com
The clean lines and minimalist decor of Tapasuma, part of the Sumahan Hotel that is housed in an old distillery in Çengelköy, give the restaurant an air of subdued grandeur; it feels both relaxed and opulent, a mix that can be hard to find in Istanbul. Not only has it carved out its own niche in terms of decor, but Tapasuma has also created a distinct menu that offers unique takes on traditional Turkish mezes. The ahtapot ve karides salatasi (octopus and shrimp salad) is light and fresh, while kuşane levrek buğulama (sea bass stewed in a cast iron platter) melts in your mouth. Make sure to arrive before sunset so that you can watch the sun drop behind the skyline of the Golden Horn with a glass of Turkish wine in hand; there's truly no view like it in the city. tapasuma.com
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Out of Sur Balık’s three locations in Istanbul, their branch in Arnavutköy is by far the most dazzling. The restaurant is housed in an exquisitely renovated Ottoman mansion whose wraparound balconies allow for expansive views of both the colourful First Bosphorus Bridge and the Bosphorus itself. We recommend skipping the majority of the cold mezes, which are nothing to write home about, and diving right into the hot mezes and fish mains. The kitchen is particularly adept at recreating traditional Turkish dishes with a seafood twist: the balık mantı (Turkish-style ravioli stuffed with fish instead of lamb) is some of the best we’ve had. If you feel like splashing out, and it’s the right season, try the grilled kalkan (turbot)—it’s pricey, but the juicy white meat is divine. surbalik.com
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Opened in 1992, Rumelihisarı Iskele sits on what used to be the ferry terminal for Rumeli Hisarı, a neighbourhood on Istanbul’s European side that is also home to the fortress of the same name. The other defining feature of the neighbourhood is that it rests at the foot of the Second Bosphorus Bridge, which is best admired from Rumelihisarı Iskele’s floor-to-ceiling windows. The restaurant has gained a reputation for serving consistently excellent food. We recommend the sea bass in all its forms: The levrek marine (sea bass marinated in mustard sauce) has a clean, sharp flavor, while the levrek buğulama (sea bass stewed in a covered pot) is a rich, full-bodied stew. www.rumelihisariiskele.com
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Situated across the square from Sur Balık, Eftalya has an equally impressive view of the Bosphorus from its rooftop terrace. The restaurant’s interior is well-appointed, designing a modern and elegant look as opposed to the traditional meyhane décor, but it’s the small touches, like complimentary toothbrushes in the bathroom (no one wants garlic breath on a night out, right?), that will win you over. Start your meal with a tasty tomato and onion salad, and make sure to order the balık köfte (fish meatballs), which are just the right level of crispiness and pack a flavourful punch. eftalya.net
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It may not have the swanky terrace with a panoramic view, but Ismet Baba is an institution when it comes to seaside dining in Istanbul. Located in Kuzguncuk, a handsome little neighbourhood on the Asian side, Ismet Baba has been open since the 1950s, and the place practically oozes with old-school charm. The kitchen puts out reliably good, traditional mezes and fish, the pilaki (beans in olive oil) and çipura (grilled sea bream) are our favourites, but you’re really here for the old-Istanbul ambiance and the killer view of Dolmabahçe Palace. ismetbaba.com.tr