Istanbul is a dynamic beast that is hard to keep up with, even for us locals. Every few years, a new star is born on the city's map, as people flock from one hip neighbourhood to the next to see a blend of new third-wave coffee shops, restaurants, design stores, and galleries opening up. Any in-the-know person who's recently been to Istanbul will tell you, it's now Arnavutköy's turn to shine.
This sleepy little district on the Bosphorus has long been a gem for architecture lovers thanks to its streets lined with charming wooden houses built in the 19th century. These Ottoman style yalis (summer houses) are a testament to the intricate woodwork and colour appreciated by previous generations of Istanbul residents. In this case, they were mainly from the Greek community who had been living in this village since the 4th century. However, Arnavutköy in Turkish means the ‘Albanian village’ because Mehmet the Conqueror, after taking over Istanbul from the Byzantines, allowed an Albanian community to settle here.
Arnavutköy has always had some favourite fish restaurants such as Eftalya and Sur Balık, overlooking the Bosphorus hallmarked by the pointed towers of the historic Kuleli Military High-School on the Asian side. Antica Locanda has been a real gem of fine Italian cuisine since 2011. But today this mostly residential neighbourhood is slowly changing into a cool location for a younger and hipper crowd. It was only last year that Any opened, in an attractive white wooden corner house with red geraniums on the windowsills. People loved its engaging local pub vibe so much that on Friday and Saturday nights, they crowded the street outside the front door, to the point of blocking the traffic. Serving good comfort food and nice cocktails, Any paved the way for other cafes and bars to open up in the area.
Another Arnavutköy pioneer was the Istanbul branch of Berlin's hippest bar in Kreuzberg, Luzia. This laid-back and low-key cafe/bar offers a wide selection of delicious cocktails such the refreshing Gingerella and sweet vermouth-infused Cherry Blossomy. It also serves coffee and tasty brick-oven pizza.
This summer, on the same street as Any and Luzia, three new venues sprang up and radically change the scene. Whisper Kitchen is a restaurant and bar that provides the best of both worlds; it has the Bosphorus view on one side, and the neighbourhood cafe vibe on the street side. Hudson is a New York style French brasserie with an amazing menu of sophisticated dishes such as truffle risotto, steak tartare, and fancy cocktails like the Passion Elyxe and Hudson Mule. Lastly, Alexandra is a cosy cocktail bar with dim lighting and a library décor with dark pastel colours, velvet couches and a mysterious atmosphere. Knock on wood to ask for their signature cocktail ‘Knock Knock!’
For a taste of local food, Bodrum Manti is a long-standing favourite with Istanbulites. Manti is the Turkish version of ravioli, little packs of pasta filled with minced meat or cheese. Served either fried or boiled, but always with tomato butter sauce and yoghurt, manti is a delicious recipe that you should try at Bodrum Manti. Right next to it is one of the best ice cream parlours in the city: Girandola. They make the best gelato, using exclusively fresh fruit.
Further up into the neighbourhood, on Abdülhak Molla Sokak you will find Derin Lezzetler Superfoods, a gourmet and health food shop where you can find freshly-made cheese, açai berry juice, homemade beet chips and organic chocolate chip cookies. Right above the Superfood store, Miss Delicious Bakery was opened recently by a young pastry chef, who loves baking with organic ingredients only. Cutie Cake Co. is another successful patisserie serving delicious cakes and chocolates. Kavanoz, Chado Tea Shop and Naciye across from the Greek Orthodox Church are chic, relaxed, trendy cafes for great conversation or just for people-watching.
If you happen to be in Arnavutköy and you need to get some work done, walk into the lovely co-working space Joint Idea, and rent a desk for a few hours. Who knows, you might end up jamming in the basement studio with some jazz musicians, or viewing some art at their hangar/art gallery later on.