Tuesday 9 October 2012

Ciya Sofrasi, the best restaurant in Istanbul

Sunset over the Bosphorus

Before going to Istanbul I emailed Somer from Efendy in Sydney asking him for some foodie tips. Top of the list under "must go" was Ciya Sofrasi on the Asian side of the city. We made a reservation for our last night and certainly weren't disappointed.

We arrived early in the district of Kadikoy to have a stroll round the suburb before dinner. There was a really enjoyable buzz to the area. While the Old Town is touristy and Beyoglu has an modern feel, Kadikoy felt like we were mixing it with the locals. There were a lot more people on the streets enjoying their Friday night walking, talking, shopping and drinking in cafés. I liked it.

Before heading to the restaurant we walked down to the quay to watch the sunset over the city. We were accompanied by fisherman and young couples enjoying themselves on the rocks as the sun went down. We had some fantastic views during our week in Istanbul, but this was probably the best.

Ciya is located on the bustling, restaurant filled, pedestrian stip of Caferaga Mah. Ciya have captured a little corner of the street with the original restaurant on one side of the road, a dedicated kebab shop opposite and a restaurant/kebab shop hybrid a few doors down. We decided the original was the best so headed there.

The restaurant is a lokanta, which would loosely translate as a buffet style restaurant. A buffet has become a byword for mediocre food in the UK, but it Turkey the lokantas serve some of the best food in the city, which is certainly true at Ciya.

Selection of cold starters

We started with a selection of self serve cold meze. I think the restaurant manager was slightly surprised at how restrained we were taking only a small taste of six different meze. I just wanted to make sure I didn't flag later in the meal!

Starting at three o'clock we had a wild thyme salad, a combination of lemon thyme, chilli and sping onions. The lemon helped cut through the chilli and the spring onion gave a nice crunch. Next up we had a stuffed pepper filled with creamy rice and chilli. The dried stuffed aubergine was next. I don't think I've had dried aubergine before and the skin had an interesting texture. Again the aubergine was filled with rice.

Completing our cold starters was a couscous, walnut paste and sweet and sour balls. The bulghar wheat balls were similar to the one we ate on the Food Tour.

 Elazig (casserole)

After our cold mezes we were invited up to the hot counter to select which main courses we'd like. There were around ten dishes on offer. We requested small portions of four different mains so that we could try more of the food.

My favourite was our first dish, the Elazig (casserole), consisting of green beans, lamb, bulghar wheat, tomato, pepper paste and herbs. The sauce had a real freshness from the herbs (marjoram? oregano?) and rich tomatoes. I only found one piece of lamb in the casserole but it was surpassed by the vegetables so it didn't matter.

Karisik sebze kizartmasi and Falafel

The chef thought I was bonkers ordering only one each of the karisik sebze kizartmasi and falafel.

The karisik sebze kizartmasi was a moist lamb ball. I couldn't work out what the casing was as it tasted like breadcrumbs but we didn't think it was. The falafel was made of fava beans, chickpeas, coriander, parsley, onion and garlic. It was one of the best falafel I've eaten and I was able to taste all of the individual spices.

 Tursu asi (stuffed eggplant)

The tursu asi (stuffed aubergine) was Kish's favourite dish. The aubergine was stuffed with a beef/lamb mix and came served in a spicy tomato sauce the packed a punch compared with the milder beli kirik (below).

 Beli kirik

Our last main was the beli kirik a mix aubergine, beef mince, tomato, onion and spices. The sweet onions and tomato permeated through the whole dish.

Main courses over we spied that there was a free table outside on the pavement and asked to move for dessert. A request our waiter was happy to accommodated.

 Hatay (pumpkin dessert)

Some people might describe ordering three desserts between two people a little excessive. I just wanted to try everything before I left Turkey at around £3 per dessert why not?

First up was the hatay a pumpkin dessert. Breaking into the curve of pumpkin uncovered a sweet liquid that came rushing out. The outer casing had a firm texture and a mild pumpkin flavour. Tahini paste and crushed walnuts were scattered on top. It was different to any other dessert I've had before.

 Ice creams

Next came a selection of goat's milk ice creams. The small bowl contained four scoops of ice cream including the best mint ice cream I've ever tasted. Completing the set were almond, cherry and pistachio ice creams, all of which were very good.

Kilis Nizip (dough parcel)

Our final dish of the night was the kilis nizip (dough parcel stuffed with pistachio) which I'd seen heading to other tables and thought looked interesting so decided to order it too. After such a great meal it was a slight downer to end the night on our worst dish of the evening. The parcel was quite dry, overly sweet and the pistachio taste didn't come through.

Drinking tea outside Ciya

After dinner we sat soaking up the atmosphere with some complementary thyme tea. The first time I've had thyme flavoured tea and it was a lovely end to the evening.

After dinner we rolled back down to the quay for a night time ferry ride over the Bosphorus to the Old Town. A perfect end to a rather perfect evening.

The map of everywhere I visited in Istanbul is here.

Ciya Sofrasi
Caferağa Mh.  
Güneşli Bahçe Sokak 43


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