There is a fish restaurant in Istanbul you are least likely to end up at. It will be way too far and way less comilfo. And I am sorry for all of you in advance. Because you may miss the lifetime experience of the fish dining. Ask my friends and family whom we gathered last week for our wedding and using that as disguise subjected them to my favorite things to do in Istanbul.
Istanbul fish restaurants
We had a very good dinner with attentive service and breathtaking view at Doğa Balık the other day. I was very happy with the meal only that it has been my most expensive fish meal in Istanbul to date. 80 US dollars per person, excluding tip. This is what an appetizer and a main accompanied by a glass of good wine at a fine-dining restaurant such as Mikla would set you back to. Or for the half of that you will feast at our favorite Set Balık which is (I admit) located God knows where with no view but then has the most interesting fish menu in Istanbul at the unbeatable price. The experience made me reflect on how to dine expensively in Istanbul and not get disappointed. So here is my advice.
Spending fair amount of time around the Kadıköy market I have inevitably learned a good deal about its inner workings. Way beyond great places to eat and shop for food I discovered not-at-all obvious spots to buy creamiest kaymak, unbranded olive oil that beats most of the upscale brands and cheese leftovers for delicious borek on thr cheap. I have also learned who is sourcing from whom: where Çiya is buying its pickled wine leaves from or who delivers lemons to the makers of the first rate lemonade at Fazıl Bey. And this is how – through a common vendor – I have found my new favorite fish restaurant in Kadıköy.
If you know nothing about how to find a worthwhile Istanbul fish restaurant a good rule of thumb is look for one by a fish market or big water. That way you can be sure their kitchen receives the freshest catch from a high-turnover fish mongers or directly from the fishing boats.
That is why I felt so suspicious when Özgür suggested Sita Balık, place near his old house when we were in the area. The area is Mecidiyeköy, a busy residential and commercial center 2 metro stops away from Taksim. No fish market or big water, understandably.
With hope pumped by everything I heard or read about the place I was striving to find the signs of that excellence that has made Karaköy Lokantası the talk of the town. The stunning turquoise tiles could not compensate for the burned stuffed green peppers and only average food. That was my 5th Istanbul dining disappointment in the recent months.
If you look for a decent Istanbul fish restaurant and don’t want to commute far you can safely head out to the local fish market. You may not get supreme dining experience there but fresh fish perfectly grilled or fried will be served to you without fail. There are great finds around Kumkapı, Galata, Beyoğlu, Beşiktaş, Sariyer and Kadıköy – all known for their bustling fish trade.
My neighborhood is Kadıköy. It is overlooked for everything including its fish restaurants. People you see at the Kadıköy market either live around or come for the sole purpose of eating at Çiya. I am hardly seduced by Çiya because my mother-in-law can easily compete with Musa Dağdeviren, chef of this famous restaurant, in the knowledge of the Turkish regional home cooking and eccentricity of the ingredients. That’s why when I eat out in Kadıköy I am way more interested in fish.
Every time I go to Set Balık (and after many trial-and-errors this is THE place where I go for a fish meal) I keep wondering how other Istanbul fish restaurants could have possibly survive this competition. Off the tourist trails location, unusual fish dishes, loyal regulars, professional service and reasonable bill – Set Balık so well illustrates 5 rules of a good Istanbul fish restaurant.