Popular but possibly over-rated
Antakya Restaurant (Istanbul, Turkey)
Member Name: koshkha
Antakya Restaurant (Istanbul, Turkey)
Advantages: Dependably good food, not expensive
Disadvantages: Beer that's not cold enough and served in unmeasured glasses
There's no problem to find a restaurant in Istanbul. The problem you will have is to choose one from the many different places available to you. The Antakya Cafe and Restaurant is located at Mimar Hayrettin Mah. Divan-i Ali Sok. No.16 Beyazit. Whilst that's a heck of a mouthful, it's rather easier to describe it as just down a side street off the road where the trams run roughly east-west throught the Old City and Sultanahmet district of Istanbul. The street we referred to as 'Tram Street' is actually called Yeniceriler Cd (plus or minus a few accents) and runs from near to the Hagia Sofia, towards the Grand Bazaar and then on westward. Our hotel - the Hotel Sevila - was located a few blocks closer to the Hagia Sofia and 'Tram Street' was where we found most of the restaurants we used during our stay.
We'd been walking up Yeniceriler, listening to my mother musing on the topic of why all the shoe shops were only for men's shoes when we spotted two restaurants down the side street. Most of Istanbul's restaurants have men outside doing their best to lure you in. I went to one restaurant to chat to the chap outside whilst my sister went to the other. Was this a sign of indecision? No, of course not. It was in fact a pretty good negotiating tactic. With a group of six of us, both restaurants wanted us and were willing to make special deals to get us in. The guy I was talking to had a good vegetarian offer but no beer. The chance of me persuading my sister and her partner into a 'dry' restaurant was less than zero but by stringing out the discussions, the others managed to negotiate free bread and starters in the Antakya.
~Call the Man (or woman) from 'Weights and Measures'~
We stepped inside, up some stairs and were offered a table against the back wall beneath a large picture of a mosaic panel. These mosaic pictures hang on most of the walls where there's enough space. The tables are dressed with double table cloths - white beneath with red over. Three of us were on an upholstered bench against the wall with the other three on wooden chairs. The first waiter turned up with food and drink menus and asked if we'd like drinks. After choosing the Antakya on the basis of it having beer and the other restaurant being 'dry' we asked for five beers with a diet Pepsi for mum who was jokingly referred to as 'the designated driver'. With a large French tour group already in the restaurant, they told us that they didn't have any beer (Shock! Horror!) but would send out for some.
Beer in restaurants in Istanbul is neither cheap nor very good. I met my husband on holiday in Turkey when he was travelling with a friend who declared that the local 'Efes' beer - pronounced 'F S' is short for how it tastes (no, I won't spell it out but the ruder amongst you will work it out). A 500 ml glass (just over a pint) cost us between 8 and 10 Turkish lire depending on where we ate which at 2.8 TL per pound (approx) isn't particularly cheap. At the Antakya we seriously doubted that the glasses in which our beer was served were actually 500ml and our second round came in glasses that again were a bit small but were bigger than the first round. Someone call the 'Weights and Measures' department to go and do a quick check.
Second beers came in oddly coloured glasses - mine was green, the others were all pink - leading to much debate about whether it changed the flavour but Turkish beer doesn't have much flavour to start with so none of us were too sure.
~Choose Your Food~
After some consideration and deliberation, my folks finally chose their food. As a fishitarian who expects a somewhat limited selection of dishes, I almost always choose really quickly. My sister and her partner always treat the choice of dish with only slightly less seriousness than someone might choose the name of their first born child.
Three pizzas were ordered - seafood for me, 'mixed' pizza for my step-father and cheesy pizza for my hubby. Mum picked a lamb stew and my sister and her partner went in a kebab direction - one with a plate of 'doner meat' and the other with a so-called 'paper kebab'. The waiter asked about starters and was reminded that the greeter outside had promised free bread and starters. He nodded, shrugged and said "Well a promise is a promise" and trotted off to the kitchen, returning a few minutes later with two big flat puffy breads and three dishes of dips and salads plus two of creamy rich spreadable cheese. The tomato salad disappeared before I could grab any, leaving us with something like a tzatziki (a yoghurt based dip) and a spicy tomato or red pepper mush. The waiter asked if we wanted more bread but with three pizzas still to come we said no.
The waiters were all very cheery and quite cheeky. One called my sister 'honey' much to her surprised and several called mum 'mama' which I rather liked and I think she was quite charmed too. When lurking in hope of getting his rather garish pink beer glass back from my sister so he'd have enough to serve another table with a matching set, the waiter told her he loved her 'more than my motorbike'.
The pizzas were big and good and rather too much for me so I forced the odd slice on my sister who seemed a little short changed by her paper kebab which turned out to be a sort of Turkish 'burger' presented on baking paper but without anything much to go with it. The doner meat came with a plate of thin flat bread but they ordered more bread to stretch the meat a bit more. I had too much food, they had rather too little. Mum's lamb stew was good enough that she cleaned the bowl so thoroughly that our cat couldn't have done better.
I'm not sure about the total bill but I think it was around a tenner a head for the food - perhaps a pound or two left - with the beer coming to seven or eight pound each. We were all full enough to skip the puddings although they're not a strong point of Turkish restaurants and I didn't feel we'd missed out.
I enjoyed the meal, found the place pleasant enough and though the prices were about right for what we had. I do still doubt that we got what we paid for on the beer front and I could have done without a TV set on the wall distracting everyone with a programme of car crashes in Russia - literally 'car crash television'.
I was surprised to discover that the Antakya has the rare distinction of being rated ninth out of six and a half thousand Istanbul restaurants on tripadvisor.com. It's good but it's not spectacular and I really wonder how it got 130 'exceptional' ratings. I've been to Istanbul many times for work and been thoroughly schmoozed in some spectacular restaurants which were in a totally different class to anything we found during our holiday. The popularity and high rating of this place is due, no doubt, to it being listed in tourist guide books and to it being in a particularly popular part of the city.
Summary: 9th most popular? Maybe. 9th best? No way