Hussein Chalayan’s Istanbul highlights

The UK-based Turkish Cypriot conceptual fashion designer combines precision tailoring and technical innovation to elegantly minimalistic effect

Image: Umut Tore

I’ll get up at 9am on a Saturday morning because I’ll have had a late night. Istanbul is a 24-hour city and although it can be a bit exhausting, it’s exciting too. I’ll walk to breakfast at Sade Kahve by the Rumeli Fortress, where they burn coal under the table in winter to keep you warm. I usually have a Turkish breakfast of feta, tomatoes and olives with simit – a sort of sesame bagel.

I might then walk to Aşşk Kahve overlooking the Bosphorus for coffee. I like watching the water that separates Asia and Europe, the huge tankers rolling out to the Black Sea; it’s a constant reminder that Istanbul is a maritime city whose waterways are its lifeline.

Then I’ll hail a taxi to Beyoğlu, the old quarter with its multiethnic history still in evidence. The traffic is so heavy that when you arrive it’s like a reward because it’s taken so long to get there, but it’s all part of the experience. I’ll pop into Salt Galata, an arts centre with wonderful mixed-media installations, or Santralistanbul, with its vast collection of modern Turkish art.

I’ll then catch a ferry over to the Asian side of the Bosphorus; it’s a very special, traditional experience and they even serve Turkish tea on board. From there it’s a short taxi ride to Kadiköy, an area being reinvigorated by young entrepreneurs. I don’t see it as gentrification as much as making the best of an important location – plus it eases Istanbul’s overcrowding. I’ll meet friends at Ciya, which serves spicy southeastern Turkish food.

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I’ll catch the boat back at about four, rest a little and then meet friends around 9pm at a restaurant called Karaköy Lokantasi in Karaköy. This old port area is like the Turkish version of New York’s Meatpacking District. We’ll drink raki with watermelon slices and order stuffed courgette flowers and the freshest fish from a menu filled with classic meze.

After dinner we’ll take a stroll or go back to someone’s house for a drink. Istanbul is the antithesis of London because it’s spontaneous and there’s no need to book everything in advance. Around 2am we’ll go to a club called Aztek in Pangalti, which is hidden and a bit old-fashioned, but it’s really fun and before you know it, it’s 5am and time to go home.  

On Sundays I’ll get up late and go to Büyükada, the largest of the nine Princes’ Islands; it can take between 30 and 90 minutes, depending on whether you catch a catamaran or a ferry. It’s very old-world: the houses are wooden and it’s how I imagine Istanbul was in the past. There are no cars so I’ll take a horse and trap along the waterfront to where there are a few restaurants, like By Sükrü Balik or Milto. The fresh fish is good but it’s less about the food than the adventure of the island. I’ll go to the art deco Splendid Palas Hotel and have tea in the lobby and then climb up to Aya Yorgi church to light a candle. Here I have sometimes seen Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who has a house on the island, with his huge entourage of policemen.

Around 7pm I’ll head home and meet friends at Balikçi Sabahattin, tucked away behind the touristy Sultanahmet neighbourhood. It’s hard to find, even for locals, but once you come across it, it’s like a mirage. In summer you dine outside in the courtyard; in winter you eat in tents or in the restaurant’s cosy rooms. I crave its salad full of pickles and love the swordfish. Or we might meet at Galata House, a former British prison that has wonderful Turkish ravioli. If you’re lucky, the owner plays piano and sings very surreal songs.

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After dinner we’ll go to one of the House Cafés, a small chain of bars and restaurants, each one different; they are a bit like Soho House but not as posh. I’ll get to bed in the early hours. I’m always a bit wired when I’m here so don’t sleep much; I can rest back in London.

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