“No name on the door and they have not had any press” is all I heard over the dinner crowd. Whatever place this model-beautiful stranger seated across from me was speaking about, I was instantly interested. I thrust my right hand across the table, American style, and befriended Michele Kafer Gultan, who turned out to be the founder of Turistambul (www.turistambul.com), Istanbul’s most in-the-know private concierge service. As in a romantic comedy film scene, other voices seemed to fade out while this Brazilian woman, who is married to a Turkish CEO, dished about an under-the-radar hotel gem called Georges – a rarity indeed, in this era when anyone with an email address can become a widely read hotel reviewer.
Excuses made to my Turkish hosts, I found a taxi willing to navigate the snaking lanes around Galata, a neighbourhood above the Golden Horn, first settled by Genoese in the 13th century. Italians, Greeks and Jewish merchants established banks and businesses here until 20th-century political tensions forced them to flee their ornate, European-style buildings. One of the talented individuals behind the higher profile House hotels (www.thehousehotel.com), Alexandre Varlik, scoured Galata before settling on an 1860s apartment building for his “mixed up memory place”. The description particularly suits Georges’ Le Fumoir restaurant. In lieu of a lobby, the 30-seat eatery under a New York loft-style metallic-tile ceiling welcomes hotel guests and outside diners at the Victorian bar and Chesterfield leather banquettes. As I adjusted to the dim lighting, my eye caught antique carved Chinese doors, a rare Kabbalah stone against the building’s original exposed brick and a Persian carpet on the dark parquet floor.
Before heading up to my room (from €175), one of only 20 served by a staff of 25, Varlik invited me to share his lunch of Norwegian salmon, freshly smoked locally, and foie gras (recipes taught to his kitchen by a chef visiting from Guy Savoy’s Les Bouquinistes). I passed on his grandmother’s entrecôte in favour of “le burger”, which ranks among the finest I’ve tasted, then listened as the loquacious Parisian of French and Turkish parentage explained that he deliberately left the sign off the door “to attract people’s natural curiosity. I prefer to build Georges’ reputation by word of mouth.”
I followed Varlik to the breathtaking 200sq m rooftop lounge overlooking the Bosporus towards the Hagia Sophia. En route, I stopped to run my fingers along the laser-cut metalwork outside the lift. “Turkish craftsmanship,” he mused, “whatever you dream up they can create here.” We zoomed up five flights with only four accommodations per floor. Twelve rooms extend to enchanting 14sq m balconies, of which eight confer unobstructed sea views. Mine, alas, was not one of those. However, I spent a soundless night on the cushy art-deco inspired bed beneath the 4.5m-high ceiling. In the morning, I peeked out from under high-thread-count sheets and down upon the ancient cobblestones. Although there was plenty of space to unfurl the in-room yoga mat and I knew that a private session could be arranged, I made for the sleek teakwood rain shower then switched on my room’s Nespresso machine before heading down to confirm Kafer Gultan’s claim that these are Istanbul’s flakiest croissant. Which, to the best of my knowledge, they proved to be.