As far as I can recall, Ortaklar Iskender Kebap in the Cemberlitas district of Istanbul was the first restaurant that K and I visited more than once in the whole time we were travelling through Europe.
This was partly due to the fact that the area of Cemberlitas in Istanbul is notoriously touristy. It becomes particularly wearying to walk through the streets looking for lunch when pushy maitre d’s/touts are accosting you from either side trying to convince you to dine in their restaurant. When you find a genuine restaurant in Istanbul without a pushy tout out the front, it’s truly worth its weight in gold. Ortaklar Iskender Kebap was that Holy Grail for us.
The menu is particularly tourist-friendly, offering pictures of every dish (it’s a pretty small menu!) with the name of the dish next to the picture in four different languages – Turkish, English, Russian and German. The Russian and German tourism market is very big for Turkey, though that may change over the coming months given the tense relationship between Russia and Turkey at the moment.
Ortaklar offers limitless free Turkish bread and a delicious chilli capsicum dip to all diners – a dangerous proposition! The bread is delivered to your table, still warm from the large oven downstairs. Try not to eat it all though I know it’s tempting – portions are generous here and you’ll find it difficult to finish your meal even if you don’t fill up on Turkish bread beforehand.
Fresh orange juice is a must when you’re in Istanbul. There are street stalls everywhere selling fresh orange juice, and all restaurants do as well. In a food region renowned for their meat and carb combinations, making sure you get every opportunity to get some vitamins from fruit and vegetables is very important! If you find regular soft drink too sweet, you’ll also like Turkish Camlica, a lemonade that’s not quite as sweet as the usual Sprite or 7-Up but still has the refreshing bubbly citrus taste.
Kebaps feature heavily on Ortaklar’s menu but they also offer more home-style casserole dishes as well, so we ordered the Mushroom Casserole to try. Baked mushrooms, onions and peas in a thick tomato sauce was simple but delicious. With the addition of some melted cheese on top, this casserole would almost have been Mexican in style! The super savoury sauce was particularly tasty, especially when sopped up with chunks of the aforementioned Turkish bread.
We finished off this meal with the Turkish Special Kebap, the most elaborate of all the kebaps on their menu. This kebap comes served with the most delicious savoury tomato rice on the side, as well as a big dollop of sour cream and a small salad. The meat inside the Turkish bread is the real winner though – spiced and grilled over charcoal, it has a special smoky flavour that simply can’t be replicated using other cooking methods. This is a particularly filling meal, and K and I were definitely completely stuffed by the time we finished!
On our second visit to Ortaklar, our waiter recognised us and greeted us with a grin, promptly bringing the same delicious bread and dip to our table within minutes before we even ordered.
Again, fresh orange juices all around. K opted for an orange juice as well this time rather than a soft drink as he started to feel the early twinges of what would end up being a three-week-long head cold. It’s all about stocking up on that Vitamin C!
I wanted a pide after seeing the chef make one the day before, so we ordered the Mixed Pide for the opportunity to try a bit of everything. This is three pides in one – one end is a “roast with meat”, there’s cheese in the centre, and vegetarian on the other end. This was the most amazingly crisp pide, with a beautifully crispy brown base. The shape was elegant, and the fillings plentiful and tasty. Forget Italian pizzas, a well-made Turkish pide is where it’s at.
K ordered himself a bowl of the Lentil Soup, a mainstay menu item for many Turkish restaurants – expect to see a lot more lentil soup on this blog over the next week as he ordered bowl after bowl of soup at restaurants to help battle his head cold! I had a taste of this soup and liked the pepperiness of it – I hoped that the bit of spice in the thick hearty soup would help K get over his cold quicker!
We finished off our meal with the Green Salad in an attempt to boost our vegetable intake. In hindsight, we would have been better off ordering a dish of cooked vegetables like a vegetable casserole or even eggplant kebap – kitchen practices in Turkey are less meticulous than in Australia, and there were definite spots of dirt on the tomatoes and lettuce that a brief rinse under the tap would have removed. Still, we worked around it, and it was nice to have some super fresh crispy lettuce and salad veggies – a refreshing change!
You always finish a meal at Ortaklar Iskender Kebap with a complimentary glass of Turkish apple tea. We soon learned that apple tea is served everywhere – if you walk into a shop with a clear intent to buy, shopkeepers will invite you to sit down for a cup of hot apple tea before browsing their wares at leisure. If you have to wait to check in to a hotel, you’ll sit down with a cup of apple tea. If you have a break during a visit to a Turkish bath, you’ll sit down with a cup of apple tea.
I became quite addicted to apple tea during our stay in Turkey actually, and am glad to see that T2 stock Turkish Apple Tea for me to continue my addiction when we return to Australia! Note – most Turkish people don’t actually drink apple tea themselves as they drink strong black tea, apple tea is just something they serve to us foreigners!
Ortaklar Iskender Kebap is the rarest of finds – a restaurant in Cemberlitas in Istanbul that relies on its excellent food to draw in the locals day after day (they do a roaring takeaway trade for local workers), rather than on touts outside pulling tourists into the restaurant. Tourists like us are starting to catch on though, so get in quick before it becomes too commercialised!
Ortaklar Iskender Kebap is located at Binbirdirek Mahallesi, Peykhane Caddesi, No 27/A, Fatih, Istanbul.