Editor’s note: This post was written by “Meliz,” an intrepid explorer of Istanbul’s culinary backstreets and frequent Istanbul guest contributor who would like to keep her anonymity.
While the Princes’ Islands make for a great escape from the city, it used to be hard to think of them as a culinary destination. That is, until Heyamola Ada Lokantası opened. The restaurant is a perfect storm of inspired food, chill ambiance and small-label Turkish wines, all at ridiculously low prices. Heyamola is reason in and of itself to organize a day trip to the islands, and if you’re already planning your island adventure, the place is a compelling argument for jumping off the ferry at Heybeli Island, often overlooked in favor of the more popular Büyükada.
At Heyamola, the meze tray rolls 20 deep and changes with the seasons. The selection often revolves around the herbs and greens chef Semra Hanım forages on the island. On one visit, a wild fennel sauté and a nettle and nigella seed salad truly blew our minds. Semra Hanım ran one of the best places on the Datça Peninsula for years, and she has a genius for innovative takes on Aegean standards. Her partner in the kitchen, Esra Hanım, worked for years at Bi’ Lokma in Kaş, and her touch can be tasted in the slow-cooked side of the tray. It comes through, for example, in the richness of the cevizli kabak, a meze of walnut and zucchini, and in the exquisite creaminess of the patlıcan salatası (eggplant salad) – usually a meze tray workhorse, but here something much more profound. If you go for lunch, we recommend asking very nicely if Semra and Esra can put together a tasting selection of small portions of each of the day’s mezes.
The hot mezes are (as always) more expensive than the cold meze tray selections but for what you get, the prices are more than fair. One our first visit, we tried the grilled ahtapot (octopus), a perfectly marinated tentacle of octopus driven up from Cunda Island the night before. One rarely finds a place that does octopus like this, let alone that does it well, but here they nail it. We also tried the sardalya güveç, freshly caught sardines stuffed with fresh herbs and stewed in a small terracotta dish with lemon – clean, flavorful and divine. They also do a fish soup that is similarly delicate and delicious. The main courses are a shortlist of great uses for fresh fish, such as grilled iskorpit (scorpion fish) kebab, bonito and red sea bream, which show up on the menu as they come into season. Semra and Esra also make desserts to suit the season – saving room is a must. One of our favorites is the baked smoky saganaki cheese with a thin cinnamon crust.
The owner of Heyamola is a well-traveled epicure and a true gentleman. He also knows his wine. The wines available at Heyamola are primarily from two Turkish lines: Melen and Ganohora. On both sides of the list, you get to choose from a number of wines that are a) not all basically the same and b) not much more expensive than they would be at your local supermarket (if Turkish supermarkets stocked wine this good). We are not kidding in saying that when we first ate at Heyamola, we had to ask the waiter if the wine prices listed were for a glass or a bottle. Go ahead and ask for a recommendation or a taste of the ones you find intriguing.
And not that this is the most important thing, but it does seem worth noting that Heyamola is the exception to the rule that exceptional food and cool décor are mutually exclusive. The indoor space is clean and bright, while the outdoor space is dotted with bougainvillea and hydrangea. The location is ideal for people-watching and the tables and chairs are well spaced and comfortable – making Heyamola a great spot to spend an extended afternoon that will easily melt into evening and beyond.