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We like to think of İnciraltı, a laid-back meyhane in the sleepy Bosphorus-side Beylerbeyi neighborhood, as a destination restaurant – not so much because of the food, but because of the destination itself.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the food here, which is reliably well made. The meze tray at İnciraltı (which means “under the fig tree” in Turkish) is brought to your table carrying all the classics, plus a few welcome and tasty surprises, such as the zingy brined twigs of the caper plant and a sea bass fillet that has been cured in a piquant sauce redolent of curry.

İnciraltı's beyin tava, or fried lamb brains, photo by Ansel MullinsFrom the hot starters, the beyin tava are highly recommended. Dipped in an eggy batter and fried crisp, think of this, texturally, as a custard tempura, in which the custard is, of course, lamb brains. From the offal side of the menu, which is particularly rich here, we also noted such rarities as dalak dolma, stuffed and fried spleen, though we did not try it. We did eat the meltingly soft uykuluk (sweetbreads), which were grilled and dusted with oregano and red pepper.

For the main course we had an excellent sea bass wrapped in vine leaves and grilled. When in season, sardalya (sardines) are done the same way. The house-made köfte is a safe bet to share: plump, juicy meatballs served with fresh-cut French fries. Honestly, though, this is not the place where you want to make a fast break for the bill to make it home for the evening news. Another round of drinks is a much better idea.

İnciraltı, photo by Yigal SchleiferBut it’s İnciraltı’s location that will have us coming back, especially if we’re looking for an opportunity to take an excursion without leaving Istanbul. Located on the Bosphorus’s Asian side, Beylerbeyi is like a miniature and untouristed version of the more popular Ortaköy neighborhood on the European side, mercifully free of the tchotchke vendors and crowds that today line Ortaköy’s narrow streets. Stepping off the evening ferry from Eminönü at Beylerbeyi’s old wooden one-room ferry terminal feels a bit like stepping back in time. There are few Bosphorus-side neighborhoods that have managed to keep their unpretentious original charm the way this one has.

İnciraltı, meanwhile, is located inside a welcoming old house on a small side street a few steps away from the ferry terminal. In the back there’s a leafy garden (home to the restaurant’s namesake fig tree) that, like Beylerbeyi itself, has a transporting quality to it. On a recent night, we found it to be one of the better places in town to forget about Istanbul’s hustle and bustle and to get away from the city’s summer heat.

 

(top photo courtesy of İnciraltı, middle photo by Ansel Mullins, above photo by Yigal Schleifer)

This review was originally published on Istanbul Eats on August 30, 2010, but has been updated to reflect recent visits.

(Note: To reach Beylerbeyi, take the Bosphorus commuter ferry that leaves from Eminönü. Check the schedule here: www.sehirhatlari.com.tr.)

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