It has been years now since we were first tipped to Sıdıka. The W Hotel had just opened in the splashy Akaretler rowhouse development. Vogue, the rooftop sushi lounge, was still in style. The Shangri-La hotel was under construction down on the waterfront, and it was rumored that some rooms would have Bosphorus views below sea level. Beşiktaş, long the bastion of cheap draft beer joints and university student flatshares, was having some growing pains.
It would seem unlikely that Sıdıka, a small meze restaurant born in the boom of Beşiktaş, would become such an institution in our lives, and, dare we say, that of the neighborhood too. Over countless meals in the narrow dining room that can get a little hot and loud, and where the menu really never changes, we debated what made Sıdıka so good.
For us, a meal at Sıdıka begins with several mezes – some great renditions of common mezes and others singularly Sıdıka’s. The restaurant’s grilled eggplant meze, for example, made us realize on one visit how much that simple dish has been degraded around town. Here it tasted of smoke and mellow, creamy eggplant and nothing else. It was among the best renditions of this meze classic that we’d had in a long time. A chunky, light-green spread that turned out to be an utterly delicious mash made out of feta cheese and chopped pistachios is worth crossing town for. A long plate nested with four different Aegean greens was a stunning study in color, with an equal range in texture. Alongside supple samphire, one of those greens (was it the cibes?) brought to mind spiderwebs. A large gargle of ultra-cold local white wine, perhaps the Umurbey sauvignon blanc, was suggested at this point.
Were we so grabbed by the grilled octopus arms with the armor of char protecting white tenderness, or calamari fried whole? Our meal always finishes with very nicely done sea bass fillets wrapped in vine leaves and then grilled. Although not an uncommon dish, Sıdıka’s struck us as uncommonly well prepared, coming off the grill with the vine leaves still moist (as opposed to brittle and charred, as is sometimes the case), with their distinctive briny tang working as a nice counterpoint to the fish.
So, on the food side, Sıdıka excels at selecting good materials, charring or boiling them and drizzling them generously with great olive oil. But emotionally, Sıdıka represents stability, which is a rare commodity in Istanbul these days. The cacophony of new tasting menus at newly opened restaurants in Istanbul is deafening. We’ll retreat to the old reliable value proposition of dinner for two with wine for less than $100. Based on her following, it’s just what the neighborhood needed and still does. Sıdıka has now opened its second branch in the Moda district, on the Asian side, and if you listen closely on a calm night, you might hear Modans cheering on this new addition to their neighborhood.
(photos by Dan Perez)