Kadıköy’s Kimyon is a friend of the after-hours and the booze-fueled denizens who are done at the bar but have yet to call it a night. It is the buffer zone between too many drinks and a brutal hangover, and doesn’t judge those who are still up at 6:30 a.m., because it’s still open and orders of grilled chicken skewers are freshly sizzling above the charcoal.
Kimyon runs nearly around the clock, save for perhaps an hour at dawn when operations shut down for cleaning. Appropriately, it’s located in the dead center of Kadife Sokak (Velvet Street), whose elegant name belies the revelry that takes place inside and frequently spills out of the numerous drinking establishments that give the street its de-facto moniker: Barlar Sokağı (Bars Street).
Opened in 2008 as a one-room restaurant by Ahmet Demir and his four brothers, a family of industry veterans hailing from the mountain-studded eastern province of Ağrı, Kimyon has expanded significantly in size since its inception, a natural response to the vast surge in popularity Kadıköy has witnessed over the years. Though while the neighborhood’s nightlife and dining scene have exploded with hundreds of new options, the trusty Kimyon has only changed in terms of the number of diners it is able to seat.
At a recent dinner with friends, we started with a bowl of the eatery’s legendary mercimek çorbası (lentil soup). Kimyon boasts more daring offerings, like işkembe (garlic-laced tripe soup), a faithful hangover preventer, and beyran (succulent strips of lamb and puffy white rice doused in a fiery red pepper broth), a delicacy of Gaziantep that we would normally only consume in that city, in the early morning hours. However, we nearly always opt for the lentil soup, with its gentle yellow hue and supremely buttery, rich flavor perfectly complimented by a squeeze of fresh lemon. Unsurprisingly, Demir declined to reveal the secret behind the soup, which has been consistently delicious every time we’ve come here over the course of nearly a decade.
While Kimyon’s lentil soup is the same as ever, Kadıköy is a far cry from the laid-back district that it was when the restaurant first opened. Back then, before the neighborhood became the city’s most popular nightlife destination, Kadife Sokak was busy but not overly so; the biggest draws were places like Karga and Arkaoda, which lie just across the street from Kimyon and are two of the area’s most well-known and longstanding bars. Kimyon’s next-door neighbor used to be a well-stocked video store, but a few years ago it was replaced by one of the countless third-wave coffee shops that have dotted the area, none of which existed before 2013. Up until then, the European district of Beyoğlu was the city’s unequivocal nightlife hub, a place everyone once wanted to be on the weekends during the evening hours. That changed due to a number of factors, directing much of the city’s younger partiers to other districts like Beşiktaş and to a greater extent, Kadıköy.
[Kimyon] doesn’t judge those who are still up at 6:30 a.m., because it’s still open.
After the soup, we ordered a packed mixed grill plate that ended up feeding three people. Beforehand, a small plate of sliced, fresh flatbread arrived alongside a serving of acılı ezme, a potent salsa of chopped peppers, onions, tomatoes, spices, parsley and pomegranate sauce. This whet our appetite and was followed perfectly by a sip of the frothy, refreshingly tart ayran, Turkey’s ubiquitous salty yogurt beverage that can be found in a glass bottle or plastic cup but, as it is at Kimyon, is best served on tap. Sooner than later, our mixed grill platter triumphantly appeared, loaded with everything from Adana kebap and grilled morsels of lamb to köfte (Turkish meatballs), lahmacun (oven-baked flatbread topped with spice-flecked mincemeat) and charred chicken wings, served with fresh pide and formidable piles of salad and flavorful bulgur rice dotted with tomatoes and peppers. Less ambitious diners often prefer Kimyon’s eclectic variety of excellent dürüm (kebab wraps).
After dinner, we ventured away from the row of the bars toward Moda, an idyllic coastal neighborhood of Kadıköy that ranks among the most desirable yet genuinely pleasant areas of the city. Kadıköy and Moda in particular have long been middle to upper-middle class strongholds, so describing the changes of the past several years as gentrification doesn’t quite fit. What is certain, however, is that the cafés and bars are replacing more traditional tradesmen such as barbershops, tailors, butchers, and used bookstores. It is their disappearance that has been a curious source of amnesia: we realize they are gone but don’t remember exactly where they once were.
Hanging out on the beautiful, extensive Moda coastal park was and is a favorite pastime, but on weekends when the weather is nice it often gets too crowded and trash piles up alongside receptacles that are already stuffed to the brim. Residents living on and around Barlar Sokağı have had to fight hard to push back against the rampant noise, broken glass and public urination that have increasingly plagued the street. While a certain positive energy has coursed through Kadıköy as long as we’ve been coming here, a more subdued and relaxing stream has been replaced by a kinetic and buzzing undercurrent, one that threatens to flow out of control.
But through it all, Kimyon presses on, serving a wide variety of dishes to the ever-increasing crowds – kebab and soup are far from the only things on the extensive menu. While a restaurant offering dozens upon dozens of options is usually an indication of mediocrity, this is not the case at Kimyon, and we’ve eaten there sober enough to prove it’s not just the liquor talking. Demir insists that everything is made in-house with the best ingredients, including the decadent desserts such as Antalya’s künefe and Antep’s katmer. And as much as we love the lentil soup, what is perhaps even more comforting is the fact that Kimyon, its unchanged logo, menu and staff (some of the waiters and chefs have been there since around the time the restaurant opened) is an outpost of familiarity in an area that looks different every time we visit.