Dinner at Istanbul’s Mikla (Or, “Sometimes Blowing Your Budget Is Worth It”)

The view from the terrace of Mikla in Beyoglu
The view from the terrace of Mikla in Beyoglu

Some of the best meals I’ve had on the road have been dirt-cheap. A bowl of fresh bhelpuri, bursting with pomegranate seeds and topped with a handful of fresh coriander, on the streets of New Delhi? Fifty cents. A plate of spicy fried rice heaped with loads of fresh vegetables and a fried egg in Indonesia? A dollar fifty. A dozen piping hot buffalo momos in Nepal? That set me back an entire five bucks. Even in Denmark, one of the most expensive countries in the world, a massive (and I do mean massive…it was about the size of my head) slab of apple strudel only cost me about three dollars. In so many cases, I’ve paid for meals abroad by rummaging through the change pocket of my wallet…

…but every once in a while, a splurge is in order. Sometimes a girl needs to feel fancy. That’s what led me to Mikla, the fine dining restaurant located on the top two floors of the swanky Marmara Pera Hotel, on my second-to-last night in Istanbul.

The appetizer for our appetizers: raw grouper ceviche-style soup.
The appetizer for our appetizers: raw grouper ceviche-style soup.

Mikla, one of the best-known fine dining restaurants in Istanbul, is not a “five dollar meal” budget sort of place. Not even close. Mikla is more like a “so I think I’ll be eating three-dollar döner for lunch the next few days and skipping dessert” place. It’s the brainchild of Turkish-Scandinavian chef/owner, Mehmet Gürs. The framework of Mikla is traditionally Turkish, but just like the fusion in the background of its owner, the dishes are much more than the basic kebab and baklava you can find on every street corner.

With a stunning panoramic view of the Bosphorus and Sultanahmet, some truly amazing cuisine, a fantastic staff, and an altogether fantastic, high-class atmosphere, Mikla is the type of place you head to on special occasions.

It’s also the type of place that makes me extremely self-conscious about whipping out my DSLR to snap pictures of my food, which really says something. Usually, I’m pretty shameless about it (and in my defense, I’m done in about ten seconds; I’m not one of those spending five minutes adjusting angles), but in this case, I settled for taking pictures with my iPhone as surreptitiously as possible. So apologies for the poor photo quality…it truly does not do the food justice.

My starter: salted and dried beef tenderloin, pinto bean puree, tomato "ezme" salsa, pomegranate, and isot pepper flakes
My starter: salted and dried beef tenderloin, pinto bean puree, tomato “ezme” salsa, pomegranate, and isot pepper flakes
Starter #2: North Aegean octopus, Çannakale tomatoes, and fresh herbs.
Starter #2: North Aegean octopus, Çannakale tomatoes, and fresh herbs.

At Mikla, you’ll find dishes that are centered around classic Turkish tenets like lamb, pistachios, and eggplant,  cooked with the freshest olive oil and seasoned with red pepper. The presentation, though, is the sort that you’d find at French Laundry in California, WD~50 (may it soon rest in peace) in New York City, or L’Abeille in Paris. You’re not going to get a kebab with a side of fries and a sad little side salad at Mikla. It’s fine-dining, through and through.

My main: lamb entrecôte, shredded lamb shank mantı, Muğla morel mushrooms, eggplant “beğendi” cream sauce, chard leaves, and chili oil. The lamb was perfect, but I honestly wanted to eat an entire plate of that shank ravioli. I don't think I've ever had meat so tender.
My main: lamb entrecôte, shredded lamb shank mantı, Muğla morel mushrooms, eggplant “beğendi” cream sauce, chard leaves, and chili oil. The lamb was perfect, but I honestly wanted to eat an entire plate of that shank ravioli. I don’t think I’ve ever had meat so tender.
Grilled beef tenderloin, and caramelized onion, green tomato, fava beans, with a reduced “Çalkarası” wine sauce.
Grilled beef tenderloin, and caramelized onion, green tomato, fava beans, with a reduced “Çalkarası” wine sauce.

And it comes with an appropriate price tag. The cheapest meal you can get at Mikla will run you 160 Turkish lira (about eighty USD), and that’s without drinks. At Mikla, there are two dining options: go with a three-course menu, where you have several options for your starter, main, and dessert, with the option to pay an extra 70 lira for three glasses of complementing wine; or really go all-out and get the seven-course tasting menu, which will you set you back 240 lira (120 USD), with an option to spend another 120 lira for six glasses of corresponding beverages.

From Mikla's rooftop bar.
Sultanahmet, as seen from Mikla’s rooftop bar.

I’ll wait for you to close your jaw and pop your eyeballs back in their sockets. To put it lightly, you could probably eat for two or three days on what you’ll spend on a single dinner at Mikla. But oh, is it ever worth it. I know I rave about food on my blog a lot, but places like Mikla are truly in a league of their own.

This is one of the desserts that made Mikla so famous: chocolate and buffalo yoghurt mousse, Antep pistachio cream, fresh strawberry sorbet, and a sour plum reduction.
This is one of the desserts that made Mikla so famous: chocolate and buffalo yoghurt mousse, Antep pistachio cream, fresh strawberry sorbet, and a sour plum reduction.

Because my friend and I were crazy, but not that crazy, we went with the three-course menu, and I added on the three corresponding wines. (Might as well, right?) And I can honestly say that the meal I had at Mikla was – hands down, one hundred percent, no doubt about it, cross my heart – one of the absolute best I’ve ever had and likely ever will. The food was dizzyingly good; I’m pretty sure I spent the entire two hours we were there with my eyes rolled into the back of my head. That place is the stuff of gastronomical dreams.

And my friend's dessert: caramelized rice pudding, sour apple sorbet, and honey roasted chickpeas.
And my friend’s dessert: caramelized rice pudding, sour apple sorbet, and honey roasted chickpeas.
And the dessert after our dessert: tahini pastries.
And the dessert after our dessert: tahini pastries.

If you don’t mind the expensive price tag and want one of the best views possible in Istanbul, set your sights on Mikla. And while your wallet might balk at being lightened so drastically, heading up to the top-floor bar after you’re finished to take in Istanbul at night makes it much more bearable. So much did we love the view, in fact, that we headed back the next night for pre-dinner drinks and to watch the sun set from the rooftop bar.

My last sunset in Turkey.
My last sunset in Turkey.

As delicious as that dollar-fifty Indonesian fried rice was, it didn’t stand a chance against lamb entrecôte and a view like this.

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