Lokanta Maya, Istanbul

Lokanta Maya was number one on our list of foodie destinations in Istanbul. We were seated early for dinner at a smart side table in the chic dining room, just in front of an intriguing wall of caged walnuts. Sipping a glass of Turkish Arcadia Sauvignon Blanc, we watched the room gradually fill up, couples out for special occasions surrounding us. There was an air of excitement in the restaurant – guests have the opportunity to dress up here; with very few fine eateries in the city, this is quite a rarity.

I felt particularly drawn to the restaurant when I discovered there is an impressive female at the helm. Owner and chef, Didem Senol launched the restaurant in 2009 in downtown Karakoy and it has been a firm favourite for local and visiting customers since. Combining seasonal ingredients and fresh seafood from the local markets, she creates stylish,clever dishes with a strong Turkish flavour.

The menu is split between a long list of tapas sized dishes, and a more limited selection of larger mains. I recommend choosing a range of the smaller plates, and dine as the Spaniards do with lots to share.

Ultra fresh and delicately battered calamari were crunchy and deliciously seasoned.Spicy shrimp was as delectable as it looked, marinated in a subtle sauce and served on a bed of green sautéed chard.

For vegetable fans there are plenty of great options. Zucchini fritters were my favourite, fried balls of soft creamy courgette with a coriander yoghurt sauce. Samphire with croutons was intriguing, the seaside vegetable dressed in lemon and almonds. For a very traditional dish, order the Kadayif bundles of shredded pastry stuffed with a comforting filling of feta cheese, honey and rosemary.

For dessert opt for something simple like the homemade ice-cream. We tried the unique chocolate and bergamot flavour which was rich and wonderfully smooth.

Lokanta Maya offers a perfectly judged menu which magically combines Mediterranean and Aegean cuisines. With friendly service and exquisite food, it is an innovator on the Istanbul restaurant scene, not to be missed.

More information here: www.lokantamaya.com

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