HACI BABA

(Cuisine ARABIAN GULF)

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The Haci Baba Restaurant, a face of nostalgia in Beyoglu, has been serving its guests since 1921 with its constant understanding of taste and decoration ever protected with great care. We are at a place that takes us back to the old days of black and white photographs. Looking through the window, bearing in mind the times when the street was open for running traffic, we feel as if we might almost see good looking ladies and gentlemen passing by gracefully beforeus at their very best. Strolling through the back streets of the neighbourhood, it's almost as if we should see some young, noble gentlemen wearing their swords, or perhaps heavyweight cook assistants carrying on their shoulders kitchen utensils and large cauldrons full of food. This is where we have reached in our efforts to track down a true Ottoman meal. It is an enormous dining hall still decorated as it was in the 1920s. As soon as the wall sconces are lit, the dreams and imaginings of the past are delivered into the the present day. We are now at the Haci Baba. It is located right across from the French Cultural Center; approximately 50 metres away as you walk towards the Istiklal Street from Taksim Square. We entered there by stepping through a small, modest door, which normally would not capture much attention. Isolated from the street's noise, the main dining hall transported us back to a different era with its decora tion, designed prominently in shades of brown. The restaurant has two other sections apart from the main hall, where green and blue ceram­ic tiles are laid out to complete the perfect picture: A private VIP lounge which was arranged to mark the 700th anniversary of the Ottoman Empire, and the garden that looks over the Aya Triada Church. SPECIAL TASTES APPEALING TO EVERYONE'S PLEASURE We start examining the Haci Baba from the main dining room called 'the Middle Lounge'. This is the section situated in between the Ottoman and the Garden sections, and was decorated with antique paintings at least 100 years old. Mr. Huseyin Sari, the manager of the restaurant, approaches us as we stare at the salivating open buffet, the vegetables cooked in olive oil, and the starters displayed temptingly. Putting off our questions about the dishes for a moment, we grow more inquisitive and want to satisfy our curiosity about the fascinating decorations first. In order to protect the characteristics of the period since it was opened, no item or accessory in the restaurant has ever been changed, giving modern guests the same experience in Beyoglu nostalgia as the very first patrons. From the paintings on the walls, to the clock, everything guests experience is unchanged except for a few green ceramic tiles, which were recreated again a few years ago. We see the main dishes just behind the glass-divided section where the appetizers are displayed. By the time we finally manage to take our eyes away from the dishes, we see the kitchen, extending before us in full length. What is remarkably outstanding just ahead of this section, almost integrated with the sconces, is the colours of the wood work on the walls, because they are the still the same as the first day the space was opened. Only the floor has been replaced so far. During this act of renewal the vinyl floor covering was removed and thus the authentic stonework of the building came out. 'How fortunate it was to do so, we start to think, as these stones, which had been laid all across the floor with great care, obviously have contributed a lot to the restaurant in creating a unique atmosphere. Meanwhile, we should not fail to mention the colourful array of pickles in large jars, for as much as leaving an unforgettable taste in the mouth, they are also in good harmony with the lounge's decoration. THE FIRST PLACE TO HOLD A TOURISM CERTIFICATE Let us have a break talking of today and get back to the year the restaurant was first established. The Haci Baba was established under the name of 'Husn-u Tabiat' in 1921 by Necati Bey in Istiklal Street where it is presently located now, and has kept this name (which can be put into Turkish as 'Tabiatin Guzelligi' meaning 'the Beauty of Nature') until 1950. Necati Bey, the first owner of the restaurant, bought meat for the restaurant from Recep Recai Akpinar, the present owner, and so they started a friendship between them. In 1948, they launched a part­nership and Mr. Akpinar gave up his 27 years old occupation in butchering and closed down his shop. He now has dedicated himself to serving in every step of the job done at the Haci Baba - from gro­cery shopping to getting the foods cooked and serving the dishes to the table afterwards. Their partnership continued until 1994. When the name was changed from Husn-u Tabiat to Haci Baba in 1950, the restaurant became the first place to gain a 'Tourism Certificate' in the neighbourhood. The Haci Baba now holds a distinctive place in most worldwide guidebooks advertising Istanbul. This probably explains the reason why it welcomes foreign tourists mostly rather than locals. The recipe of their longterm success, like in many other achievements of life, is hidden in the magic word, 'quality'. In Haci Baba, traditional meals of the Ottoman cuisine is cooked with great care and attention and served as the way they deserve to be. As for the prin­cipal reason why tourists prefer this place is that they can find the taste they are curious about and try the foods they are looking for. The most pleasant side of the story is the fact that the place is advertised and introduced mainly by the tourists. During our presence there, for example, we overheard a telephone conversation of an English tourist uttering nice words in praise of the specialities served at the Haci Baba. Thus Haci Baba's reputation is getting more and more widespread abroad. A PLEASING TASTE: THE CHEESE DESSERT The local customers and the other guests from around the world often prefer such dishes as Begendili Kebab, Kuzu Tandir, Sebzeli Kuzu Incik, Patlicanli Hunkar Kebab, and Dana Kapama amongst more than forty dif­ferent kinds of specialities. Now, let us carry on our visit to Haci Baba from the place where we had stopped. We are now headed for the non­smoking VIP lounge, which causes admiration with its elegance. Specially designed to mark the 700th anniversary of the Ottoman Empire, this lounge is a nonsmoking area, but "narghile" (water pipe) is served to the guests due to its convenience with the atmosphere. This room strikes us with its spectacular atmosphere dating back to the Ottoman period which finds its reflections in such various objects as the cutlery or the pictures of noble gen­tlemen hanging on the walls, or its small fountain built in the corner. The dishes offered here are served in special costumes, in accordance with the atmosphere. As well as giving us utmost pleasure, the VIP lounge also takes us away to old days. We are now leaving this tourist attraction place behind us and headed for the 'Garden', where the restaurant is identified with another detail. This section is almost integrated with the wonderful aesthetic and greenery of the Aya Triada Church. In the garden, we start a long conver­sation on deserts with Mr. Huseyin Sari, the restaurant manager. He is not able to make a clear distinction among the desserts, each one of which is superior to the others in flavour. The Haci Baba has a splendid array of desserts; pumpkin dessert, Kemalpasa, quince dessert, kadayif) and cheese dessert are only a few of them to mention. We select the cheese dessert from among many. It immediately melts in our mouths leaving an intense flavour of savouiy cheese. With a serving staff of as many as 70 employees, teamwork plays a significant role in restaurant's success. Team spirit has also got a reasonable contribution in gaining a worldwide achievement. Welcoming its local guests at lunchtime and filled up by tourist customers mainly in the evening hours, the Haci Baba Restaurant can serve up to 230 people at a time. It is absolutely an excellent space for those who want to try the Ottoman taste in a unique dining atmosphere of nostalgia.

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