PARK HYATT ISTANBUL – MAÇKA PALAS
There is no doubting that Istanbul boasts treasures which every civilized person ought to see at least once: the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the 14th century murals in the church of St Saviour in Chora and, of course, the gigantic architectural achievement which is the Hagia Sophia. Now neither a church nor a mosque (it has, of course, been both in its history), this brooding masterpiece is part of the heritage of both the East and the West. It is, in some ways, an unsettling experience to walk under its vast dome and ponder the events it has witnessed over the centuries. And therefore one needs to be able to return to a really excellent hotel to rest and think. It is good, then, that I am able to recommend to you exactly that. Modern, sophisticated and luxurious, the Park Hyatt Istanbul is a model of what a city hotel should be.
In the residential and shopping district of Sisli, and situated in a quiet side street – and thus shielded from the sounds of the call to prayer which dominate so many parts of the town – the Park Hyatt envelopes you in its elegant ambiance as soon as you walk through its understated main entrance. It occupies an Art Déco building from the 1920s, known as the Maçka Palas. The presence within the building of the emporia of both Armani and Gucci gives a clue about the affluence of the area. I liked at once the sense of space in the large lobby. Its straight lines and clever use of high windows and natural stone made me sense immediately that I was in an establishment with standards.
The impression was reinforced even before I had arrived at my room on the seventh floor. I have written many times about the importance of hotel corridors. Here they were splendid: discreetly lit, immaculately maintained and full of visual interest. And the same was true of room 707 – a Deluxe King and therefore 420 euros a night for two, breakfast extra.
I walked first into my own private corridor, with a wall of opaque glass to the left (behind which, as I discovered later, was the free-standing bath tub). This led to the bed-sitting room, which – at around 20 feet by 14 feet – felt admirably spacious. I liked particularly the clever confection of the traditional and the modern: the heavy cornice, the gilt and ormolu chandelier and the polished wooden floor balancing the sleek décor of brown, green and cream – and all lit by lots of spotlights (I counted 31 throughout the apartment). The large bed (above which was a black and white photograph from the 1940s of a jazz band) had been made specially soft for me and, for my daytime relaxation, there were two easy chairs and a foot stool. A flat screen television and a dvd player were provided for entertainment, but I preferred to raise the electric window blinds and simply gaze out, past the handsome neighbouring building (the former Italian embassy), to the distant Bosphorus. (I include a photograph of this handsome view for your interest.)
The facilities for my ablutions were divided into four sections. First I met the wash basins, surrounded by much fitted woodwork. There were two of them, and one of them supplied cold spa water. The other, with the hot water tap, had no provision for a plug. (This is a feature of some modern designs. I do not care for it. But it was easily overcome by the use of some carefully placed tissue paper.) Thereafter came the afore-mentioned bath tub, a separate loo and a large walk-in shower. The supplies of grand toiletries, by Blasé Mautin, were plentiful throughout.
From this comfortable billet, I sallied forth to see the sights of Istanbul. For those of you who intend to do likewise, I offer the following tips. Allow plenty of time to reach your destination, as the traffic can be difficult. The taxis are generally small, driven at great speed – when there are a few yards of clear road – and some of the drivers are not as knowledgeable about the city as you might expect. (Even with the help of written addresses and printed maps, they still managed to take me to the wrong destination on several occasions.) In the area around the Hagia Sophia, you will be approached many times by friendly gentlemen who all have the same opening gambit: “Are you English? Do not worry – I am not a guide.” Tell them at once, politely but firmly, that you are not interested in buying a carpet, and they will wander off to seek easier prey. Good humour abounds, however – even if it is unintentional. Above one shop door was a large sign: “Sorry – we are not closed.”
Over breakfast in the Lounge on the ground floor of the hotel, a most cheering and unexpected encounter occurred. I was reading my morning newspaper when I heard the words, “I would recognize those red socks anywhere.” It was the dapper figure of the excellent Antony Doucet, whom I last encountered at the Park Hyatt in Paris and who is now the Guest Services Manager here. He whisked me up to the top floor to show me one of the grandest suites, and on its balcony we had a picture taken. I now present it to you.
Back downstairs, I concluded my breakfast. One should always eat well at the first meal of the day, and so I did. I found the tables a bit small and therefore – with the help of the waiter, Caner (pronounced Jan-Ash), who was exceptionally helpful throughout my stay – I took over two of them. Thus established, I tucked into bacon, mushrooms and poached eggs, brought to me by Caner. (The eggs, with their dark yolks, were particularly delicious.) He also secured for me glasses of gorgeous pomegranate juice. From the buffet I took various breads and fruits. (The cost of this breakfast was 48 Turkish lira.)
For dinner I went to the hotel dining room, a place of beige tablecloths, discreet lighting and banquettes covered with dark brown leather. It is called The Prime. The name is relevant, for this restaurant specializes in seafood and prime cuts of meat, which are cooked in a lava stone grill. The Chef de Cuisine, Jamie Hagan, is from Ireland and, on the evidence of my meal, is skilled with the produce of both the sea and the land.
I began with precisely grilled scallops. Their sweetness was intelligently accompanied by pumpkin purée and a herb salad. There was good balance, too, on my next plate – terrine of foie gras with quince and hazelnut brioche. My main course brought a large portion of beef fillet of the highest quality and my pudding was old-fashioned comfort food – plum and raisin crumble with nut ice cream. (These four courses were 155 lira.)
I must mention the service, which was exemplary (and included the replacement of my napkin when I left the table for a moment). For this I thank the Restaurant Manager, Fehmi Kuran, Murat Tuncel (who rejoices in the title ‘Assistant Outlet Manager’) and Levent, my waiter.
The wine list has 111 offerings, which are French and Italian, as well as Turkish. Although you are in a wine-producing country, you must be prepared for the fact that the level of tax on each bottle is very, very high. This is, of course, reflected in the prices to be found in restaurant wine lists. Here, the prices range from 88 lira for a Turkish rosé to 8,300 lira for 1995 Margaux. These other French bottles caught my eye: Dom Pérignon 2000 (1,485 lira), Yquem 1996 (4,200 lira) and Cos d’Estournel 1996 (2,350 lira). I drank a local cabernet sauvignon, which had clearly been made in a thoroughly modern way and which – having been decanted – was tannic and full of ripe damsons (Sarafin, 2001 – 132 lira).
I left Istanbul thinking that I would like to return. And one reason for that was the excellence of the Park Hyatt Istanbul. I commend it to you.
PARK HYATT ISTANBUL – MAÇKA PALAS
Tesvikye, Bronz Sokak No. 4, Sisli, Istanbu 34367, Turkey.
Telephone +90 212 368 1234
Fax +90 210 368 1000
Double rooms from 420 euros, breakfast extra
Check internet for rates on specific dates