You could build an entire Saturday around The House Café’s Istanbul Empire. Walk along the Bosphorus from Beşiktaş to avoid the traffic and work up an appetite for breakfast or brunch at the Ortaköy waterfront restaurant; spend the afternoon and all your cash in Nişantaşı and drink lemonade in the original Teşkvikiye garden café; do the Sunday promenade along İstiklal, stopping off for coffee at the latest House Café, on your way to the Tünel café for dinner.
You could make them your whole life, or at least a holiday, by moving into one of their short term apartments – The House Apart – historic buildings renovated and styled with the distinctive red, white and black of the restaurants. Breakfast at any of the cafés is thrown in for free and a tie-in with CS Club gym so guests can sleep, eat and exercise courtesy of the brand..
That would take a stomach and wallet capacity much bigger than mine though, so I restricted myself to just one meal at a time and living in my own flat. The all you can eat Sunday brunch buffet is like five meals. Everything you can think of, cheeses and cold meats, a selection of breads and preserves, pastries and boreks, yoghurts and mueslis, mini tarts and quiches to help you pretend to yourself that you’re not eating that much, brownies and cakes and fancy desserts in martini glasses. I worked my way through it years ago and I can still picture them all.
There is an a la carte breakfast menu, featuring plenty of egg dishes and a very tempting banana, nutella, clotted cream, honey and walnut calzone. My dining companion thought this would be too sweet but he (of course only a man could miss this point) just didn’t understand the genius of this awe-inspiring creation – banana and nutella = instant heaven, clotted cream to add richness to the sweetness, walnuts for texture and, OK, honey might be overkill, but, maybe just maybe, it cuts through the cloyingness of the cream. However, after I saw what looked like a plated whale go past to another table, despite the waiter’s assurances it was full of air, I quailed and chose again.
There is so much choice on the menu, narrowing it down takes time and effort, so it’s lucky you’ve got such a great backdrop from the two decks to spur you on. In the end I went for pear, roquefort and walnut pizza but as I don’t like blue cheese ( tastes of death), I asked, and was amazed to get, the cheese changed for one that was merely inanimate and not dead. I think I was so surprised that the chef agreed to pander to my foibles as it can be really hard to change anything in Turkish restaurants. The other day, at a cafe, I had requested gözleme (like a pancake) with spinach and cheese but the waiter said cheese yes, spinach yes, both no.
The pizza was huge, you could share one, but my friend’s ‘owen baked bony chicken’ [sic] with fig tapenade, fresh fennel, sauteed beetroot, balsamic and orange glaze was quite small and needed a side order to bulk it out. But both were fantastic. I was full, but a sense of blog duty made me enquire about dessert. I forced the chestnut cheesecake upon myself. It was good, chocolate base and rich baked filling, but not as intriguing as the originality of the mains could suggest if I was being picky. Menu changes seasonally.
House Cafe has got the idea of branding from somewhere and on display to buy are House Cafe jam, olives and coffee. The wines (Kavaklidere etc- the good ones) have been relabelled to match the staff’s T-shirts which makes them look a little bit like Tesco/Migros own brand.
While it’s a bit pricy, portions are generous and it is possible to order at the lower end of the price range and eat for an upper reasonable price.