Contrasts abound at Haci Abdullah the venerable [ 1888 ] Beyoglu cafeteria. Yes, it’s billed as Ottoman palace cuisine and yes its kitchen shows a careful hand with the classics.
A shank of lamb braised with tomatoes, okra and potatoes is meaty and tender. The okra has been cooked “down” but is still recognizable, the potatoes providing a nice mass of starch to soak up the rich, musky gravy.
A casserole of bechamel encased lamb is heady with fat, the flesh stringy but good. To be fair I could encase my wallet in bechamel and simmer it down for a bit and it would probably eat pretty well. Bechamel has a tendency to do that. I’d be hard pressed to think of a dish that a liberal dousing of bechamel could not improve.
A baked eggplant dish, essentially lamb entombed in eggplant shows more of the kitchens hand when it comes to the long, slow cooking which is clearly Haci Abdullah’s forte.
I do find the manner in which you order a bit odd though. We’re seated for but a moment before being beckoned to a steam table running along one side of the dining room. Like many cafeterias in the Deep South part of USA you then point at the items that interest you and a worker scoops them onto a plate. I find the word “az” to come in handy in these situations in Istanbul as you can then get small portions of lots of different items.
Out here in Austin Texas one local meat and 3 offers an off menu “9 vegetable orgy” wherein they put small portions of 9 different veggies on your plate.
I’m not sure how to ask for a 9 vegetable orgy in Turkish so I wisely keep my mouth shut.
Walking through a cafeteria line stands at odds with the faded elegance of the dining room which speaks of fine dining with liveried man servants at your beck and call and liberal applications of gold brocade applied everywhere.
Service is fine. After settling in with your food from the cafeteria line a gentleman waiter will rush to the table if you so much as raise an eyebrow in his direction. A request to tour some closed off parts of the restaurant is met with vigorous hospitality. Most importantly the food at Haci Abdullah is quite good.
I have to admit that I’m a mark for old restaurants. I seek them out wherever I travel. Perhaps it’s the smell or the dust in the corners or the echoes of laughter from decades past that seems to get caught in the nooks and crannies of joints with a past that appeals to me.
Either way I find Haci Abdullah to be an appealing combination of good Turkish soul food, old world manners and a time worn ambience that fits as comfortably as the London Fog mackinaw handed down from your father.
Sakizagaci Cad. 17