Far removed from the malarial crowds that tend to dominate during Büyükada’s summer seasons, Eskibağ Teras restaurant lives in a category of its own making. The restaurant opened in conjunction with its hotel cousin (Eskibağ Butik Otel). Fortunately, like many cousins, they are nothing alike. The hotel is located in the middle of the island’s small village-like port. Its rooms are standard: clean singles, doubles and a suite. It’s not a big hotel but it manages. The restaurant, on the other hand, is located directly across the island – approximately an hour’s walk or a scenic 25-minute (and 70 tl) fayton (horse carriage) ride from the iskele (port). Its distance from the center, though, doesn’t worry chef and owner Herman Sivaslıoğlu. In fact, since opening in 2013, adalı (islanders) and tourists alike regularly trek out to the other side – more than they care to admit – for great service, great views and most of all great food.
Yet, for a place that is frequented so often, little is known about the chef himself. Some said he is Armenian, others said he is Greek, most said he is adalı, and one particular gentleman asked if he was from Sivas (a central-eastern province). For all those claims, none of them were wrong. Herman Bey grew up in Istanbul’s Elmadağ neighbourhood, raised by his Armenian family who moved here from Sivas. During the 80’s, he saw most of his friends and family leave the country to western grounds and opted to do the same. Except, instead of moving Western Europe or North America, he joined other family members in Greece – where he stayed for some 30 years. Only a couple of years ago did he return to Istanbul to find a little nook of untouched greenery on the back of the ‘Big Island’ and thought, “This is nice.” A year or so later, Eskibağ Teras was up and running – with great success.
Throughout summers, Herman Bey and his team are ready to go at 8 am. But if it’s a slow morning, you’ll probably find them eating a shared breakfast and enjoying the view. While they are open for breakfast, most come for dinner.
If you ever thought running a restaurant was difficult, the isolation of this island eatery makes the case even more challenging. Because the closest store is over a kilometre away, Herman Bey explains that every service is calculated down to every slice of bread. And for that reason, the majority of ingredients that move through this restaurant – from the greens to the breads – come from the island. That said, while it’s more sustainable and all around easier to source local products (especially when you’re on an island), there are those items that just cannot be found on Büyükada.
As far as menus are concerned, just because the restaurant is far and the view is great, doesn’t mean the food suffers. There are only a few things that are repeated daily like their Herman Salatası: a leafy salad mixed with courgette and cheese topped with a subtle dressing of balsamic and honey. The French fries, too, are a staple, but sliced wonderfully thin and with a sweet tang of vinegar. Finally, there’s the octopus – a dish that no table should be without.
Most other dishes are the results of Herman’s mood that morning (and the season). We were served kaya kuruğu or kulakotu salad; a forgotten herb native to the Mediterranean but shockingly found on the island. The mezes range from spicy yogurt dishes – try the atom – to traditional cured fish. But most impressive are the seasonal fish. In keeping with the rest of his oeuvre, Herman Bey’s fish are not the simple grilled-plate-table deal. And, while a simple fish with lemon is wonderful, it can lose its thrill, quickly. Here, the fish is, yes, grilled but marinade in a delightful mixture of sweet, sour, and salty. Unless specified otherwise, the fish (head to tail) is served already cut and partly filleted accompanied with lemon and soy sauces.
(0535) 521 27 24
Büyük Tur Yolu No. 5
When I lived in Istanbul in the 1990s we used to take the ferry to Büyükada, climb up to the church and eat börek and salad and drink their lovely red wine. I loved going there.
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Hey Claire, thanks for your comment! We used to hike up to Aya Yorgi as kids all the time. We only started going back there a couple of years ago. Fortunately, NOTHING has changed! It’s just as wonderful as in the ’90s.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. loved your post on Yaprak Dolması