For a trip back in time and an unforgettable experience, have a meal at 1924 – Istanbul, a Russian cuisine restaurant in the heart of Turkey’s largest city.
This Istanbul institution was founded in 1924 (hence the name) by Russian refugees fleeing the Bolshevik revolution. Specialising in Russian cuisine and food from certain former Russian territories it certainly stands out from Istanbul’s other culinary offerings.
This historic institution can boast of numerous famous patrons over the years including Greta Garbo, the King of Spain, Agatha Christie and Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. If that isn’t enough of a recommendation already, I don’t know what is.
1924 – Istanbul is a little bit hard to find (it’s in an alley off İstiklal Caddesi called Olivya Geçidi) and booking is advisable but it is well worth the effort to visit this unique place.
I started the evening with a vegetable borsch (absolutely delicious), grilled aubergine rolls (cold, which was weird) and spinach pkhali (a Georgian speciality, also cold). You could tell already there was some real expertise behind these dishes, the borsch was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted (and I’m normally not a soup fan). Whilst I was not so keen on the pkhali a quick google search shows that this is how it is meant to be, and while I would have preferred the aubergine rolls to be warm, or even room temp, they were tasty nonetheless.
For a main course, I chose the leek and porcini vareniki. These Russian dumplings fit into a wider family of Eastern European and Central Asian dumplings that include Georgian khinkhali, Circassian gabın and Turkish mantı. They all share the unfortunate characteristic of having a slightly slimy outside, even if the inside is delicious. Sadly these vareniki were no different. I really appreciated the filling… the outside just was not something I wanted to eat lots of.
For dessert, I chose the medovic “Russian” layered honey cake and mille-feuille Kiev meringue. I should explain here I was sharing this meal with someone else and don’t normally choose two desserts just for myself.
I’d had a honey cake before in Tbilisi, Georgia and it was surprisingly delicious. This one at 1924 was just as good, if not better. It even came with a sliced strawberry and a smear of apricot purée. Amazing!
The mille-feuille Kiev meringue arrived at the table looking lovely. The waiter then pours (rather too much) hot chocolate sauce over the top of it and it turns into a bit of a warm, collapsing mess… but still very tasty and incredibly satisfying! I presume this dish has some connection to the Ukrainian capital city of the same name but I couldn’t easily find any reference to this dish having its origins in Ukraine at all.
Having tried six items from the menu, as well as a sage lemon tea (described on the menu as herby and robust, what we all look for in a tea I’m sure) I quietly braced myself for a hefty bill. However, this restaurant is incredibly reasonably priced and the total for the meal was very fair. Considering the quality of the food, the ambiance, the silverware (literally solid silver cutlery), the history of the place and how special the occasion feels, it is probably a bit underpriced to be honest. I was also pleasantly surprised at the amount of vegetarian / meat-free options there were on the menu.
All in all, an excellent experience, 10/10, would recommend, which I am, right now.
If you’re in Istanbul and are looking for a unique evening dining experience, 1924 – Istanbul should definitely be on your list of places to visit!