My room had a wonderful view over the water, and the bathroom was a homage to a classic Turkish architecture with marble and Iznik 16th-century tiling.
The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul
A warm welcome from the doorman who was decked out in the classic European attire of a liveried coat and matching hat. The bell-boy was extremely keen to take my suitcase from the taxi, but it was with some bewilderment that I put my baggage through an X-ray machine before I entered the building - common practice in security-conscious Istanbul.
There is little of interest in the immediate vicinity of the hotel. It sits in the shadow of the Besiktas staduim, home to the Black and White Eagles, the local football team. Make sure you do not arrive anywhere near kick-off time or at the end of a match because the area is completely gridlocked with both cars and fans. The hotel is situated around 200m from the Bosphorus. There is easy access by taxi to Sultenahmet, the old part of the city, Taksim, the body and soul of Istanbul's nightlife, and the shopping districts of Nisantasi and Akaretler.
Extremely helpful. The staff, always on hand, are a neat and tidy bunch. Some are required to wear traditional Turkish formal attire, while others wear a European-style suit. Although the level of service cannot be questioned, the staff occasionally seemed to be overly professional, perhaps lacking the personal touch that boutique hotels have come to specialise in. You could ask the concierge absolutely anything, but not being one of the most demanding guests in the world, I got him to arrange a tea-tasting for me with the hotel's tea sommelier. For US$15 (Dh55), you get to try a wide variety of teas, which have been grouped into moods. The Black is Black selection after a long walk around the sights of the Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque was refreshing. I had to check out early on the day of departure - before breakfast had even started - which proved no problem at all. My bill had been tallied up and was placed under my door before I had awoken, and the concierge had arranged a BMW to whisk me to Sabiha Goeken airport in just under an hour, a journey that can take as long as two and a half hours during rush hour.
The hotel has three different types of room. They have suites that overlook the park and suites that overlook the Bosphorus. There are also two bigger suites, one of 250 square kilometres and one of 175 square kilometres that boasts its own terrace and jacuzzi, which overlooks the Bosphrous. Members of the Ritz Carlton's incentive award club can also take advantage of special residences at the top of the hotel. My room had a wonderful view over the water, and the bathroom was a homage to a classic Turkish architecture with marble and Iznik 16th-century tiling. You could tell the interior designers had made an effort to create a Turkish feel throughout my suite and the baklava resting on the antique desk when I arrived was wonderfully fresh.
There's no getting away from the Ritz-Carlton's clientele of suited businessmen, although many of them went for the sans tie approach. Middle-aged couples and retirees completed the melange.
The dinner menu in the Çintemani restaurant consists of a broad-ranging attempt to appease most tastes. Turkish plates stand out as a beacon among the international food that competes for your attention. I went native and had the hot meze plate, though in the end it was the sea bass bugulama - a Turkish method of steaming with lemon and parsley - that stole the show. A wonderfully pink lamb loin followed, and my sweet tooth couldn't avoid a baklava with pistachio ice cream at the end. But the restaurant has no theme. They need to be bolder. The kitchen pumps out good-looking plates of well-cooked food, and, while the trick works at breakfast, the need to appeal to all palates waters down the message. If you lived in Istanbul you wouldn't come to eat here.
So many things. My flight was delayed, which resulted in me arriving late on my first night. The spa, with its traditional hammam was wonderful, and perfect for getting over the bores of air travel. I also liked the fact that you could still smoke in some parts of the hotel, most notably the tea room and the RD Bar, although the hotel plans to put a stop to that little guilty pleasure this summer. Breakfast tried very hard to cater to all tastes. There were pastries for the French, bratwursts for the Germans, and streaky bacon and maple syrup for the Americans. Top-billing, however, went to the Turkish offerings, especially the sucuk, a traditional fried beef sausage, the poached figs and apricots with star anise, and the petek pal - fresh honeycomb.
Why the hotel considers it a good idea to charge US$24 (Dh88) for the use of the internet is completely beyond me. The road works going on outside the hotel on the Besiktas stadium side also tried my patience. It kept me up all night, but the hotel assured me that the works were only temporary.
This hotel ultimately succeeded in being a Turkish Ritz-Carlton, with all one expects from a world-class hotel with a local flavour. The artwork in the lobby, dining rooms and bars showcased Turkish artists such as Ismail Acar and Timur Kerim Incedayi was, for me, the most impressive aspect of the hotel. Overall, the service was excellent but not exceptional, the food accomplished but not cutting-edge, and the decor impressive but not breathtaking. This is a very good hotel, but it plays it with a straight bat.
Double rooms start from $314 (Dh1,153) per night including taxes. Hotel Ritz-Carlton, Suzer Plaza, Elmadag, Askerocagi Caddesi, Sisli, Istanbul (www.ritzcarlton.com; 0090 212 334 44 44).