Catalonian superstar Sergi Arola heads up the restaurant at the new Raffles Istanbul, Arola. His early experiences include being chef de partie at el Bulli and working under Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. In 1997, Arola opened his first restaurant in Madrid which earned a Michelin star within 12 months, the first of many awards and accolades.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE TABLE IN ISTANBUL?
I love Turkish gastronomy. I very much enjoy mezze, as I like the concept. It's similar to our tapas in Spain. It's tasty and casual. So my favourite table is any table in a nice, a local meyhane where they traditionally eat it with rakı – the local aniseed spirit – especially in the Beyoglu district or in Cicek Pasajı (the Flower Passage).
THE LOCAL FOOD DISCOVERY OF THE PAST YEAR?
I have travelled very often to Istanbul over the years, so I know a lot of places already. But I'm always open to taste new restaurants, places, flavours, recipes … I really enjoy the Spice Bazaar. It is a very special place for a chef but also for tourists. With all those colours, the smell, the atmosphere, it's a must to see and experience. You can buy the best spices there and saffron is also much cheaper compared to European cities.
WHAT IS ISTANBUL'S BEST-KEPT FOOD SECRET?
You can eat very well in a luxury restaurant of course, but also in the street, you can discover very authentic flavours. You'll find all kinds of dishes from different cultures. The simit – a kind of sesame bagel - is really important in Istanbul and you can try it almost everywhere.
PLACE TO GO ON A DAY OFF?
A walk of the Bosphorus is very special and if possible, a cruise on Istanbul's Sehir Hatlari ferry. Visiting the food markets is also a very pleasant and interesting experience; almost every day there's one on in the city. (See sehirhatlari.com.)
FAVOURITE INDULGENCE IN ISTANBUL?
The whole city itself is indulgence. I just like to take a walk around and soak it up. The climate is mild and there is a nice breeze from the seaside on a summer day.
WHAT SHOULD A VISITOR AVOID, FOOD-WISE, IN ISTANBUL?
In general, you can eat everything. Maybe I would be careful eating seafood in places I don't know, but that's not only in Istanbul. It applies anywhere in the world.