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Akın Balık: (The Other) Karaköy Fish House

Editor’s note, Oct. 16, 2012: After getting too many notes about this place from disappointed diners who had been served substandard food or had their check inflated, we sadly need to move this fish spot onto our “no longer recommended” list. For those looking for a good fish shack on the Golden Horn, check out this review [1].

For good reason, there is a well-beaten path to Karaköy Balıkçısı, an excellent fish restaurant in Perşembe Pazarı, a district near the Golden Horn filled with small shops selling power tools and bathroom fixtures. The fish there is superb, as it should be for a lunch that can cost $40 per person, with no booze. That’s fine for a birthday, but what about the other 364 lunches of the year?

A solution has appeared. Just around the corner from the fish market at the base of the Galata Bridge in Karaköy, we found Akın Balık, a bare-bones fish restaurant hugging the wall of what appears to be an otherwise abandoned building. One of several outdoor fish places in the area, set back just a few steps from the Golden Horn’s edge, the restaurant has a laid-back vibe that makes us feel like we’re no longer in the big city but instead relaxing in some seaside village.

We like to head over there for an early dinner as the sun sets over the Golden Horn, lighting the water up with a coppery hue. (Borders in this patch of table-cluttered land are ill-defined and relations between the restaurant owners decidedly Balkan, so be sure to confirm that you are sitting at Akın, not some breakaway wannabe.) At this time of day down here, as the last shopkeeper noisily pulls down a security grate and commuters hustle onto honking ferries bound for the Asian side of Istanbul, Karaköy seems to sigh and relax for the evening. This is the time to be at Akın Balık.

Akın, a grey-mulleted, leather-vested fellow, seems to channel that mood, or help set it, with his slow gait, slight smile and soft touch with customers. He runs his place with nothing more than one grill and one cooler, so service can be a little slow when tables start filling up. Luckily, that cooler is stocked with cold cans of beer, which are served discretely wrapped with wide strips of brown paper, ostensibly to “keep the heat away.”

Unlike most of the other simple fish joints around here, which exclusively sling sandwiches or sardine fry-ups, Akın serves a tasty fish soup everyday. The hearty, almost chowder-like, fish stock is amped up by bright carrot slivers, chopped parsley and an optional squeeze of lemon. Akın is also a reliable place to try some those street foods that we are not quite comfortable buying from Istanbul’s roving teenage shellfish dealers. Fried mussels or mussels stuffed with rice are fresh and well-prepared here. But be forewarned, they often run out before nightfall.

Whole grilled fish, be it levrek (sea bass), çupra (sea bream), or sarıkanat (small blue fish) is about as fresh as it gets. Some are still even swimming when they are picked up every morning from the fish market right next door. However, we suggest an old Istanbul street food favorite that used to be sold from boats on the Golden Horn: the fish sandwich. A grilled bonito filet nestled in a hollowed-out half loaf of crusty white bread, dressed with onions, parsley and lettuce, is a simple pleasure that goes perfectly with sitting on a stool in the setting sun while drinking Efes beer from a can wrapped in brown paper. A meal here – including that beer – costs less than $10. Now that’s a meal you don’t have to save for a special occasion.

Address: Behind the fish market in Perşembe Pazarı, Karaköy
Telephone: 212-244-9776

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