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Jan 07
Friday
Reviews (Eats)
Kiva Han: Imposter or Contender?


Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but when Galata’s Kiva Han first opened its doors a few years ago it felt like the restaurant was taking things a bit too far. The inspiration for the slightly upscale spot, located a stone’s throw from the Galata Tower, was obviously the Asian Side’s more down-to-earth Çiya, with a similar menu featuring unusual dishes with hard-to-pronounce names from Turkey’s Anatolian heartland and the Southeast region. But did Kiva need to go so far as to poach one of Çiya’s waiters and the chef with the luxuriant, jet-black mustache who had up until then been an iconic presence behind the counter at Çiya?

Despite this bit of culinary espionage, our initial impressions were not positive. The food served at the restaurant usually failed to pack the flavorful punch that similar dishes had at its competition across the Bosphorus. While meals at Çiya almost always left us marveling at the new flavor sensations we were experiencing, something about the food at Kiva Han left us cold. There was no soul there, something that could not be fixed simply by stealing away Çiya’s staff.

What the restaurant did have – and still does – is a great location, especially when the weather is nice and its outdoor tables offer diners a chance to eat in the shadow of the Galata Tower. Unlike Çiya, Kiva Han serves wine, which makes it an interesting option for those looking for a bit more of a night out.

In the name of fairness, we recently returned to Kiva for lunch to give the place another try. Lucking out with the weather, we were able to get one of the restaurant’s outdoor tables and then made our way inside to choose some food from among Kiva’s numerous prepared dishes, all of which looked very appealing. We ended up an assortment of items based on recipes with intriguing and far-flung regional roots: kofte from the east’s Elazig, sarma (stuffed vine leaves) in a tangy plum sauce from central Anatolia’s Tokat, a moussaka-like ground meat and smoky eggplant dish from southern Turkey’s Antakya, and several other dishes with unknown origins.

Things had clearly improved since the early days, with the Antakyan mousakka and the plum-flavored sarma standing out in particular. While nothing totally wowed us, there was certainly more soul in Kiva Han’s cooking these days. From merely being an imposter, it appears that Kiva Han has worked its way up, although it still has some more work to do before becoming a true contender. The restaurant is a perfectly good choice for a leisurely and enjoyable meal that doesn’t require taking a ferry to the Asian side. But for a truly knockout culinary experience, we still recommend heading over to Çiya.

Address: Galata Kulesi Meydani No: 4, Galata
Telephone: 212-292-9898
Web: galatakivahan.com

(photo by Yigal Schleifer)

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11 Responses to “ Kiva Han: Imposter or Contender? ”
  1. I’m with you. Ciya all the way. Worth the ferry every time.

  2. Here’s a link to a short video that includes many of my Istanbul dining experiences, including the magnificent Ciya.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyO-x0_4j4k

  3. I agree with everything you wrote about Kivahan… It has a great location and OK food, but from culinary experience point of view can not be compared to Ciya, which wows me every time I visit…

  4. This place was HORRIBLE! We were so sorry to have spent our last night in Istanbul eating at Kiva Han. Especially since we had had a lot of lovely meals in Istanbul and wanted to end on a high note.

    Sadly, we were led here from quite a few misleading reviews on-line. From the first moment we arrived, the service was cold and rude and we should have left… but we thought we would give it a try since it was definitely a cute place. The waiter had no interest in suggesting a local wine that would pair well with our meal. And finally reluctantly just threw his finger down on a random wine we should order.

    But what was worse was that we ordered a few items and one of them was a beautiful dish that was featured in a photograph on the menu (it looked so lovely, I couldn’t resist… even though I’m generally not a fan of food photos). However when the dish arrived, it not only looked NOTHING like the lovely “food styled” photo, it didn’t even have the same elements! I asked why the dish was not only different than the photo, but not as described in the menu. They just shrugged. The chicken in my dish was so greasy and fatty and inedible (I had a better piece of chicken on a side street next to the Grand Bazaar!). Luckily a stray cat turned up and started pawing at my leg. I couldn’t stand to look at the disappointing meal any longer so I surreptitiously passed the chicken to my new feline friend. He was happy. I wasn’t.

  5. Thanks for the note. Our initial impression of the place was not good, but a followup visit was better, although still not great. But it sounds like we need to check it out again…..

  6. No! Don’t check it out again! It is really quite an awful experience. I went a couple of weeks ago and the food was awful, from beginning to end. Save yourself the misery.

  7. Hi

    I think your review is good unfair. I have eaten both in Kiva and Ciya and found that both restaurants their positives and negatives. The dishes are not fatty or salty, giving a good impression of the Turkish cousine. The last month I visited Kiva twice and left satisfied on both occasions.

    your review stating that Kiva is an imposter! In istanbul there are too many French, Japanese, Itallian and other restaurants and a few restaurants, which are specialisng in regional Anatolian dishes. Fast food is an epidemic as well. your comment is highly misplaced.

  8. Thanks for the note, Errol. If you read our review closely, you will see that we actually don’t call Kiva an “imposter,” but rather a close imitator of Ciya, and that we also were quite fair with the restaurant by giving it another chance after an initial disappointing meal. That said, we’ve received some very negative reports about the restaurant from commenters whose judgment we trust, so we’re happy to hear that your experiences there have been positive.

  9. Had some meze (sea beans, oregano salad stick out in my mind) and the chicken dish there the other day, food was good overall, no complaints. Didn’t ‘wow’ us but on the other hand it was a nice menu that gave us some choices that go beyond the typical meze.

  10. Suzan Tapp

    Mar 11, 2013
    Reply

    My husband and I went there last night. The food was exquisite! Secret tradional recipe dishes we very much enjoyed. The ambiance was beautiful. We sat outside looking towards the Galata tower. We liked the option of going inside and picking out which foods to try. The staff was very professional and attentive. That’s too bad there are negative reviews. My husband is Turkish and he was really impressed. We even chatted with guests sitting near us and they also were pleased by their experience. We definitely want to make this a regular dining spot. I would recommend eating here to anyone who ask. Can’t wait for the next time we visit.


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