A recent first-time visit to Merih Restaurant, a deservedly well-loved meyhane just outside Beyoğlu’s Balık Pazarı, left us wondering what took us so long to discover this place. The restaurant’s location is partly to blame – with so many mediocre and touristy meyhanes to be found in the Balık Pazarı, we tend to treat much of the area around it as a culinary no-go zone. But another reason we managed to pass Merih by all these years is the restaurant’s own modesty. There’s no annoying waiter standing out front urging passersby to come in, no illuminated sign displaying the menu in five different languages, no refrigerated case outside holding the overpriced catch of the day.
Merih, in fact, is the polar opposite of most of its neighbors, a homey refuge for neighborhood locals looking for good food without too much fuss (and without paying too much). Like a good Italian trattoria or French bistro, Merih is the kind of place that you wouldn’t think twice about dropping into for a quick – or extended – meal, with friendly yet professional service, top-notch food and affordable booze to wash it down with.
In business since 1972, Merih very much evokes that era, the walls lined with wood paneling, a large painting of a dapper Mustafa Kemal Atatürk prominently displayed, and long rows of rakı bottles lined up on shelves like trophies. While the restaurant may be a meyhane, most of Merih’s regulars do away with the meze tray business and head straight to the kitchen in the back, where a small steam table holds an assortment of prepared dishes and a large glass-lined cooler displays the day’s appetizers and a selection of meats ready to be grilled.
Merih may be low-key, but its kitchen means business, turning out superb renditions of meyhane classics. The restaurant’s pilaki (white beans in a tomato sauce) was among the finest we’ve had in a long time, the not-too-soft beans having a very satisfying bite to them, the sauce they were in amped up by a generous amount of garlic. An order of fresh spinach stewed in olive oil, served with a dollop of tangy yogurt, showed the same level of attention to taste. Sigara böreği (phyllo dough wrapped around tangy white cheese) are often brought to the table looking as if they had been fried in motor oil salvaged from an auto repair shop. Here they came out golden, crisp and utterly delicious. Our main course, lamb kebab, was another highlight, the meat tender, juicy and expertly grilled. Even dessert, a traditional milk pudding flavored with mastic, seemed to pack an extra gustatory punch.
We finished our dinner feeling deeply satisfied and thinking Merih is the kind of place we could come back to every day. We suspect that is exactly what many of the other folks eating there that night actually do.
Address: Kamer Hatun Caddesi 5/A, Beyoğlu
(photo by Ansel Mullins)