While the Princes’ Islands make for a great escape from the city, it’s been hard to think of them as a culinary destination. Until now. The new-offshore-kid-in-town, Heyamola Ada Lokanatası, is a perfect storm of inspired food, chill ambiance, and small-label Turkish wines, all at ridiculously low prices. Heyamola is reason in and of itself to plan a day trip to the Princes’ Islands, and if you are already organizing your island adventure, this place is a compelling argument for ditching the ferry at Heybeli Island, often overlooked in favor of the more popular Büyükada. So let’s get to the nitty-gritty…
The meze tray rolls twenty deep, and shifts with the season; during a first visit, in May, the meze selection revolved around the herbs and greens chef Semra Hanım was foraging on-island – a wild fennel sauté and a nettle and black-cumin-seed salad being the two that truly blew my mind. Semra Hanım ran one of the best places on the Datça Peninsula for years, and she has a genius for innovative takes on Aegean standards. Her partner in the kitchen, Esra Hanım, worked for years at Bi’ Lokma in Kaş, and her touch can be tasted in the slow-cooking side of the tray. For example, in the richness of the cevizli kabak (walnut and zucchini) meze and in the exquisite creaminess of the patlıcan salatası (eggplant salad) – usually a meze tray workhorse, but here something much, much more profound. The cold meze cost between 7-10TL a portion. If you go for lunch, I recommend that you ask very nicely if Semra and Esra could put together a tasting selection – small portions of each of the day’s meze.
The hot meze are (as always) more expensive than the tray selections (17-21 TL), but again, for what you are getting, the prices are more than fair. We tried the grilled ahtapot (octopus), a perfectly marinated tentacle of octopus driven up from Cunda Island the night before. One rarely finds a place that does octopus like this, let alone does it well – here they nail it. We also tried the sardalya güveç (fresh-caught sardines stuffed with fresh herbs and stewed in a small terracotta dish with lemon). Clean, flavorful, divine. They do a fish soup that is similarly delicate and delicious.
The main courses are a short-list of great uses of fresh fish. We made quick work of a grilled iskorpit (scorpion-fish) kebab, and I would expect to see bonito and red sea bream showing up on the menu, as they come into season! Whee!
Semra and Esra make desserts to suit the season: all I am saying is, save room, people. For the more mature of us, they do a baked smoky saganaki cheese with a thin cinnamon crust to it…and this brings us to the wine list.
The owner of Heyamola is a well-traveled epicure, and a true gentleman. He also knows his wine. The wines available at Heyamola are primarily from two Turkish lines: Melen and Ganohora, and on both sides of the list, you get to choose from a number of wines that are a) NOT all basically the same and b) NOT much more expensive than they would be at your local supermarket (if Turkish supermarkets stocked wine this good). I am not kidding. We had to ask the waiter if the prices listed were for a glass or a bottle. Most bottles are between 30 and 40 TL, with only the tip-top of the line at 70 TL – which, I just want to point out, is the usual restaurant charge for a bottle of the Turkish equivalent of Almaden. Again, go ahead and ask for a recommendation or a taste of the ones you find intriguing.
And not that this is the most important thing, but it does seem worth noting that Heyamola is the exception to the rule that exceptional food and cool décor are mutually exclusive. The indoor space is clean and bright; the outdoor space is dotted with bougainvillea and hydrangea, the location is ideal for people-watching and the tables and chairs are sturdy and comfortable, and well-spaced.
In every way that matters, a great spot to spend an extended afternoon that will easily melt into evening and beyond!
Address: Yalı Caddesi (on the ‘kordon’), opposite the İDO (hydrofoil ferry) iskele, Heybeliada
Telephone: (216) 351-1111