Some hotels ease into the world with a soft opening. But there’s nothing quiet about one of the newest hotels in the Mandarin Oriental Group. After all, when Novikov, yes, that Novikov of London, anchors your restaurant and nightlife scene, the party has started. Here’s a first look at the brand spanking new Mandarin Oriental Istanbul.
The core of the MO experience is always the service. No matter where you are in the world, that’s the constant. From the time you arrive, there’s someone to welcome you as you emerge from your car. They make a point to know your name, even in a hotel with 100+ rooms. On our visit, the hotel was 10 days old. However service runs as if the MO Istanbul has been around for years, not merely weeks. Also, although these are still COVID times, they have plenty of hands on deck. If you’ve traveled during COVID, this is not always the case. Even at the best hotels in the world there seems to be a staffing shortage. Not here though; the experience in service is 100% Mandarin Oriental.
The palate of the hotel runs decidedly brown, tan and beige. It’s a different design angle, given the current white/grey design that is common with brand new hotels. There’s also more of an element of Turkish influence with a dash of Middle East. Many of the other MO properties adhere to a neutral, modern and sleek design that isn’t strongly influenced by the destination.
The best rooms in the house are those that are facing the Bosphorus, so if you’re staying here, just go for it. The hotel is an intimate 3 stories, so rooms that face the front essentially overlook the driveway of reception. This means closed shades for your stay if you opt for a basic room. Your experience however in a Bosporus room is completely transformative. From the water view, you also see across to Asia, which when you think about it, is pretty cool.
No matter what room you stay in, bathrooms are the size of New York studio apartments. This is actually a bath that you would enjoy taking a long soak and a quiet night in. That is, if you have self-restraint to not partake in the festivities at Novikov. But more on that later.
As you would expect, the MO therapists and spa program are top notch. When in Turkey, of course you want to indulge in the hammam experience. The hammam room pays homage to the traditional austere marble style of the bath houses, but with more intricate lattice work. The slab where you lay for the hammam experience is heated to the perfect warm temperature.
We stayed at the very opening so there are still some things to work out. First, make sure to ask for extra fluffy towels to rest your head for your treatment. We had a tiny little hair towel and had a bit of a neck cramp. The hammam is normally a comfortable treatment, even laying on hard marble.
Also their uniforms aren’t quite in yet, so your therapist may be in her own bathing suit and flip flops. Not that Hawaiian flowers and hot pink aren’t absolutely adorable, it’s a bit distracting when you expect MO serene. We would also suggest that they slow the treatment down just a tad, They can use that time to envelop you in more of those ethereal mounds of soap. Also, while it isn’t traditional, we would suggest some optional music in the room. You pay a premium for the MO, so it should be commensurately a more lavish experience.
Scene + A Side of Food
It’s refreshing that a MO restaurant can be the epicenter of fun, while serving up better than typical hotel quality food. If you’re not familiar with Novikov, it’s one of the scene-y places in London. Beautiful people, beautiful atmosphere and expensive food. We would say Novikov brings London prices to Istanbul. We didn’t mind paying the premium though to have a beautiful restaurant a quick elevator ride from our room. The tables outside are where to be, overlooking the Bosphorus.
The food is high quality and reaches a very good standard. The menu at the time had both an Asian option full of good sushi options and separate Italian menu with pastas. There was also a bit of a Milos vibe. One of the standouts was the fresh fish display, where you pick your fish. They could grill up langoustines, whole fish and even salmon kebabs for you.
The only slight annoyance was the host that particular evening. We know we came from the spa and looked zoned out, but in our defense, we were still appropriately attired. When we asked to have a quick bite with no reservation, he suggested we go to the lounge. The inside was totally empty and there were still a few tables outside. A stern “No you’re going to seat me in this restaurant” took care of him quickly. While we got one of the best tables outside, he definitely brought more Novikov vibe than Mandarin Oriental. We hope this guy reads this as it’s so 1980s to treat people that way.
However, we have to say the rest of the team more than made up for that experience. The waitstaff could not be more attentive and helpful. Drinks were replenished, food came out perfectly timed and conversation was genuine. Sometimes, there’s just one bad egg.
Who should stay
Chic guests who want the more local experience. By local we mean the beautiful socialite crowd, as well as surprisingly the real Turkish locals who live in this authentic neighborhood. The Kuruçeşme area is known to have endless cafes. You don’t see a lot of tourists, so you’re not getting haggled like at the Grand Bazaar. The location is central though. Although by land it’s a trek, by boat it’s just 10 minutes here and there to get around Istanbul. Those who are more savvy travelers will find it easy to navigate by boat.