Living and working between London and Istanbul, Huma Kabakci is a second-generation collector, independent curator and Founding Director of Open Space.
The peripatetic arts organisation/curatorial collective supports international emerging artists and curators through an annual programme of multi-disciplinary projects in unexpected venues and temporary spaces.
As she’s worked in Istanbul at places such as the Pera Museum, we asked Huma to let us into some of the cultural secrets behind the famous Turkish city.
Where to stay
If you’re looking for more peaceful surroundings and don’t mind a commute into the centre of Istanbul on the European side, I’d definitely recommend staying on the Anatolian side at the boutique hotel Sumahan, which was converted from an Ottoman Rakı distillery. It’s right by the water so you have amazing views of the city’s skyline and the hotel can also arrange a private water taxi service across the sea to the city centre.
But if you prefer to be based in the "other half" of Istanbul – with its famous mix of historical sites, dotted around the old centre, with galleries, restaurants, clubs and bars – stay around the districts of Beyoğlu, Galata or Karaköy. I’d recommend the modern and comfortable SUB Karaköy Hotel or Soho House Istanbul which occupies a decadent 19th century Palazzo Corpi in the heart of the city’s Beyoğlu district.
A spot of brunch
Head over to Aheste for a modern seasonal take on Turkish cuisine, I swear by it! Journey, located in Cihangir, has a few tables overlooking a pretty courtyard where you can enjoy a traditional Turkish breakfast of cheeses, olives, eggs, cucumber, kaymak – a white clotted Turkish cream – honey and bread.
There are lots of lovely breakfast places along the riverbank too, best combined with a visit to Rumelihisarı, a 15th-century hilltop fortress with multiple towers, or a sightseeing walk along paths by the river. Mangerie in Bebek which has stunning views from their balcony is also a great hidden spot, and I love having breakfast there after an energetic walk by the seaside.
It’s almost too hard to pick a favourite spot! For a laid back lunch, I would recommend Fasuli, Hamdi after an afternoon spent getting lost in the spice market (built in 1664 it’s one of the largest bazaars in the city and a perfect place to wander around and work up an appetite).
Head to Develi if you fancy trying out Lahmacun, the Turkish version of pizza. If you’re after a more casual lunch, I would definitely recommend Limonlu Bahçe (a hidden gem in Beyoğlu with a beautiful courtyard and a few resident tortoises) and Miss Pizza which has locations in Cihangir and Şişhane.
Art in the city
When I want to see some art, I love going to the Pera Museum, SALT Beyoğlu and Galata, and Istanbul Modern, which recently also moved into the same district. There are great galleries nearby including Galerist, Galeri Zilberman, Öktem Aykut Gallery, Anna Laudel Gallery and more.
There are more wonderful galleries in Karaköy district, from Pi Artworks to Art Sümer. It is easy to do a walking tour between them, despite the steep hills! I really like Krank Gallery as well as Riverrun; both spaces always have exciting exhibitions and interesting programmes.
For more general cultural hotspots, I would recommend the music and art hub Bomontiada, though Pera district and Karaköy are always great for live music and delicious local restaurants, and for shopping, it has to be Moda on the Anatolian side where they have fun vintage and design shops. If I need to shop for essentials, the Zorlu Centre shopping mall is quite useful and bright and airy.
When it’s time for dinner, Jash in Çukurcuma is superb! I would say Sahrap is where you need to go for a traditional dinner finished off with some pistachio baklava and I would definitely recommend Asmalı Cavit for its mezze dishes and rakı.
While it might be a little out of your price range you can’t beat the view from the open-air terrace at Bebek Balıkçı which juts out onto the river and specialises in seafood. Pera Thai is also a great spot for Thai food.
Best cocktails in the city
It’s hard to pick a favourite. For cocktails and more, Alexandra Cocktail bar is the place, but Mitte is also great for cocktails, and Mikla is good for both drinks and dinner so take your pick!
Huma has co-curated Tender Touches, an immersive exhibition at AMP Gallery, Peckham from 17 May to 30 June that takes the form of an ‘art cafe’, blurring the lines between the gallery, the studio and the dining room.