Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: Set Fish Restaurant... to go or not to go?

After about a two week hiatus.. I am back to writing about Istanbul... I hope you enjoyed my series on the lovely summer resort town of Bodrum - a place that is definitely worth a visit!

I have now been back in Istanbul for about 10 days and it has been a little hectic! The weather is still very "summery" here, but we are expecting rain in Istanbul tomorrow and the weather will drop a couple of degrees to about 27 centigrades, but it is still considered warm for this time of year - so we will enjoy the mild weather as long as we can!

Socially, I had a dry spell last week and just needed to catch up on my work and didn't do anything major until this past Sunday!

Once again, it was a beautiful and sunny day - but a little windy - especially by the Bosphorus.

We decided to go out for a "family" lunch, something we hadn't done in months as my sis, brother-in-law and nephew were in Çeşme for the entire summer. So, we started our "traditional" outings - taking mom with us - by going to Set Fish Restaurant in Kireçburnu.

Kireçburnu is the next neighborhood after Tarabya on the Bosphorus waterfront and is filled with side by side seafood restaurants and a lovely park. From Set Fish, you get a direct view of the Bosphorus and Black Sea!

The Bosphorus and Black Sea (the area behind the tanker)

Kireçburnu Park
Set Fish as been around since 1967 - I think I visited this restaurant for the first time sometime in the 1980s during a trip to Istanbul when I lived in New York, but I'm not sure. I believe at that time, it was located across the street from its current location - almost on the Bosphorus waterfront.

As a location for a "family" outing to have fish, we "re-discovered" Set Fish about a couple of years ago. The eatery is very spacious with indoor and outdoor seating areas, but to be quite frank with you - everytime we go there - we say "it's the last time", but wind up going again! 

There are soooooo many seafood restaurants in Istanbul, but finding "just" the right one - depending on what you are looking for, is difficult. We tried many places and Mavi Balık ( in Kuruçeşme is a place we used to go to often (but stopped for some reason) as well as a few more "no frills" nameless eateries past Sarıyer in Rumeli Kavağı. Iskele ( in Rumelihisarı (right after Bebek) is another place we like to go too also. Living on the European side of the city, we prefer restaurants on this side of town, even though there are many on the Asian side that have boat services that shuttle you back and forth, if you don't want to deal with the traffic on the bridges. Also, we prefer to eat with a Bosphorus view even though there are many good seafood restaurants in other parts of the city too.

For example, for a family seafood lunch on the weekend, we prefer to go to a place that is casual and the prices modest, otherwise you can leave your shirt at the door when you leave!

For those that are not familiar with how seafood restaurants work in Turkey - you do not get a menu or "see" the prices before you order. Sure, if you ask for a menu, they will give you one, but it is not very informative and the prices can be deceiving. But, as I had written in an article I prepared for The Guide Istanbul ( on seafood restaurants a couple of years ago, do not feel embarrassed to ask for the price of the fish (even at the fanciest restaurant) you are planning to order - if you do not want any surprises on the bill afterwards. Why don't you get a menu? Well, first.. the hot and cold appetizer selections can change from day to day depending on the season and whether or not the restaurant was able to obtain the required ingredients. The price and types of fish also change daily - again based on supply and demand.

Back to Set Fish... we arrived at around 1:00pm and were lucky enough to get a table with a Bosphorus view - even though the restaurant is not right on the water.

View from our table at Set Fish Restaurant
Within 30 minutes of our arrival, the place filled up! The area we were sitting was the "outdoor" area, however, to protect again the sun, they had awnings covering the ceiling. The first problem was here... the awnings were not stable and moved with the wind and made a tremendous amount of noise that grated on your nerves after awhile. We even thought they would get unscrewed and fall on top of your heads - but of course this didn't happen.

We set about ordering our cold appetizers from the tray that came to our table displaying the selections. We were careful - most times we make the mistake of ordering too many appetizers and then we don't have enough room for the main course. We ordered the eggplant salad (patlıcan salatası), white cheese (beyaz peynir - everyone calls it feta, but feta is different in taste from the Turkish white cheese) and melon (kavun), green bell peppers in yogurt sauce, sea bass in a curry sauce (yess! curry sauce!), red gurnard (kırlangıç) fish in a spicy sauce and a mixed green salad. All the appetizers were tasty.

At most seafood restaurant, you can order one portion of an appetizer and share it easily with 4 people (not major portions, but still enough to go around), but at Set Fish, the portions are smaller so we had to order double portions of some.

To accompany our meal, my brother-in-law and I ordered a small bottle of Tekirdağ rakı (similar to ouzo but not as sweet) while my sis and mom had Cola Zero. I said we ordered a half bottle, but Set Fish does not have 1/2 bottles of rakı.. rather they "approximate" how much you are drinking and serve from the full bottle. We also received toasted white bread: but we prefer whole wheat and for some reason, it took an extra long time for the bread to arrive - even though baskets of white bread was being delivered to other tables at great speed!

We only ordered two hot appetizers: fried calamari and a dish called "Çin Lokma" which is fish balls with sweet and sour sauce. Both were very good and as you can see, some "Chinese" ingredients have made it into the dishes of Set Fish's dishes! They also use soy sauce in some.

What we ate doesn't sound like a lot... but take my word for it.. it was! By the time you eat "a little of this and a little of that" with LOTS of bread, you do get stuffed!

My nephew Arman is 10 years old and as a typical adolescent... he didn't eat any of the appetizers we ordered! One day he will indulge in these wonderful tastes! But, he does like fish - but mainly the smaller fish and fried! He had two choices today ... istavrit (horse mackerel) or barbunya (red mullet): he chose istavrit.

He ate as much as a typical skinny 10 year-old eats and then immediately he ordered a gooey dessert called a "volcano" (it is warm halvah with chocolate sauce and a side of vanilla ice cream). Of course, we ate the rest of his fish which was very good.

Since, we were basically full.. we decided to order one fish and share it. Palamut (bonito) is in season now and my mom likes this fish alot, so that's what we ordered. Normally, bonito should be fried.. but we asked that half be fried and the other half grilled.

With great anticipation, we waited for the fish to arrive. All fish dishes at seafood restaurants are served with a side of sliced tomatoes, sliced raw red onions and a few leaves of arugula. Unfortunately, this was the best part of this dish!!! Disappointingly, even though the fish was very fresh, the chef killed it! It had absolutely no taste.. it wasn't seasoned at all.. and we think that the oil he used to cook the fish was not "fresh" enough and probably used to cook too many fish! We were happy that we only ordered one!

We topped off our meal with espresso and tea - no dessert. It was nearly 4:00pm now and I felt like I had gone through the ringer! My sis felt the same way! My mom is 85 years old and has a hearing problem, so she did not "hear" most of the noise and my brother-in-law never likes to "rock the boat", so he didn't say anything and kids will be kids - Arman was having fun building a boat with 2 large plastic water bottles, napkins and toothpicks - and making friends with the other kids at the restaurant!

Like I previously said, between the noise from the expanding awning, the noise from the tables packed with families with babies and children (the acoustics were pretty bad) added to the noise pollution, so we were more than ready to leave! The service was good, but not great... the waiters are very good, but the bus boys left a lot to be desired and were a bit scattered!

We asked for our bill and knew we wouldn't be thing about Set Fish is that the prices are very reasonable! Our bill for 5 people was 163 TL! I can't remember all the prices, but the fish my nephew had was 10 TL, the one we had was 25 TL, half a bottle of rakı was 35 TL - so we paid about 93 TL for the other stuff: the most expensive was the mixed green salad at 20 TL! There is also a minimal küver (or cover charge) for water and bread (1,5 TL/person).

All in all.. did we have a nice day? Yes... Was it a great day and meal... no!  I must admit... I am bit of a snob! I give tremendous importance to a venue's ambiance... service... food.. etc. as I have been going out to all sorts of restaurants since I was a mere child! Dad really spoiled us too as he was in the hotel industry, so my sis and I learned the "finer" things in life at an early age. But, then again, every meal and every venue cannot be perfect - in fact no place is! But, you try to find the optimum environment at each outing. I'm not going to say don't go to Set Fish... that would be silly! If it was really bad, I wouldn't have even written about it or gone many times myself. I'm just saying... just manage your expectations! Who knows, you might even run into me there one day!

Finally, make sure you have cash with you when you go to Set Fish as credit cards are not accepted. (Haydar Aliyev Caddesi No. 18, Kireçburnu; Tel: (0212) 262 04 11; There website is in Turkish only and you cannot make reservations for lunch on Sundays.

Now... if you ask me, "so what is your favorite seafood restaurant in Istanbul? My answer - hands down - is Bebek Balıkçısı (; Tel: (0212) 263 34 47) in Bebek. The food is always incredible... the service always up to par... the ambiance superb... reservations always a must.. not noisy... cosy... right on the waterfront... and expensive, but worth every penny! I like to "save" going to Bebek Balıkçısı for more special occasions and dinner versus lunch. 



  1. Dear Dani,
    I happen to read your blog by coincidence.
    I believe you have lived in NYC for a while. So, you will understand my comment even better!
    I have been to many restaurants around the world some of which include Per Se and Danielle in NYC. So you can imagine that I am also raised as a bit of snob person:) However, I truely regretted your comments about SetBalik. We have been a customer of SetBalik for almost 15 years now. I just can say that both the owner and all the team as well as the cuisine are one of the best culinary experiences that you can have not only in Istanbul but worldwide. The owner himself visits NYC and many world countries to come up with the wide-range of seafood and mezze dishes that he serves in his restaurant. Set Balik is perhaps the only restaurant to change it's menu so offen with such wonderfull tastes. As you mention price per value, you may also go to Mc Donalds for 10 bucks per person and eat the greasy hamburgers. I wished that you would mention your comments while you were there and give the team the opportunity to please you.

  2. Dear reader,

    I wish you had mentioned your name in your unfortunately, I can only reply to you as "dear reader".
    I am sorry to hear that you regretted my comments about Set Balık, but of course, I respect your thoughts as everyone has the right to have an opinion. In life, sometimes we agree and sometimes we don't - I think that's what makes life interesting.
    The experience I had at Set Balık this time was not that much different from my past experiences there - I wish I had mentioned that. Like I said, in general the food and service ARE good (otherwise I would not have gone there as much as I had or even bothered to write about them in my blog), but there are some problems - just like at all other restaurants in Istanbul and around the world.
    However, I don't agree when you say that it is the "best culinary experience not only in Turkey, about around the world - sorry! It is definitely a good value for the price and can't and wouldn't compare to McDonalds.
    I too have been eating out at both very deluxe, moderate and "no frills" restaurant in the USA, Turkey and Europe ever since I was an adolescent - each definitely has its own charms as well as its cons. I feel we shouldn't be afraid to talk about them - whether we have personally discussed this with the management of the venue or not. (BTW... I should have also written that we did mention the noise problem and service problems to our waiter - this time and during our other visits).
    I hope you keep on reading my posts and please feel free to make your comments and/or suggestions any time!