Noisy, bustling, cultural, magical, fascinating and totally captivating – Istanbul is my new favourite city and Mama Shelter my go-to place to stay at the beating heart of this sprawling metropolis.
An historical melting pot, this city is home to many religions and numerous ethnic groups. More than fourteen million people go about their business here in this hilly, sprawling hub that’s been known as Byzantium, New Rome, Constantinople, Old Stamboul and though the name may have changed, the magnificence endures. Istanbul is situated between Asia and Europe at the centre of the modern world.
But back to Mama, the chain is low on price and high on design and its hotels are based in Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Bordeaux and there’s no denying Istanbul is every bit as cool and chic and as its French cousins.
Touches by the French designer Philippe Starck one of the co-founders, run throughout this and every hotel from the waterproofed bricks in the shower to the monogrammed city floors.
and as well as Starck’s involvement the other founders are the family behind the original Club Med, the Trigano’s.
The Istanbul Mama is the fourth in the chain and is right in the middle of the action, on the lively Istiklal Avenue, five minutes walk from Taksim Square underground network, the tram stop and the Funicular but more widely known throughout the world as the scene of political protests.
I dragged Mr along for a long weekend as my treat and just 3 hours and 40 minutes away from London Heathrow we discover it’s a great destination for a long weekend bargain trip, in comparison, certainly to Europe. It’s quite hard to spend sterling here in Istanbul, in fact we came back with almost half of our spends.
I had booked the Mama Luxe Double Terrasse which comes as part of the ‘Je t’aime package’, one of the many offers the hotel offers. There were a few extras thrown in, cocktails, breakfast and a wonderful room with a view.
Inside the room expect the usual, comfortable bed, decent linen and pillows, flat screen TV with internet, a few movies on demand, minibar (no alcohol), safe, desk and throughout the hotel, free speedy wi-fi.
The staff here really cannot do enough for you, Mety the General Manager loves to chat with the guests and never seems to go home whilst Inci who’s in charge of guest relations has plenty of recommendations for the first-time traveller.
In reception, you’ll find a touch-screen concierge, business corner and all the staff speak excellent English so are able to make recommendations and book restaurants, or indeed anything you should need during your stay.
It’s also here you’ll find the Mama Shop, a mini Grand Bazaar full of the products you might need and some you definitely won’t, including the Luchador and character masks found in each and every room.
Head up to the rooftop to take in a 360 degree view and if you order a corner suite be sure to ask for a city view instead of a garden view. But a word of warning, the Imam begins his Ezan (call to prayer) fairly early in the morning so go armed with ear plugs if you can’t drift off to the sound of a loud-hailer enchanced cry. In the summer, this area transforms into the place to see and be seen and is the perfect setting for a pre-dinner aperitif. Here’s a panorama from the roof.
Talking of dinner, the bar-cum-restaurant is large and divided by a central bar. It’s near the open kitchen you’ll find large tables for groups and at the edges of the room smaller tables. Everywhere in between there are sofas and chairs and like all Mama’s a DJ platform with instruments where the hippest get to spin the discs.
There’s a separate area for a marginally quieter meal if the buzz gets all too much for you.
There’s also a chic outside dining space, a little too chilly for us during our visit but we’ll return to take advantage of their sunnier climes.
The food is superb and can be described as Franco-Turk, and whilst the original French touches are there, so are the Turkish, but with a modern touch. The restaurant is incredibly relaxed, made more so by the delicious cocktails. The bar staff know how to mix their drinks well and there are plenty on offer.
The menu is split into Mezzes, Main Courses, Pizzas and Desserts and we ate, courtesy of the hotel on Thursday night. I began with “Çılbır”, poached eggs, spinach, smoked yoghurt with garlic chips (14) and Mr had the Bone Marrow, garlic bread and smoked sea salt (23).
There was no denying that he’d ordered marrow bone as a huge portion of what could have been a T Rex thigh bone, arrived on a slate, teaspoons of super-rich marrow bone spread easily on the garlic bread and get sprinkled with the smoked chunks of sea salt.
My poached eggs, spinach and smoked yoghurt was more brunch than dinner but a great range of flavours nonetheless. Spinach was gently steamed and you could taste the iron-green freshness as the deep orange egg yolks oozed over the leaves, the yoghurt broke up the richness with a tang of white wine vinegar.
For the main course Mama’s yoghurt kebab (34) was in fact the deconstructed Turkish staple and absolutely stunning, a delicately spiced tomato sauce sat in a skillet with well-seasoned rounds of beef with a small dish of toasted chopped pitta served on the side along with a curried mayonnaise. Mr chose the Lamb shank, humus and pickles (55) the lamb perfectly cooked, the shank bone perfectly clean and the hummus studded with currants. The pickled vegetables were the perfect accompaniment.
We didn’t manage dessert but had a Turkish coffee and tasted as good as it looked.
This hotel is party central after 11pm so if you’re looking for peace, this isn’t the place to stay, in fact Istanbul would be a pretty poor choice if it’s solace you’re after.
Our room rate included a buffet breakfast and each morning tables were well stocked with Turkish delights, the ubiquitous Simit (a sweet Turkish bagel) homemade breads and jams, meats, cheeses dried fruits, and yogurt. Fresh omelette and egg dishes can be cooked to order. Fun touches by the staff, and a machine solely for boiling eggs, meant I had an egg each day – something I never get to have time for at home.
If we didn’t have the rain, I would have eaten my breakfast here one morning, what better way to start the day?
Mama Shelter thinks of everything, even an early Birthday present from the group, delicious macarons and fresh fruit.
A private taxi can be organised and costs 69 Euros each way from Ataturk International Airport which is a 25-minute drive to the hotel. Having travelled in both, I can say that the Turkish taxis are fine and at 50TL a bargain in comparison, but it really depends on how you like to travel.
Mama Shelter, Istanbul charges residents in Euros, the restaurant and bar charges are in Turkish Lira and all bills are without service charge.
I paid for our accommodation and flights but received our meal with the compliments of Mama Shelter.