Housed in a former 1930s tobacco warehouse, the hotel opened in 2011 as the Hong Kong-based group’s first property in Turkey. At the time, it was only Shangri-La’s second hotel in Europe (after Paris), primely positioned on the banks of the Bosphorus. It has since added a third European property in the upper floors of London’s Shard.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Checking in on a roasting July afternoon, the lobby was instantly calming, adorned with ornate pastel-hued carpets, French-style sofas fitted with silk upholstery and polished ceramics, while the cool air wafted the fresh aroma of the group’s signature scent across the room. The initial body and luggage security scan at the door was a little jarring, but this is par for the course at many of the city’s five star hotels.
Flanked by cream and grey marble walls, the lobby’s décor is imbued with soft Asian-inspired accents and ornaments, with more than 1,000 pieces of European and Asian art on display across the hotel, including Chinese lacquer carvings, landscape watercolours and blue and white pottery. This is in stark contrast to the less than subtle two-storey crystal chandelier which hangs from the glass dome ceiling near the guest lifts, down to the basement events floor.
At reception I was checked in very quickly, and my bag whisked away and brought up to my top floor room separately around ten minutes after I got to my room. Throughout my stay, staff were welcoming, bending over backwards to help with any query or request that I had.
WHERE IS IT?
The hotel is a 15-minute drive from Sultanahmet (home to the city’s Grand Bazaar and many mosques), and a five-minute walk to Besiktas ferry terminal, which takes you to the Asian side of Istanbul. From Ataturk International airport it’s around a half hour drive.
There are 186 rooms in total including 17 suites. Entry-level rooms are some of the largest introductory rooms in the city, measuring between 45-50 sqm depending on the views, which look out onto either the hotel’s interior atrium, the Bosphorus, or the city. Standard features include a king size bed, 40-inch TV, a work desk and chair, a Nespresso machine, a safe and free wifi. The marble-clad bathroom has a rain shower suspended above a deep, luxurious tub, while across the room a 19-inch TV is embedded in the vanity mirror. Amenities include scales, a hairdryer and L’Occitane toiletries.
I stayed in a Deluxe room with a Bosphorus view, which was decorated with pale blue, turquoise and cream fabrics, white silk wallpaper, hand painted ceramic dishes on the walls, and the charming addition of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, the story in which the fictional utopia of Shangri-La first appeared, on a side table next to a plump armchair.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS
Shang Palace is the jewel of the hotel’s dining offering, claiming to serve “the best dim sum in Istanbul”, and this may well be true. An elegant space dressed up with violet and lemon soft furnishings and gilded wall screens, we enjoyed a delicious Cantonese meal one evening, where close attention was paid to the freshness of ingredients and authenticity of flavour.
We started with a cold appetiser of crispy fried Sichuan-style beef shards which were crunchy and moreish, glazed in honey and peppered with sesame seeds (£10) and served with a sweet and sour sauce, which offset the robust, meaty flavour.
This was followed with the stir-fried scallops and fresh asparagus (£28), which were fresh, succulent and fried delicately with garlic and sesame oil. A bird’s nest-shaped cracker served as an elegant container for the dish, though was soggy and inedible by the time the contents were finished. Service was efficient and our waiter keen to offer food and wine recommendations.
The wine list was comprehensive, with representation from Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, the US, South Africa and Turkey. We went for a local bottle, Sevelin 900 Fumé Blanc Sauvignon Blanc (£39), which was well balanced, crisp and refreshing with the heavier dishes.
Ist Too is the hotel’s all day dining outfit, where a fantastic, international breakfast buffet is served, with particular emphasis on Asian specialties. A lobster brunch is laid on every Sunday from noon till 3pm alongside an array of dishes from the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, Turkey and Japan. The lobby bar offers interesting, if peculiar cocktails in the evenings – I tried one which featured an oyster and a lot of sea salt – alongside live music performances on weekends.
A dedicated space for meetings and events is on the hotel’s basement floor, home to a variety of lavishly appointed rooms that can accommodate between 10 and 1,000 people. The Shangri-La Ballroom, which can hold around the thousand mark, is a spectacular venue measuring 850 sqm, installed with chandeliers and stunning artwork, while the Bosphorus ballroom suits more intimate events with a capacity of 250 people.
On the floor above, guests can indulge in sumptuous spa treatments at the 1,350 sqm Chi spa, which has private hammams that can be used for couples or individual treatments. There is also a 15-metre pool, a children’s pool, a whirlpool, and a gym.
This is a gorgeous property, immaculately designed and with a strong food and beverage offering. Ideally placed on the waterfront, it’s far enough away from the tourist hub of Sultunahmet to be clear of crowds, but the attractions are easily accessed by taxi or Istanbul’s wide-ranging bus and tram network.
Internet rates for an overnight stay in October started from £154 for a Deluxe room.