In the 19th century, the Bosphorus – which divides Europe and Asia – became a great place to build your palace if your were a relative or favourite of the Ottoman emperor. Only a few of these marble pleasure domes exist today and the neo-baroque Ciragan palace is one of the remaining three. It was designed by the great Armenian architect Nigogayos Balyan and completed by his sons in 1872. This was to be the new home of Sultan Abdul Aziz, the painter-emperor, who lived here until he was deposed in 1876. Monumental gates and a bridge connected the Ciragan to the older Yildiz Palace, where the women of the harem lived.
In the early 20th century the Ciragan was briefly the home of the Turkish Parliament until it burnt down in 1910. It remained a ruin until 1991 when it was rebuilt as Istanbul's premier luxury hotel. Initially, the glitzy interior decor was lambasted locally for making a national monument look too much like an American shopping mall, so it was completely renovated last year and returned to the more sumptuous yet simultaneously understated elegance of an Ottoman palace.
The Ciragan's style deliberately echoes that of the Ottoman Empire. It has three eateries, all facing the Bosphorus, the best of which is Tugra, a splendidly formal restaurant named after a sultan's official calligraphic monogram.
Tugra is one of the best places to dine in Istanbul – a city that takes its food very seriously. The menu specialises in dishes from the imperial court. Chef Ugur Alparslan offers a particularly gorgeous tasting menu, which kicks off in a very Ottoman way with selections of dolma (vine leaves stuffed with seasoned rice, meat or vegetables) followed by lebeniye (sour lentil) soup and borek (steamed filo pastry filled with meat or cheese).
Main courses include wild sea bass kulbasti and centik (lamb) kebab.
For dessert there is semolina halva, a sweet Middle Eastern confection. This is followed by Turkish coffee and a seemingly infinite supply of tiny, sweet pastries including the ubiquitous Turkish delight (lokum), invented by Istanbul cook Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir for Sultan Abdul Hamid in the year 1777.
There aren't many European restaurants from which you can see the shores of Asia, and Tugra is the best of them: its balconies look directly on to the Bosphorus. This narrow channel (only 700-750 metres wide) has a rich history and a very busy present. Pleasure boats, ferries, cargo ships from the Mediterranean and oil tankers from the Black Sea, even the Turkish Navy, pass up and down this waterway in a continual parade.
Diners can just make out the 16th-century Iskele Mosque on Istanbul's Asian side, built by the master architect Sinan. Beyond that stands the crumbling Fortress of Asia, which was built in 1396 for an unsuccessful Ottoman attempt to capture Constantinople.
Arching through the sky is the British-designed Bosphorus Bridge. When it opened in 1973, it was the longest suspension bridge in Europe and Asia. At night the 1,074m span between the two tower gates is illuminated with constantly changing coloured spotlights. The view is at its best at New Year when fireworks erupt from the Asian side to be greeted by watery salvos from the fireboats moored in the Bosphorus.
The tasting menu is good value at 125 lira (£50) per person. Allow 100 lira (£40) for a decent bottle of wine.
Tugra Restaurant, Ciragan Palace Kempinski, Ciragan Caddesi 32, Besiktas, Istanbul, Turkey (00 90 212 326 46 46; ciragan-palace.com). Open daily from 7-11pm.Reuse content