Time, said the gal, to hit a big city – fine, Bodrum is sizeable in summer but rest of the year it is a mere village. Istanbul, on the other hand, has over 14 million year-round, including the European and Asian sides. Wake up, in Raffles Istanbul Zorlu Center, one year old this very week, and you are right in the middle of a very modern mixed-use, which even has a metro station, Gayrettepe. There are offices, and residences, and a shopping plaza, set around a gorgeous garden, that includes every top brand imaginable, including Fauchon and Jamie Oliver, and Mont Blanc and the Turkish equivalent of Harrods, Beyman. From the balcony of the 180-room’s 1512 corner Urban Suite, you look across at other buildings, and down to what looks like a massive floating carpet of real grass, atop offices.
This is quite something, this hotel, Come in through its main, double-door entrance and your eye looks about 100 yards ahead to a massive, like 15-feet high, collage of romantic thoughts about Dolmabahçe Palace, since 1856, on and off, the main administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire. As you look at this collage, done by digitally printing on lucite, your eye is also drawn to what looks like two decorative black-water pools, as if flanking the art work, but in fact these are dry podia, just black shiny marble. It is all sumptuous but could not be called over the top or glitzy, as some other places in Turkey can be. Flower displays are elegant, and female staff glide around in soft pink uniforms.
There are several sculptures in the lobby, too, and Tarek Mourad, whom I had first met in Baku, bounded up enthusiastically when I suggested a photo. We then, together, bounded up 46 stone steps leading from the lobby to Arola, overseen by Spain’s answer to Nobu, Sergi Arola, who always stays at the original Raffles when he is in Singapore. Tarek Mourad just loves Arola food, and fortunately, tonight, dishes start coming, and keep coming. We make our own bruschetta, and among about a dozen tapas a highlight is bocata de calamares, one-bite black-ink-wafer sandwiches filled with deep-fried squid with lemon compote. Eventually we proceed to both grilled wild seabass, two fingers of fish on a big white rock, and then, believe it or not, grilled salt-coated lamb, two fortunately-miniscule cutlets on a metal heat pad.
We must, say the enthusiastic service, have fruit salad, an artwork that is then drowned in dry ice. I take photos while my passionate dinner date is determined not to waste a thing. Fortunately the gym here is 24/7, and I can get to it early in the morning. I am then first to breakfast, where I should have had the signature Raffles omelette, made with cornflour and then decorated with herbs and a side salad. I look across a grand piano at the wall frieze above the hot buffet station – it has an LED display of black and white dancing shapes. This really is a memorable new-wave luxury hotel, and now I must do my duty, and check out the complex’s ten-screen cinema and two big event spaces and just some of its shops. Shall I start with Bvlgari, Burberry, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton?