Text by Natia Akhalashvili and Tamar Kvinikadze
Call: 557 37 19 70
3 Sanapiro Str., Mtskheta
Although the whole city of Mtskheta is like a museum, Sanapiro Street in this ancient small town is still exceptionally adorable – a best-kept secret of sorts, though tourists never miss it and find it with amazing ease. Just turn toward the main square in front of the school, and that’s it, you’re there on an old narrow Mtskheta-style street, densely populated, with visible spillover traces of so-called Sighnaghization, that is, pretentious façade renovation. Still, the street has kept its authentic character as a neighborhood brimming with life.
Kera occupies a renovated old stone building with a sunroom and lots of modernized traditional Georgian ornaments, including details characteristic of Mtskheta balconies.
It’s a good place to drop in after walking around Mtskheta. It is very different from the other restaurants and cafes lined up on the side of the road to the city and hardly ever serving anything special. Here you can sit outside in the yard with gazeebos, on the terrace and contemplate the Mtkvari River, or inside and, while waiting for your food to arrive, contemplate the many details of the décor and accessories, each telling its own part of the history of Georgian culture.
As a destination, Kera is favored by Tbilisi’s residents as well, many of whom are personally acquainted with the restaurant’s chef, Vakho Babunashvili, a musician and the former bass player for the famous Tbilisi-based band Soft Eject. This is how Vakho sees Kera’s mission: “This is urban Georgian cuisine, a homelike setting and atmosphere. You should feel like you’re visiting our family for dinner, and your hosts are more than happy to serve you. Every person who comes here – at least, that’s been the case so far – has a sense of being home.”
Kera’s menu is not too long, though updated seasonally. And the ajapsandali vegetable stew, one of the quintessential family-dinner dishes, is a perfect hot dish to try in winter season, and so are the chikhirtma soup and chakhokhbili chicken stew, and a mix of fried potatoes and mtsvadi shish-kebob, known in Georgian cuisine as ojakhuri (family-style). A special kind of fried potatoes is served, and bread is baked on the spot. They also carry mitsavashla winter soup and cold salads, with two types of sauces: tkemali and grape sauce.
The first thing that struck me here was the friendly atmosphere and warm hospitality. Local Mtskheta residents love to drop by to share the stories of their hometown over a cup of tea and a piece of crispy apple pie. Below is a link to the restaurant’s bilingual menu.
14 Machabeli Str. Tbilisi, Georgia
Call: 032 299 797 7
Salobie Bia is the first place that comes to mind that even the pickiest Tbilisi gourmands bring up, unconditionally and consistently, every time they get hungry, look for an excuse to throw a culinary party, to bring friends together, or for a date. This restaurant needs no advertising. It’s always packed, frequented by both international visitors and Georgians who may have beans at home, but still stubbornly head to Salobie Bia to have some… beans; those whose taste receptors are genetically predisposed to come alive at the smell and taste of the restaurant’s tomato salad which, the patrons claim, is the best in town. Instead of trying to help you find an unknown eatery, we will only confirm what we have discovered
long ago: it is nearly impossible to find a better place in town that has a modern, elite touch to it and yet is as traditional as they come, with unpretentious but yummy dishes with which the chef strikes a balance between Georgian dishes and modernization.
Since we mentioned the chef, Giorgi Iosava, we might as well add that he introduced his own signature style at Salobie Bia. He always makes his presence known, even when he is not around – looking at the paintings on the walls, you can tell that the chef, besides being a collector of old recipes, is really into the culture and life of Old Tbilisi and relevant antiquities. In a nutshell, Bia is a small museum, so to speak, where Chef Giorgi Iosava’s personality and Tbilisi’s history are interwoven in an experiment creating a lively, curiosity-based atmosphere.
Recently, Salobie Bia made the headlines when it hosted Georgia’s president while, a couple of streets further, a protest rally was in full swing. After the picketers split, the president left the restaurant in the company of bodyguards.
That, however, was just another episode, because the glory of Bia was there before this episode, and will surely carry on into the future.
1 Vasil Petriashvili Str. Wine Factory No. 1
Call: 591 33 22 77
I have special sentimental feelings toward this place too, including good friendship with one of its chefs, Ilia Benashvili, and appreciation of his friendly, honest, and hardworking character – though flavors and service are just as important. Otherwise, I would have never brought up Veriko. But I do bring it up and speak my mind because I really like the restaurant, and I strongly recommend it. When it’s hot out there, you can sit on the veranda or in the yard, and whenever it’s too cold to be outdoors, you can always find shelter in Veriko’s refined dining halls.
The menu is pretty long, with key emphasis on modernized Georgian cuisine, new or well-forgotten dishes like pumpkin pkhali appetizer, a slightly modified version of kharcho soup, vegetarian or meat dishes cooked in ketsi pots, and khachapuri cheese bread, or other baked goodies. Everything is tasty here, including the pastries. Desserts are alternated seasonally. The winter menu has a new member, the Tbilisi-style Napoleon pastry, something certainly worth trying – the beauty of the Napoleon lies in the layers of puff pastry remaining crispy as the soft cream melts in your mouth. The menu also features Medok honey cake, with its flavor bringing back childhood memories.
The wine bar is not overly extensive, though it does display a good selection of organic qvevri wines. Most importantly, the place, be it outdoors or indoors, reenacts how a traditional noble Tbilisi family would host guests sometime in the 19th century, and the spirit of the past pleasantly echoes through Tbilisi’s modern urban hubbub. In a word, Veriko, a restaurant in the good hands of an excellent chef, promises to create the authentic Tbilisi mood through both culinary and interior.
Open from 9 AM to 10 PM
3 I. Mosashvili Street
There are several nice Italian food establishments in Tbilisi. But what makes Mensa special is the approach of doing everything from scratch. They not only know a slew of exquisite pasta recipes, but also keep in mind that timing and sequence are key, from kneading and flattening to slicing, drying, and rolling… There are several other unspoken rules, such as peace and quiet, because dough detests noise, hubbub, and haste… it loves good weather which makes it silkier and softer. Dough can accumulate the energy invested into it. That is why love is all that matters!
Mensa’s senior manager Tina Osepashvili learned all this from a master chef in Bologna, back when they joined forces to make ravioli stuffed with ricotta in his kitchen. Tina has imported Italian recipes, techniques, and commitment, which is why Mensa is one of the most Italian restaurants in Tbilisi. Of all the Italian restaurants in town, Mensa serves the most Italian homemade pasta, ravioli, tortellini, and so on. You can also take out pesto and pate, and serve a genuine Italian dinner at home!
And what makes this experience most pleasant is that Mensa’s Italian workday starts at 9 AM. Besides excellent espresso and other types of coffee, you can also savor authentic Italian cannoli.