For first time visitors to Georgia, two questions invariably come to mind after a few hours in the country. Why had I not come earlier – and why is this destination not better known? Once you arrive in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, next question is where to head to eat first: the country’s extraordinary tapestry of cuisine and national dishes ensure that you’re not short of options. There’s no escaping the fact that the epic Georgian feast or Supra, the traditional meal, is going to be a consistent highlight. It is a wonderful journey through countless plates that never ceases to amaze with variety and innovation.
So, where to eat in Tbilisi? With a selection of typical dishes and restaurants, here are our tips for discovering the Georgian gastronomy.
At the Tsiskvili restaurant in Tbilisi, huge tables groan under scores of dishes even before diners take their seats. Overlooking the river and serenaded by polyhphonic singers that are the soundtrack to Georgia, the standout dishes include fkhali, a mix of beetroot, walnuts, spices and yoghurt that lies somewhere between a dip and a salad.
Georgian cheeses invariably feature, notably the mozzarella-like sulguni, a white cow’s milk cheese always served fresh on the day it’s made. Cheese again appears at Tsiskvili in the country’s national dish of khatchapuri, a delicious and sinful pizza-like bread that usually features imeruli, a delicious cow’s milk curd white cheese.
One of Tbilisi’s most well-known restaurants is thanks, in part, due to its location. Funicular sits atop Mtatsminda mountain, commanding spectacular views across the domes, minarets and rooves of the city laid out 1000 feet below. Most memorable is their take on chakapuli, a slow-cooked stew of veal with plums and tarragon, a herb which crops up in countless Georgian dishes. Another ubiquitous flavour on Georgian tables is the tart sauce known as Tkemali made from stewed plums, garlic and dill. The rendition at Funicular is especially well-balanced, especially when accompanying the vast array of veal, chicken and more shashlik slowly grilled over charcoal.
A couple of hours drive east from the capital, towards the border with Azerbaijan, sits one of Georgia’s many winemaking regions. Thecountry claims to have been the first to produce wine 8,000 years ago and the elegant Chateau Zegaani have been in business since 1820. Their organic Saperavi grapes form the basis of wines matured both in new oak barrels but also in the unique underground amphora method known as kvevri. Lunch in their restaurant is marked by two highlights, the first ground lamb served like a kofte and dusted in the citrus tang of sumac, the second a simple dessert of sweetened, pickled walnuts served with pappri, a potent but eminently-drinkable type of brandy.
Back in Tbilisi, another restaurant making waves is Barbarestan. The family-owned spot opened 18 months ago with a unique backstory, namely that their entire menu is based on a 1914 cookbook written by a Duchess, Barbar Jordadze, who wanted to chronicle the nation’s dishes. Amidst a décor of mirrors, flowers and birdcages, the menu demonstrates how classical Georgian cooking has truly stood the test of time. A sensational if simple dip of eggplant with garlic, cut through with fresh parsley, hums with the finest quality local produce, while a sour mushroom soup reminds that Georgia uses souring agents like plums in ways that are a revelation – much like the country’s cuisine itself.
D. Aghmashenebeli ave. 132 0112 TbilisiWebsite
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