Lifestyle

Six of the best: Restaurants in emerging Europe

There was a time not so long ago when few people travelled to emerging Europe for the food. Great restaurants were thin on the ground and service was invariably appalling. Over the past decade, all of that has changed. We pick half a dozen fabulous places leading emerging Europe's culinary revolution.
Bina 37. Photo: Bina 37 official Facebook page

Bina 37

Tbilisi, Georgia

Long summer evenings were made to be spent on the rooftop of Bina 37, where the outstanding food is surpassed only by the amazing selection of fine Georgian wines, many made in traditional terracotta jars, qveri, by the gregarious owner Zurab Natroshvili. The sassy staff take great care in paring the right wine with the right food and create an atmosphere more reminiscent of being a guest in a Georgian’s home. And as anyone who has visited the country will know, few nations on earth do hospitality as well as the Georgians. Add in live music, a traditional Georgian menu given a contemporary twist and you have the epitome of a 21st century restaurant. Takes some finding, hidden away as it is on a non-descript side street, but that’s half the point. A wonderful place to contemplate and enjoy the finest things in life.

The Artist. Photo: The Artist official Facebook page

The Artist

Bucharest, Romania

The work of an extraordinarily talented Dutch chef, Paul Oppenkamp, The Artist is exactly what the name suggests: a restaurant where the preparation and presentation of food is raised to an artform. A seasonal menu makes use of the finest ingredients – some of which Oppenkamp now grows in the garden of the sumptuous fin de siècle mansion on Bucharest’s legendary Calea Victoriei that houses the restaurant. The tasting menus, which offer foodies the opportunity to try all of the dishes currently on the menu, are a sensorial exploration of flavour. Oppenkamp’s signature dessert, his sublime cucumber sorbet, is a treat no visitor to the Romanian capital should forego.

Amandus. Photo: Amandus official Facebook page

Amandus

Vilnius, Lithuania

It took a while for the new Baltic cuisine revolution to hit Vilnius, but the wait was more than worthwhile. Amandus is the work of Deivydas Praspaliauskas, regarded for many years now as the best and most adventurous chef in the Baltics. Here he has brought together a savvy young team of likeminded stars-in-the-making who create exquisite, precision-like dishes that are as supremely tasty as they are effortlessly beautiful in design. And for once, vegetarians have not been forgotten by the crew: there is a tasting menu that will suit all palates. Find it on Piles gatve, the oldest and these days most flamboyant street in the city.

Hiša Franko. Photo courtesy Hiša Franko

Hiša Franko

Kobarid, Slovenia

Close to Slovenia’s border with Italy, Hiša Franko is a restaurant quite literally on the cusp. In the kitchen is Ana Ros, Slovenia’s finest chef who prepares dishes made with locally-sourced ingredients, all foraged, farmed or fished specifically for Hiša Franko. The Soča valley in which the restaurant is located is a paradise destination: turquoise wild waters, green natural pools of a warm Nadiža river, almost tropical forests and flowering pastures. Behind the restaurant, there is a huge herb, flower and vegetable garden, and beside it you can hear a lively creek, home to a small family of trout. Hiša Franko’s sommelier is Valter, Ros’s husband, curator of the finest cellar in the country.

Garden. Photo: Garden official Facebook page

Garden

Kraków, Poland

An octopus and saffron risotto is the last thing most visitors will expect to find on the menu of a restaurant in Kraków’s Old Town, but that’s the kind of venue Garden is: full of hidden treasures both on the menu and in the leafy courtyard that gives the place its name. There are no fewer than three great chefs at the controls, Dominik Sas, Tomasz  Turecki and Patryk Potepa, who combine simple yet rich flavours to fabulous effect. The warm, wood-infused interior is a delight and makes eating here a memorable occasion even when poor weather means that the garden it out of action.

Costes. Photo courtesy Costes

Costes

Budapest, Hungary

Ezster Palagyi is one of just four chefs in Hungary to hold a Michelin star, and the only woman. Her unique combination of flavours combines traditional Hungarian food with the elegant techniques of French cuisine to create a fusion rich in both taste and artistry. There is also a playful side to Palagyi’s food, which comes across in almost every dish. The location itself is a gem, where linear, modern design complements the food and wine, itself an attraction: the cellar is perhaps the best in Budapest and features a cracking selection of local and imported grape. Costes, as you would expect, is incredibly popular and reservations are needed well in advance. It’s worth the effort.