Arriving two hours late on the overnight sleeper from Istanbul, after five separate stops for checks by Turkish then Bulgarian border police in the middle of the night, it was bliss to find this cafe. With its worn squashy leather sofas surrounded by a sculpture garden, and a warm unhurried atmosphere, it provided the best hot chocolate I have ever had - pure, smooth, rich, dark nectar which lifted the spirts on a cold, grey October day. The art gallery was not very memorable, the hot chocolate was.
A nice restaurant in the heart of Sofia, very close to the main landscapes. It is interesting with the ancient Roman wall passing through the restaurant and also with the nice paintings (the restaurant has expositions of Bulgarian artists). The food and the wines are very good, the service is quite attentive. They have also a nice bar to continue the evening ...
17 Al. Stamboliyski Blvd
+359 980 74 77
Google map: bit.ly/rU5YdS
A group of friends and I decided this June to take a trip to Sofia, probably one of the best decisions of the year.
Pri Yafata is a traditional Bulgarian restaurant, complete with live music, decoration and a vast menu. The food is also very reasonably priced.
This place is also the top recommendation by Lonely Planet and quite rightly so! If you're in Sofia, it's certainly worth a visit.
East to find, just off of the Blvd Vitosha and a short walk east of Makedonia Square. The Lonely Planet guide book gives the best directions as do most hostels and hotels who will no doubt have heard of it!
An Armenian restaurant. The name means "Come, Come". There are two such, and we ate in the ul Dobrudzha branch. Small rooms in what feels like a private house, so a delightfully intimate experience.
The food was delicious, although the service somewhat erratic. Excellent wines - we had the Tcherga white and red, both superb. No holds barred, our bill was about 60 Leva each, but one need not be so extravagant. A very good evening out, if you don't mind it being leisurely.
Booking a must - on a midweek night we couldn't get a table at the other branch, and ours was full.
ul Dobroudzha 10
02 989 33 83
ul Sheinovo 18
02 946 17 35
Where to start? This is a little, six-table, tucked-away Italian restaurant run by patron/chef Emil, a Bulgarian who spent 17 years in Italy.
The night four of us went it was empty (Sofia natives disappear in August). No menu, we willingly went along with whatever Emil proposed. After bruschetta, wonderful antipasti, then a ravioli (home made, of course) of spinach and ricotta with a gentle creamed tomato sauce with shrimps and courgettes. Each flavour given its proper due.
Then two of us shared a salt-baked fish, two shared a fillet steak with fresh peppercorns. Although we had no room for more, Emil suggested we share a tiramisu and a torta ricotta. How can I ever eat another tiramisu, now that I know how it can be? Both desserts made for the Gods. Limoncello on the house.
Only Italian wines here, so perhaps wine is a little more expensive than elsewhere. Each dish simple, each element a perfection of taste and texture, cooked with passion. What more could one want? This was a meal I will never forget. For such a memory, we spent 60 Leva each, about €30. Booking is essential. (I know, it was empty the night we went, but that was chance!)
ulitsa Lavele 11 - entrance in ul Lom
02 986 08 54
(between bul Todor Aleksandrov and bul. Aleksanser Stambolski)
open 11.30 - midnight
There are Irish pubs in the most unlikely corners of the world - I watched the Rugby World Cup final in one such in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
There are three in Sofia. Murphy's is typical of the breed, but has something extra - it is immaculately run by charming staff. On a crowded big match day the empty glasses were immediately removed, as were the used ashtrays.
The bar food (onion rings, chicken wings, chips) crispy and grease-free. There is a wider menu of comfort food such as shepherd's pie. The full glasses quickly arrived, with a smile. One large screen and several smaller ones make sure everyone has a view of the sporting action.
A credit to the genre, and I recommend it highly.
ul Kurnigradska 6
tel 02 980 28 70
Tempted by a guide saying this was "the best pasta in Sofia" we went to this Italian restaurant in a smart residential suburb.
In terms of decor and general ambience this is a stylish and elegant (two words not usually associated with Sofia) restaurant that would not look out of place in Beverly Hills or Belgravia.
Sadly, the food was less imaginative and not up to the cooking standards of the amazing cheap'n'cheerful Double Espresso in Balham. Spaghetti alio olio, my test for an Italian kitchen, had no evidence of garlic. Penne Arrabiata bland. At the upper end of prices by local standards. Sorry. Go for a stylish meeting or a drink - forget the food.
ul Atanas Dalchev 6 Sofia 1113
tel: 02 970 01 28
A genuine French restaurant, French chef/owner and Bulgarian wife make it welcoming and familial.
The food is superb from the relatively small seasonal menu. Warm fig salad, duck with honey and balsamic vinegar, and desserts to die for, all make this a-little-above-average-priced restaurant worth every Lev.
Closed Sundays and in August (well, it is French!)
Open 12 - 10pm weekdays, 6pm-10pm Saturdays.
ul Tsar Simeon 78
(about four blocks north of pl Nezavismost)
tel 02 983 14 17 or 0887 523 376
Opened in 1926, timber beamed and clad, a large restaurant with many covers, but with several spaces inside and out, so that everywhere seems reasonably intimate. Tree shaded courtyards.
Traditional Bulgarian food of the highest quality - and huge portions! Plenty for vegetarians, and a meat-eaters heaven. My mixed grill was one of the best I have ever eaten. The large menu and extensive wine list are very reasonable. On a Monday evening, the restaurant was completely full, which would indicate essential booking. Highly recommended. Folk music on weekend evenings, which I haven't experienced.
ul Elin Pelin 1
tel: 02 866 50 53
open 12 noon - 1am
Apparently there are 161 monasteries in Bulgaria, and this restaurant has 161 dishes on the menu taken from them, made an even more lengthy read with its anecdotes, proverbs and cooking tips.
The traditional food is superb, with many dishes not usually found even in other "traditional" menus. An extensive wine list, a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere make this an ideal place to go for a leisurely meal. Like most restaurants in Sofia, it is open all day, in this case from 11am-2am.
In the heat, the courtyard is a delight, with trees and a water mist system that keeps it wonderfully cool. Be warned that in this and most restaurants in Bulgaria, the portions are more than generous - sharing is fun! Booking absolutely essential.
Ed's note: see updates by same author.
ul. Han Asparouh 67
tel 02 980 38 83
Off 6 Septemvri Str, one block from Patriarh Evtimrii Bld.
Plovdiv, 120km out of Sofia - on the airport side, is the place to go to experience the "true" Bulgaria. Or should that be Macedonia? The people here will talk to you for hours about their ancestry, so you may end up slightly confused!
However, confusion is all part of the fun – for example when your table begins to fill up with a lot of the world’s most tantalizing white wines, you are, of course, at first confused at why the Bulgarians export such cheap rubbish while keeping these liquid treasures for themselves, and when lots more start to arrive, you reach the section in your guidebook which reminds you that nodding horizontally is affirmative, so each time you thought you were saying “no”, it was “yes” - you’ll work it out eventually!
So why else Plovdiv?
In the first instance it’s not Sofia – which most locals will lecture you about; “Sofiacentrismus” is a political disease which has caught on since the fall of communism, giving rise to a huge hate and jealousy of the capital which seems is the magnet for FDI, tourism, etc as the government seems to ignore all other areas of the country (apart from the Black Sea resorts).
Secondly, you will get to Plovdiv in a luxury hire car for about $35 per day, faster and more comfortable than to anywhere in the traffic-snarled smog of Sofia, via a rolling carpet of comfortable uncrowded motorway. That should take about 1 hour – no more no less, as speed cops are everywhere pulling the faster cars, but also the slower ones!
Thirdly – it’s cheap! Amazingly cheap! One “Lev” is 50 euro cents, so it’s easy to calculate exchange rates on the go, but when you eat and drink like Donald Trump, do lots of tipping, and count in the accidentally-ordered extras from the nodding errors, and find yourself paying a bill of say 15 LEV (EUR 7.50), your mind is going to reevaluate exactly why you do that commute every day back home!
Fourthly, the people are wonderful, happy and very proficient in English! There is no misery here, so you don’t have to feel like Kofi Annan listening to woes of hard lives, gypsy issues, “fall of the wall”, etc; they are happy – as have been the people here for 3000 years, as would you if you lived in this little part of heaven with beautiful weather all year around, fresh produce abundant in fields and gardens, etc.
Fifthly, the standards here will shock you! As in they are so high! Your ROI brain will wonder how every restaurant and bar can be more stylish than any in Manhattan, and the service more friendly (genuinely as tipping doesn’t feature) and professional at these prices. It’s like Terence Conran was let loose here with one of the Roux brothers as part of a community service operation.
Sixth! There are lots more reasons to visit Plovdiv, lots more reasons to rush there before the Eurocrats get there to impose lots of regulations, and we hope to continue - especially when we start to talk about skiing opportunities here! Meanwhile check the links!
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