07 Jan Kiev – best places to eat/drink!
When you tell people you’re going on holiday to Ukraine, they tend to look very quizzical. We like an unusual holiday! Yet as is often the case, once you start getting involved all sorts of exciting discoveries come heading your way. Mr Munch and I were in Kiev for five days over New Year. Temperatures hovered just below zero giving us some festive winter snow! This will be a two part series – in this post I’ll be sharing where we ate, a happy mixture of winging it and booking in advance, as well as markets and places to buy foodie presents. Next week I’ll talk about sightseeing and our tour to Chernobyl! Make sure to keep an eye out for that 🙂
Let’s start with lunch. On the fly we found Puzata Hata (Puzata Hut) which is a chain of restaurants providing Ukrainian cuisine at a cheap price. It’s canteen style – you get a tray and go around different stations picking up soups, salads, grilled fish and meat, dumplings and desserts. We both chose meat solyanka, a tomato based soup containing chunks of beef, pork, chicken fillet, ham, sausages, vegetables, olives and thin lemon slices. The olives and lemon really made it special, adding gentle acidity to the soup. Other dishes we chose were a pork chop with apples and red berries, beetroot salad dressed in olive oil, a pasta salad and some cheesy garlic bread. Puzata Hata is a great place for lunch and the wide choice means you’ll be sure to find something to hit the spot.
Continuing on the national food theme is Kanapa, winner of the 2016 “Best Ukrainian Restaurant” as well as Kyiv Tourism Awards for their contemporary take on Ukrainian cuisine. Located down the road from the Fabergé egg-like St Andrew’s Church, Kanapa is housed in a preserved nineteenth century wooden building. It has chalet vibes with dark timber surrounding the central stone hall. We were seated up in the balcony, away from the hubbub but with a great view both of other people’s food and into the kitchen’s pass area. Our first impressions weren’t great – we were met by an extremely grumpy lady who, after we’d put our coats in the cloakroom, completely forgot who we were thirty seconds later! Seeing as Mr Munch was possibly the tallest person in Kiev and I was one of the few orientals around, you’d think we’d be a bit more memorable 😀 Neither was our waiter much better. He might as well have been a statue, such was his charisma, plus he served later tables before us even though he knew we had been waiting longer. This surly pair were almost enough to make us get up and leave but the food had such a high reputation that we decided to stick it out. I could see other English speaking tables having a whale of a time with their waiters so don’t let this put you off! Turns out the food was beyond expectation. My main was veal rib with sherry blueberry sauce and pea puree. At first you think ‘one rib?! That’s not enough!’ but in fact it was perfect, there was a surprising amount of meat. It was very tender and worked beautifully with the berries and freshness from the peas. Our other main was baked lamb neck with aubergine paste. The lamb was so soft and falling off the bone with zero effort required. As sides we’d ordered vegetables grilled over coals and fried potatoes with onion and mushrooms, a classic combination done with good seasoning, just on the right side of salty. For drinks we decided to try a Ukrainian red Pinot Noir from Prince Trubetskoy Winery. This is a dry wine, quite acidic which made my palette feel rather spicy. Across the board eating is cheap in Kiev – the wine was 130₴ a glass (£3.86) and our food total was around £28 for two people. Not a bad price for the best Ukrainian restaurant in Kiev! I’d say the veal was one of my top dishes of the trip not only because it was delicious, but also for its inventiveness in smartening up traditional food for a restaurant setting.
Kiev is also home to some fantastic Georgian restaurants. Mr Munch did his research and had a shortlist of three, the first of which we found by accident on our arrival day. We were starving by the time we found Chachapuri as we’d skipped proper lunch due to travel times. The restaurant was pretty busy but they had a table for two further back in their warren of rooms. The waiter brought us a little freebie of beetroot spread on mini toasts alongside an unnamed, very strong spirit. That woke us up for sure! I had chicken chakhokhbili, chicken legs stewed with fresh tomatoes sauce, spices and aromatic garden herbs. The savoury nature of the tomato sauce was extremely moreish. This is one I’m going to try and recreate at home! Mr Munch had lamb chakapuli, stewed lamb with garlic, onion and fresh garden herbs (tarragon, coriander, sweet basil and dill). The use of dill in Georgian food is sublime, I feel like it’s such an underrated herb in British cuisine. This set a great precedent for the other two Georgian places on our list.
Shoti was another big name restaurant we were excited to try. Here Georgian food is served in a fine dining situation. Most of Kiev’s architecture is in a Soviet style, either very ornate but now with a faded, dishevelled glamour or utilitarian like many of the residential blocks further out of the city. This means that when you walk into Shoti, the sleek modern design seems even more sleek and modern! It feels like an interior you might find in any cosmopolitan city like London. In the centre of the restaurant is a large dining table flanked on one side by an open fireplace, on the other by a khachapuri oven (more of that later!). We were up on the elegant mezzanine level overlooking this, admiring such a glamorous setting. However this all ended rather abruptly by the fire alarm going off and being plunged into darkness. They continued to serve what had already been cooked but the kitchen wasn’t able to function so we ended up having to leave! This is high up on the priority list whenever we next visit Kiev as the menu looked fantastic and Shoti has a high reputation as being one of the best Georgian restaurants in Kiev. If you’ve been and made it to the actual eating part, let me know!
This was when Mama Manana came to the rescue! We’d already eaten here on day two and had an excellent meal so we decided to return. Part of our reasoning was that they’re so easy to contact via facebook messenger. This is how we made our initial booking (and got sent a kissy emoji as a reply 😘) and they are super quick to respond, within minutes. In our hour of need at Shoti we messaged them and they said sure, we’ll save you a table no problem! Absolute heroes! I think the reason they’re so fast is that the front of house lady who deals with bookings is in charge of the restaurant’s facebook correspondence too. They don’t have an email so you can only book by calling or by facebook. It’s pretty clever really and worked in our favour! Now to the food. Everyone is welcomed with a free appetiser of bread and cucumber sticks with five dips – green chillies, a sweet tomato sauce, beetroot, cream cheese and pink salt with herbs. The chillies were super hot the first time, second visit not so much – it must depend on the chillies that day. My favourite was the tomato dip but they were all sensational. You get to keep them too to go with your mains. I mentioned khachapuri earlier. This is a traditional Georgian bread filled with cheese, cooked in an oven. You can get many different versions but the type we tried was Adjarian Khachapuri. The bread is made into a boat shape with the melted suluguni cheese, imereti cheese and raw egg nestled in the hollow in the middle. The waitress brought it to us like this and proceeded to whip the egg and cheese together at the table, it was so fun! Stringy melty cheesy goodness! The idea is you tear of bits of bread from the edges and dip it into the gooey mixture. It’s so satisfying and ridiculously delicious. If you try this I suggest sharing one as a starter as it could weigh your stomach down in a heavy, though happy, doughy lump 😀 Over the two meals I sampled the mutton kebab and the beef and eggplant kebab. Both were incredibly juicy and grilled to perfection. Kebabs are served with thin slivers of raw onion and a generous sprinkle of oregano, dill and parsley. I chose rice with vegetables as my carb to go alongside this, again with herbs surrounding it. Salads can be horrendously dull but Mama Manana’s Georgian salad was spectacular. First of all, the cucumbers are not the same as cucumbers we get in the UK and even Western Europe generally. They’re firmer, less watery and actually taste good! Large chunky slices of these and tomatoes were mixed with onion and parsley before being drizzled with sunflower oil. You can also try their walnut dressing which is more traditional. The final main we tried was the pork chanakhi – stewed pork with potatoes, aubergines and bell peppers in a tomato sauce spiced with adjika (hot peppery dip) and coriander.
Our big discovery was Georgian wines. I’ve since read a little about them in Olia Hercules’ booked Kaukasis (excellent Christmas present from Mr Munch). The Georgians claim to have invented winemaking, it’s in their blood. Their methods are the traditional, non-intensive ways which are now experiencing a welcome comeback. They are said to be especially good paired with food and I would agree a hundred percent! We tried a variety from dry to semi sweet and they all have a wonderful fruity intensity, whether it’s raisins or lychees or whatever your nose tells you. The first one we tried was at Chachapuri, a dry red called Напареули (pronounced Napareuli). At Mama Manana we tried Banovani Saperavi Caberne (semi sweet) and Kisishevi Saperavi (dry). If anyone knows where to find Georgian wines which ship to the UK please leave me a comment! In the meantime I believe you can find some to try yourself in Ottolenghi restaurants.
While we’re on the topic of drinks, let me take you to Whisky Corner! It’s a restaurant as well as a bar but the food is British themed so not high on our must try list. Should you fancy a taste of home it does look pretty good though. They also do oysters and ‘special whisky hors d’oeuvres’ which is a menu of starters with recommended whisky pairings. Nice idea! We were here for the bar which is well stocked. They have over 780 types of whiskies and the menu is pleasingly arranged twice, first alphabetically, then by country. Our bartender was very knowledgable and friendly, he was also a dead-ringer for Aljaž from Strictly. Mr Munch sampled an 18 year Glenlivet followed by a Lagavulin from 1998. Both were served in fine looking Whisky Corner glasses. I had a gin cocktail called Charlie Chaplin which was wonderfully tart from fresh lemon juice.
Now onto food as gifts! We came back with a whole lot of chocolate – totally uncalled for as I made chocolates for Christmas presents this year, but when in Kiev… Lviv Handmade Chocolate is a chocaholic’s paradise. The aroma of cocoa in the air is a thing of beauty. We’d heard about their legendary hot chocolate so took a seat in their café – what arrived was literally a cup of pure melted chocolate! We both chose dark but you can have dark, milk or white and choose various toppings. I went for raisins and coconut. This was our lunch that day, it was so rich and thick and the most chocolatey experience I think I’ll ever have 😀 Whilst drinking this we were sat directly in front of a screen showing how they make their chocolates. If that’s not bait I don’t know what is. Needless to say we bought some goodies to take home. My kryptonite is their dark chocolate coated cherries – I finished my first tube during the trip and had to buy a bigger size to bring back! I’m actually eating some whilst writing this…In terms of chocolate bars, Lviv provide a wide selection including unusual flavours such as chilli and cinnamon, crystallised ginger and ‘smoke flavour’. This is brilliant, it taste like a chocolate version of the smell of whisky. Genius!
Another Ukrainian chocolate shop is Roshen. They also do confectionery such as jelly sweets, caramel, toffee, biscuits, wafers and marshmallow. A one stop shop! There are a few Roshens dotted around the city. What they all have in common is a marvellously sparkly window display which comes on in the evenings, you can spot it miles away. We didn’t go too crazy in here as we’d already got a ton from Lviv. One which I’ve already finished and would repurchase instantly is the dark bubble chocolate – like a dark chocolate Aero.
A highlight of holidays for me is going to food halls and markets. Kiev didn’t disappoint in this area! Le Silpo is a high end food hall in the basement of designer department store Mandarin Maison. I’d compare it to Selfridges’ food hall. It’s a great place to browse – there are long aisles full of meats, cheeses, pickled goods, cakes and all sorts. The deli section is handy for getting boxed lunches to take away, for example on a day trip to Chernobyl 🙂 I got an amazing roasted veggie box with sesame coated cod for less than £5!
Bessarabsky Market is a treasure trove hidden away in the centre of a large round building down the road from Le Silpo. You’ll find stalls manned by grannies selling fresh cheese, more pickles than you’ve ever seen in your life, lots of dried fish and caviar. The stalls follow the building’s circular shape in layers. On the outer circle are the butchers and animal products, on the inner are pyramids of fruit and veg. Some also sell dried fruits, spices and nuts. It’s a feast for the eyes and stomach, you’ll want samples of everything!
This is probably my most comprehensive post to date, but we had so many great food moments in Kiev, it would be rude not to include them all! If you’re wondering about price, it’s so reasonable. Most dinners including a glass of wine each cost around £20 for two people. What a bargain for such good meals! On the whole the service was excellent, particularly in the Georgian restaurants. They were so welcoming and warm. I hope this encourages you to travel to Kiev yourself! Look out for next week’s post on places we visited, monuments we saw and a look inside some of the most ornate and golden churches I’ve ever been in.
Please give this post a thumbs up if you enjoyed it and check out my instagram for more travel and food insights. Thanks and see you next week!