No Doner Kebab in This Text
The Ukrainian restaurant market has grown from taverns, survived the era of «bilyashi» (type of pastry made from unleavened or yeast dough, filled with minced meat, and fried in oil) and sticky cooperative cafes, and has become a cosmopolitan gastronomy hub. With the presence of foreign tourists, for example, Kyiv can rival London and New York in terms of synthesizing global cuisines into a cohesive restaurant culture, where everyone can find something of their liking.
Interestingly, it is easier to find Asian or Italian restaurants in Ukraine than Ukrainian ones. The desire to integrate into the world, to be part of global processes, has found its place in gastronomy. The burden of Ukraine's difficult Soviet past with closed borders translated into the restaurateurs' and their guests' desire to bring the "foreign" experience home.
The first tourist advantage of Kyiv restaurants is the balance between price and quality. With 30 euros, one can have a decent dinner and a bottle of wine in Kyiv. Breakfast at a nice café will cost around 5-10 euros.
The second advantage lies in the abundance of stylishly designed restaurants and cafes. Architects pour their souls into the restaurant designs because besides the food, they also carry a social mission. People come here to see and be seen.
Among the restaurant highlights, five Ukrainian restaurants and bars have stood out, each earning a spot in the prestigious 50 Best Discovery guide. The two Kyiv restaurants, "Mirali" and "Chef's Table," were joined by cocktail bars "Loggerhead" and "Beatnik," with the top ranking going to "Parovoz Speak Easy."
"Mirali", an exquisite restaurant, is the brainchild of Azerbaijani chef Mirali Dilbazi, who was born and raised in Kyiv. Despite the ongoing challenges of the war, "Mirali" continued working, providing meals to Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers. The restaurant became a symbol of resilience, and its success is a testament to the team's indomitable spirit.
Another story unfolds at "Chef's Table", another elite Kyiv restaurant. Chef and co-founder Volodymyr Yaroslavsky saw the war as a challenge to the existence of fine dining in Ukraine. However, the recognition from 50 Best Discovery was a sign that there is still a place for sophisticated cuisine even during wartime.
The cocktail bars Loggerhead and Beatnik, as well as Parovoz Speak Easy, add a touch of vibrant fun to this mix. Despite the departure of co-owner and head bartender Dima Shovkoplyas from "Parovoz," the bar has maintained its popularity, with "Kyiv Sour" becoming a favorite among visitors. It's a local version of the "Sour" cocktail adapted to the cultural preferences of Kyiv residents.
The Ukrainian restaurant market is not just about food; it represents a rich cultural heritage. As described in detail in the book "Ukraine. Food and History," Ukrainian cuisine was a dynamic fusion of traditions, natural ingredients, and regional peculiarities. It was a gastronomic culture as diverse as it was delicious.
From culinary traditions that have survived to this day to innovative cooking techniques and food preservation methods, Ukrainian cuisine was a celebration of the senses. The book also emphasizes the importance of presentation, showcasing how table settings and decorations contribute to the overall dining experience. The authors tell the story of Ukrainian cuisine, placing it in a cultural context and presenting it as part of Ukraine's intangible cultural heritage. The publication also explores the potential of cultural diplomacy and includes recipes that will make you fall in love with Ukraine.
Therefore, in 2019, a new restaurant in Kyiv made waves and left critics scratching their heads. It combined traditional Ukrainian dishes with a "Michelin-style" presentation and an interior reminiscent of David Lynch and Wes Anderson films. The restaurant, called "100 Years Ago Forward" ("100 Rokiv Tomu Vpered"), stands out with its blend of old-school Ukrainian motifs and contemporary design elements. The menu features modern versions of traditional Ukrainian dishes, such as borscht with foie gras and Kyiv-style chicken with truffles.
The Ukrainian restaurant market is young, but it already boasts some legendary establishments. I'm not talking about "Perepichka" (the fast food establishment that serves only one dish - a hot sausage in yeast dough, deep-fried), as I consider it to be less appealing than a guilty pleasure. I'm referring to the pastries at "Yaroslava" (which has been around since the 1960s), the first Ukrainian pizzeria "Vesuvio" (established in 1992), and relatively new but significant places like the signature restaurant "Under Wonder" (over 10 years old), cozy Spanish eatery "Arbequina", or the only whisky restaurant in Ukraine, "Whisky Corner".
Photo: "100 Years Ago Forward" restaurant in Kyiv, Source: Facebook
What about other cities? In Lviv, visit the five-story bar-restaurant MAD, where you can elevate your alcohol experience with each floor. From beer to potent mixologist cocktails that will plunge you into existential contemplation about life.
The morning after your "dasein" (a term from German philosopher Heidegger) experience at MAD, head to the legendary "Veronika" for breakfast, where after a long wait, you'll enjoy the most satisfying breakfast of your life. For lunch, visit "Black Cat," which may look like a pub but is a full-fledged restaurant serving Ukrainian, French, Spanish, and Italian cuisine.
Odesa, the pearl of the Black Sea, is a melting pot of cultures, a culinary crossroads where Italy meets Israel, the Maghreb, and ancient Greece. And all of this happens under the watchful eye of Odesa's "maman." It's like a gastronomic United Nations, where every cuisine has a seat at the table. Metaphorically speaking, of course, in a delightful sense, not a worrisome one.
The city moves at its own pace, unhurried and relaxed, like a cat stretching in the sun. It's a place where time seems to leisurely stroll along the beach, occasionally pausing to dip its toes in the sea.
And oh, the Odesites, they know how to live! They are the life of the party, always ready to raise a glass and celebrate good times. They have a taste for life and a wallet that's always open, ready to spend on the finer things in life.
In Odesa, people dine at Sava Libkin's restaurants, indulge in fine wine at "Bernardazzi", and experience the typical Odesa charm at "Maman".
In general, this topic could be extended for hundreds of pages.
But I'll abruptly pause here.