FINE DINING: CHECKPOINT CHARLY
Sofia cult classic stays open come rain or shine
As even the most enthusiastic diners in Sofia have discovered, bad restaurants in the capital outnumber good ones. Happily, for more than 15 years now there has been a place in central Sofia where lovers of good food and proper service can feel well – and pampered.
Checkpoint Charly (spelled with an "y" rather than the more traditional "ie") has a bold name and an interior to match. Just like the Cold War Berlin checkpoint it is named after, the restaurant is divided into a "Communist" and a "free" section. Photocopied front-pages of Communist-era newspapers serve for table-mats in the Soviet-controlled part of the restaurant. Photos of the politicians who brought the end of the USSR adorn the walls of the free part. If you are not happy with watching Margaret Thatcher's face while munching on your lamb or chickpea croquettes, do not worry. You will hardly notice her among the autographs penned on the walls by visiting dignitaries. One of them was Umberto Eco.
Checkpoint Charly's summer garden is another universe. Located in the backyard of the house of notorious 19th century writer Ivan Vazov, with its old china and vintage embroidered tablecloths it is a reminder of pre-Cold War Bulgaria.
In a country where people took on waitressing while searching for something better, the quality of service is unpredictable. Not at the Checkpoint Charly. Come often and stay long enough, and you will see the same faces over and over. They will remember you, too, alongside all of your little quirks, but without being obsequious.
Now for the food. The tried and trusted menu at the Checkpoint Charly has barely changed through the years. It is a nice combination of Bulgarian classics, such as Shopska salad, sauerkraut sarmi and some kebapcheta and meatballs, plus dishes that you can find all over the world, from hummus and prawns salad to schnitzel, salmon and risotto. The lunch menu is more variable, and equally good.
All of these are made to perfection, and gently balance between tradition and cuisine nouvelle. The portions will never let you crave for anything else.
To make things better, food at the Checkpoint Charly is excellent value for money.
For years, the people who frequent Checkpoint Charly have been a crowd of intellectuals, upper middle-class people and the artist elite. They are still here, but now they are sometimes lost in the growing number of foreign visitors.
Yet, the Checkpoint Charly perseveres and will be happy to serve you a delicious tomato and buffalo cheese salad with a glass of cold rakiya, a juicy duck breast with pears with some great Bulgarian wine, and an excellent chocolate soufflé, if you still have space for it.
Just book in advance. It tends to get crowded in the evenings, even on weekdays.
Checkpoint Charly is at 12 Ivan Vazov St, book on 0886 577 342 or 02 988 03 70.
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