MY OWN CHOICE: HAPPY EATING

by Jeanette Visser

Sofia is a diner's delight, whether it is a light lunch or a more substantial meal

Jeanette Visser

Lunching, dining out or having coffee in Sofia is an absolute thrill and challenges your decisions due to the multitude of restaurants available. I never thought, when coming here, that I would be confronted by such a variety of places, which seem to multiply by the month.

Having a cappuccino at Costas in the City Centre Sofia mall is a special treat - especially if you like fresh muffins. A variety of coffees are served as well as freshly baked cakes. The right way to end your visit to the mall!

The freshly baked French croissants, not to mention the variety of imported cheeses, patés, hams and other delicacies, available at Dar ot Bogovete (Gift from the Gods) should not be missed. An espresso and croissant while pondering the choice of cheeses, makes this my favourite delicatessen in Sofia, (Bellisimo Business Centre, 102 Bulgaria Blvd, phone: 854 8686/7, 17 Cherni Vruh Blvd, phone: 866 2004). Their wonderful hampers make a welcome gift for that special friend and it is the ideal shop to buy those nice specialities you sometimes need for that important occasion when time is running short. Their name says it all.

My first dinner after arriving in Sofia was in the old Krim Restaurant, (17 Slavyanska St, phone: 988 6950/51), which has been undergoing a major renovation since that first evening nearly four years ago. The lamb which was served during the Easter period of that year was unforgettable, especially as I grew up on a sheep farm far away in the Freestate province of South Africa. It was later that I learned about lamb only being served during the Orthodox Easter period. Situated in a beautiful, renovated building resembling a distinguished house, it is an oasis in this lovely part of the city, equally pleasant in summer and in winter. The menu now offers a variety of delicious dishes to suit all palates as they have done away with the heavier dishes of that first evening.

A little jewel in the centre of Sofia is definitely L'Etranger, (78 Tsar Simeon St, phone: 983 1417). This French restaurant also underwent a major renovation and their carefully selected menu will definitely suit all tastes.

Of course you cannot mention restaurants without including an Italian one. The new Osteria di Sofia, (32 Hristo Belchev St, phone: 987 0999), is one of those that beg you to return time and again. With a very capable chef, who likes to please; a minimalist interior and friendly staff, it is surely a restaurant to be recommended. The chef, when requested, will willingly put together a complete meal without you even having to glance at the menu. Their anti-pasta, soups, pizzas, risottos and so on are well worth trying.

What is more comforting in summer than a filling bowl of soup which I recommend at Pri Latsi, a small Hungarian restaurant, (18 Oborishte St, phone: 846 8687). This small and homely restaurant is very cosy and gives the feeling of being in your own comfort zone. There are only a few tables, so in order not to be disappointed it is advisable to make a reservation.

Talking about small and intimate restaurants I must recommend Vishnite Club-Restaurant, (45 Hristo Smirnenski Blvd, phone: 963 4984). A real gem with only three tables, excellent wines and superb food, this is another must to visit.

Coming from a country with a large Indian community and therefore excellent Indian restaurants I must mention the Ramayana, (5 Arsenalski Blvd, phone: 963 0866). They are open for lunch and dinner and have an excellent take-away menu as well. The variety of North Indian food on offer is extensive and their chapattis must be among the best there are.

In Boyana you should not miss the Armenian Restaurant, (116 Pushkin Blvd, phone: 857 5180, 857 5190). In summer lunch is served around a lovely swimming pool. The salads are highly recommended. A huge variety of dishes being a combination of Armenian, Bulgarian and Lebanese are offered. Portions are fairly large so bear that in mind when ordering. This restaurant offers great value for money.

I also have to mention Grozd (Bunch of Grapes), (21 Osvoboditel Blvd, phone: 944 3915). This restaurant offers a wonderful view of the Russian monument and their menu has something for all tastes. I could go on and on which shows that I have really been impressed with the number and variety of restaurants here.

The Bulgarian custom of starting a meal with a fresh salad and rakiya followed by one of their excellent wines contributes, of course, to the spirit of togetherness. A custom which will always bring back good memories.

Sofia is a diner's delight, whether it is a light lunch or a more substantial meal. The choice is there. The problem you encounter, and it is a pleasant problem, is where to go next. Happy eating!

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