Snowy cityscape, freezing pavements – Bulgaria's capital is not at its best during the winter. When you're only concerned with finding the shortest and fastest route between two shelters, your desire to stroll leisurely about is minimal. The cold weather drives people inside, but you don't have to stay in the solitude of your home when there is fun to be had. Keep up your social life in the Bulgarian style – with regular café visits and dinners out with friends. There is a side benefit to this as well: you won't have to cook.
Sofia offers a lot in terms of choice, but a combination of winter-friendly interior and delicious food is rare enough to be appreciated. Some establishments boast an open wood fire that is so much a part of the winter picture – you can find these most often in traditional Bulgarian restaurants. For those who like sophistication, the city can provide that as well. It's advisable to book a table as early as possible, because the popular places fill up quickly when it's cold.
Many places have foreign cuisine on the menu, from the ubiquitous Chinese through to the more high-end Japanese, by way of Mexico, Lebanon and Morocco. Turkish and Greek restaurants are easy to come by, but don't be fooled – many of them simply imitate the most popular dishes of Bulgaria's neighbouring countries. Carefully check out the menu, the chef and the ingredients to be sure of getting the real deal.
If you have a preference for the stylish, check out Aromat, which offers the casual interior of a French bistro and gourmet cuisine. It is only 10 minutes from the centre of Sofia, but you can try dishes from all over the world – choose a Latin American starter, French seafood soup and Thai prawns, combined with a great wine list from Bulgaria, France and the United States. Everything is cooked with fresh ingredients and ingenuity to create a true fusion menu.
There is hardly anything more satisfying than being inside in the warmth and looking out at the scarf-wrapped people hurrying down the street. When you want to indulge that part of yourself, go to the Park Bar and sit by the big windows. The classy interior goes hand-in-hand with the Mediterranean dishes, and the drinks match up to the atmosphere in their creativity. The Park Bar is the kind of place you can go to at any time – whether to watch the snowflakes fall over the Doctors' Garden during the day, hot coffee in hand, or to unwind with company around a dinner table.
When the winter weather takes a turn for the worse, the last thing you want to do is poke your nose out into the cold. Alaska restaurant has an ingenious answer to this: they provide transport from your own door and back again, at their own expense. After you book a table, you are delivered straight to the restaurant and its excellent salmon menu and well-rounded wine list. The peaceful winter surrounds of Dragalevtsi, where Alaska is located, means you get to enjoy the winter landscape at the foot of Vitosha as well.
If you feel like pizza, check out Escada. The sign may not be conspicuous, but you will easily find it at the corner of Patriarh Evtimiy Blvd and Vitosha Blvd. The stairs will take you to one of the best places for Italian cuisine in the city. Escada started out as a pizzeria with 40 seats, but nowadays it is a restaurant seating 120 people, with a garden all year round, a wood oven and a charcoal barbecue. Among the favourites at Escada are healthy pizzas with a crust made from wholemeal dough.
Another good option is the O!Shipka chain. It started as a 24-hour pizzeria and bar on Shipka St, but quickly spread to four other regions of the city, as its popularity grew. The fresh outlook of the chain is expressed in the menu, which is full of delicious pizzas and quirky dishes mainly from Mediterranean cuisine, but with some twists like parsley balls and zucchini boats with smoked chicken. The variety of beers match the dishes perfectly, the prices are suitable for everyone, and you can also get your favourites delivered to your home.
The place to find good pasta is a specialised restaurant like Pastorant, known for its excellent recipes for fusilli, rigatoni, tagliatelle and the always-popular spaghetti. The well-selected menu also features Italian and Mediterranean salads and meat dishes. The fresh interior makes Pastorant your preferred destination for lunch and dinner with friends or colleagues, and the wine list, with representatives from Italy, Chile, Australia and New Zealand, compounds the pleasure.
Great food should be showcased in a suitable environment – the owners of Nino know this very well. Th e airy interior of the main hall and the luxurious parlour emanate a warmth that contrasts with the cold night outside. But the real star here is the menu, with its enormous variety of meat, fish and vegetable dishes, influenced by French and Italian cuisine. It caters for both adventure-seekers and traditionalists with dishes such as tiger prawns with spinach and coconut milk, goose liver with orange and octopus salad on zucchini canapé. The extensive wine list from all the major wine-producing countries complements the menu, and you can also arrange outside catering from the restaurant.
For an everyday treat, why not pick Parter? The charming wooden furniture and the simple interior suggest a casual meeting with friends or a meal during a busy day. The menu at Parter is not to be taken lightly though – the ciabatta or whole grain bread is baked on the spot and features in the fresh sandwiches. The healthy options include salads, soups and the dessert of the day. Many of the cocktail classics are available, starting with the margarita. Connoisseurs of fine wine will appreciate the list and will gladly bring friends here, because good things are made to be shared.
To keep your winter mood up, choose a place like Funky Kitchen – with good music, tasty and creative dishes, and interior that catches your attention. The offers on the menu range from bruscetti to go with your choice of wine, through Caesar salad, to serious deals such as the pepper steak. You can choose the first floor to sit with friends on the mismatched chairs, or make yourself comfortable in the armchairs with your laptop. The basement floor serves as a club stage for funky music and is decorated with vinyl covers.