by Bertil Roth*; photography by Dragomir Ushev

Sofia's old favourites still dominate the scene and please the palate

Bertil Roth

Having now been an ambassador to Sofia for a couple of years, I am still surprised at the large and utterly varied choice of restaurants that you can find in this capital city. It is also continuously increasing. There are very nice places to be found for all tastes and budgets.

It's a bit difficult to appoint an absolute favourite, but maybe I would draw your particular attention to the French restaurant L'Etranger (78 Tsar Simeon, phone: 983 1417, 0887 523 376). The menu is limited and is presented on a chalk board but this small restaurant has a true Parisian atmosphere. This, combined with the tasty food and extremely friendly service, makes it difficult to beat when it comes to cosy, intimate dinners.

Another favourite of mine is undoubtedly Beyond the Alley, Behind the Cupboard (31 Budapest St, phone: 983 5581, 983 5545). Besides the excellent food and attentive service, the interior decor is charming. That also goes for the bathroom! It's an obvious choice for small lunches or dinners, both for business and with friends.

For business lunches La Capannina (Nikola Vaptsarov Blvd, Maleevi Tennis Club, phone: 962 8683) is an excellent choice. Italian food of the highest quality is served there. The location opposite the beautiful building of the National Assembly is very convenient for many people. The prices, however, are often rather high.

I also want to mention the restaurant Motto (18 Aksakov St, phone: 987 2723), blessed with a very central location. The restaurant is very trendy and mostly patronised by younger people than me, but I very much appreciate the pleasant garden for simple summertime lunches.

A special atmosphere is offered in Checkpoint Charlie (12 Ivan Vazov St, phone: 988 0370) with its Cold War memorabilia. Some evenings there is also enjoyable live jazz music.

For a drink or a light meal after a performance at the Opera, the restaurant Opera (corner of Vrabcha St and Rakovski St, phone: 988 2141), situated in the Opera building itself, is very attractive. The sound level at this place is, however, extremely high. So this is not the venue for important conversations! Also the Vinobar in the building of the Military Club (7-9 Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd, phone: 997 7992) is an excellent place for a post-performance nightcap.

Uno Enoteca (45 Vasil Levski Blvd, phone: 981 4372) is always a safe choice for guests. In the old house there is a very special and pleasant atmosphere and both the food and the service are normally impeccable. On summer nights dining in the garden is something to remember.

I also have a special weakness for the old restaurant Krim (17 Slavyanska St, phone: 988 6950). This is a place with ancient traditions in Sofia's history. Maybe I preferred the fittings before the recent restoration, but it's still a great place. When you have visitors from abroad who want to see “something Bulgarian” the pleasant restaurant Pod Lipite (Under the Linden Trees) (1 Elin Pelin St, phone: 866 5053) is an obvious – and by all guests highly appreciated – choice. The Bulgarian dishes are varied and very well prepared and the atmosphere is quite genuine and, thankfully, not excessively touristy.

As there are so many eating places to choose from in Sofia, I tend to avoid the restaurants in big hotels because they seldom have a distinctive atmosphere. However, both the restaurant and the café in the Grand Hotel Sofia (1 Gurko St, phone: 811 0800) can be recommended. The atmosphere is certainly “international”, the food and service is excellent and you get good value for money.

When it comes to pubs there are quite a number of them in Sofia as in most other big cities. They're normally fairly indistinguishable from each other. If I were to name two, which I have frequented for a beer or a bite many times during my stay, it would be Flannagan's (next to the Radisson Hotel on Narodno Sabranie Sq, phone: 933 4740) and Bitburger (20 Stefan Karadzha St, phone: 981 9665), both very popular with the expatriate community.

During my stay in Sofia I have not been a frequenter of clubs, finding them normally too noisy for my taste. To mention one, however, I could recommend the Sinatra Piano Bar (5 Arsenalski Blvd, phone: 0886 101 078) with very good music. This is certainly not a place for talking but that is probably not the reason why you visit a club!

*Bertil Roth is the Swedish Ambassador to Bulgaria


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