Whenever I am asked about Belgrade, I always say it is very much worth a visit, although it is not beautiful in a conventional sort of way: Le Corbusier apocryphally quipped that he has never seen an uglier city at a prettier location. Belgrade’s beauty, much like its past, is tectonic: a ridge jutting from the Panonian plains over a confulence of a Balkan and Middle European river; architecture a mix of modernist progessivism, small-town Habsburg and big-time war damage, built by series of peoples seeking refuge from various tidal waves sweeping Europe (Currently, there is a fascinating exhibition showcasing main developments in Belgrade over the 20th Century in the Museum of Applied Arts/ MPU). Last year was a liminally good one: facade of our National Museum has been restored and it is to reopen this year, Cventni trg is finished (but looks spookily bare), many new normal ad-hoc developments are progressing (e.g. Shopping-mall/ Hotel by Kalemegdan and in the abandoned Bajloni brewery) and the Sava bank is startung to look nicer (although the imposed luxury mega-development thretens to drown the city). The influx of tourists also increased, so hopefully less people will be asking me if we have huskies “up there”. At last but not the least, Belgrade temporarily hosted thousands of refugees last summer, unsurprising, given our location and tradition of being a weatherwane for global political climate…
Anyhow, here is the list of the best of the best in the year past. Hopefully next year will be much much better.
1. Mandarina – a dream of a cake shop, devised by Krsto Radovic, formerly of Square Nine and Claridges. The cakes are beautiful, innovative and tasty, a rare combination. Friendly staff and family atmosphere also help.
2. Zaokret and Polet – two new pop-up cafes in the middle of derelict Bajloni brewery, signalling the move away from Savamala due to Belgrade waterfront development. Zaokret was founded by indie-fiends behind Kišobran, and serves wicked coffee and music all day round. Polet is more selfconsciously trendy, with mismatched furniture and fireplace projected on its bare walls, but is still welcoming for a nice night out with friends
3. Ambar – an outpost of a DC restaurant sucesscully modernising and pedalling Balkan/Serbian food to the American polticos. Ambar is notable for really bringing the new restaurant trends to Belgrade in Serbian context (small plates, swanky trad-modern interior mix and constant up-selling). I was more impressed by the business model than by the food (decent, somewhat overiced), however it is a nice place to bring an obstinate New Yorker or Londoner and introduce them to the local delights in a setting they will feel at home with
4. Belgrade Food tours – the tour provides great introduction to Serbian food and history and will get you to see main sights in the old town (and Zemun, if you want). An innovative and fun concept, especialy given the importance Belgraders place on kafanas and food
5. Royal – although kafana at Royal hotel has been around for ages, it trully blosommed last year. It is a total time warp and all the better for it, with dancing to synth-turbo-folk on tables and chairs in 70s style interior
2. Koffein 2
5. Klub knjizevnika
2. Moritz Eis
4. Klub Knjizevnika
A few fanciful (purely aesthetic) wishes for 2016
1. Adaptation of Jugoexport building – In a wild dream I would want the beautiful palce to have the revival like Gresham place in Budapest or the Beaumont in London – a full art deco reimaginatiom to become a Grand Hotel, that Belgrade must have had it its hayday. Similar fate for Hotel Bristol would be nice.
2. Opening of Museum of Contemporary Art and National Museum – although this very overdue re-opening is planned, I do hope it actually happens and Belgrade finally sees its art collection in full glory.
3. Re-opening of Beofilm cinemas – although Zvezda has been saved by a group of protestors and has become an art film venue, I hope a more orderly re-development of the remaining cinemas, which are a blatant example of clepto-privatisation
4. Free-er air to breathe – the current government does itself a disservice by openly limiting free speech and criticism. Althogh it is somewhat understandable given its talents for impromptu comedy, stifling debate and parody will backfire. Antagonising own intellectual elite instead of bringing it on its side will not work…
5. A proper brunch place – of all the global gastro-trends brunching seems to have evaded Serbia the most. Although there are attempts, they are either too expensive or the offering too unimaginative to work. Belgrade needs and Aussie or Berlin re-pat (or transplant) to give us the real thing at a normal price