In the shallowest parts of my soul, which I am slightly ashamed of, a thing that I thought I might miss a lot when I moved back to Belgrade from London was the variety of cuisines and their high quality (despite the prejudice about food in Britain). I am pleasantly surprised that the variety in Belgrade is increasing by year, especially with our very belated popularisation of Asian food and sushi-shops popping up all over the place (which I am still a bit cautious about outside of Ebisu given the distance from the sea). Now besides generally edible Greek (Dvorište is lovely) and Italian (Comunale) spots there are now decent South American places (Toro), ok-but-seriously-overpriced-Indian (Diwali), very-good Japanese places (Ebisu, and my fave Marukoshi).
There is still some way to go for Belgrade’s food scene to ascend to global heights (where our friends the Slovenes are headed with JB and Hiša Franko, recently featured in a Netlix documentary). Belgrade still lacks a proper haute-cuisine spot with wine pairings and attempts at grandeur (Dijagonala 2.0 is the closest). A witty friend said that an average Serbian thinks cabbage is the main ingredient of Chinese cuisine due to our infatuation with bok-choi. Many of the smaller experimental establishments are very mediocre and pretentious (e.g. Tri). There are no food markets and street-food has not caught up with global trends. Although Ambar seems to have almost cracked exporting Serbian-Balkan food, there is still a way for us to play with the textures and tastes and elevate the humble ćevap and sarma to a global status they deserve. Most maddeningly, there is still a persistent lack of brunch places (Homa’s attempt leave much to be desired).
You will frown and say, well, Serbia is a relatively poor country where some people still fight for basic things and do not worry about making an avocado and pistachio filled sarma. That point is well taken, although it is the one generically thrown at foodies. Yet with all the establishments in Belgrade and our love of eating out, a lot can be done at little cost, what we need are not more expensive dishes (think ćevap on the bed of foie gras with gold flakes), but the courage of our young, talented chefs to soar and mix things us. With the number of them practicing abroad (e.g. Dubai, cruise ships) there is no lack of breadth. The one who wins will get the place of the first proper Serbian celebrity chef (note: the barbarians who douse everything in cream on day TV do not count).
Best of the best: Mandarina
Mandarina wins for the sheer passion and ingenuity. Addition of croissant breakfasts over the weekend that can rival the ones in London and Paris was a stroke of genius. Krsto Radović and his team are to be celebrated, even if it is on this humble blog.
Best Serbian food: Durmitor
Durmitor is an amazing mix of people all enjoying great food in the middle of New Belgrade’s concrete jungle. If you eat meat you have to dry their roasts.
Runners up: Lovac, Ambar
Best restaurant: Madera
Madera’s garden cannot be beaten. The quality is consistent and high, although there have recently been some attempts at sub-standard menu expansion (with awful udon). Sticking to their traditional guns and making the stuff they do well better and more exciting should be the way forward (like with ajvar ice-cream).
Runner up: Dijagonala 2.0
Best innovative restaurant: Dijagonala 2.0
Unlike the smaller places who want to innovate in Belgrade, Dijagonala’s main focus is on making good food, not just interesting stuff. Keep it up team.
Runner up: Homa
Best exotic restaurant: Marukoshi
Decently priced place that delivers the goods, and keeps the spirit of non-sushi Japanese food (pork katsu curry is deliciously cruchy and creamy). Extra points for having Kirin, Sapporo and Asahi on the beer list.
Runner up: Ebisu
Best light food restaurant: Dvorište
Cosy garden and good Mediterranean fare. Kebab, although not exactly light, is crazy good.
Best third-wave coffee in Belgrade: Užitak
Amazing team and unfailingly great coffee. This lovely place behind Radio Belgrade attracts the local hip crowd and serves great treats without arrogance (looking at you Pržionica).
Runners up: Koffein, Bistro, Pržionica
Best “kafić”: Meduza
Meduza not only serves wicked and innovative G&Ts but also has awesome DJ nights and exhibitions (full disclosure: they exhibited my photos). Still the staff’s friendliness and progressivism are to be more than applauded.
Runner up: Centrala, Samo Pivo (if you love beer)
Best street food: Sarajevo
24-hour place that offers in equal measures taste (zeljanica) and hangover-aid (sirnica), Sarajevo does Sarajevo burek the best in Belgrade (for the real thing you still need to go to Sarajevo).
Runner up: Glumac
Best bakery: Trpković
This is never going to change: their burek is what draw queues around the block and every time they innovate with other pastries they strike it well.
Runners up: Čeda, Aca, Friteza, Naša pekara, Čarli
Best bread: Lebovski
Quirky name and amazing consistently good selection helped it dethrone Šarlo, which slipped due the marked fall in quality.
Runner up: Šarlo
Best cakes: Mandarina
As I said, just amazing. Go there now.
Best ice cream: Moritz Eis
Still the leaders, although the freshness does vary more than before. It is nice that every ice-cream on offer is on the spectrum from highly edible to great (fave: raspberry and black chocolate).
Runner up: Flor