Best of Belgrade 2017: Haute or not?

The fancier – the worse, still seems to be the rule with restaurants in Belgrade, but the quality and diversity are increasing



Somewhat increased standard of living translated in many high-end places popping up last year, but sadly the pretence did not translate into quality, although it certainly provided enterntainment. I thought it could not get worse when I read that a restuarant offered an avocado carpaccio next to a photo of a simple sliced avocado with no apparent garnish, but then I discovered that Faust, a new incarnation of the permanently blighted Langouste, offers a vegetable carpaccio with the cold cream of Šopska salad. As you may have guessed, this pretenstious menu entry hides just a very tiny portion of Šopska salad, which is an insult not only to the common seense but also to the Serbian cuisine. 

This funny arrogance sadly extends beyond the menus. 

Although failed food and service attempts that are excused for novelty are the norm, in the scene from the perma-burnt pestries at Le Petite Cantine to the whole menu at Tri, it hurts the most when prices are high. At Homa, after an underwhelming but ok meal during which we heard maitre d’ shout at one of the staff, it took another waitress waited for 20 minutes to give us back our change, probably assuming we will just leave her with a largish tip. Similarly, one of the perpetually annoyed staff at Cveće Zla, which also markets itself as a breakfast place, was annoyed at our surprise at the absence of tea or lighter breakfast options on the menu. Needless to say we decamped to a nearby cafe. Yet the pinacle of poor customer relations in Belgrade’ restaurant scene comes from Salon 1905, where a read through comments on Tripadvisor reveals a hilarous habit of their team to bully people who rated them down (but they have other problems too). 

Unfortunately, even the pleasant high-end places usually do not deliver, food wise. The coveted goal of elevating Serbian/Balkan cusine to new culinary (and instagrammable) heigths eludes two prominent contenders, Ambar and Iris, leving you probably better off to go to a Kafana. The former settles for just doing the same thing as any decent kafana but decimating the porttions under the guise of “sharing concept”. The latter, although offering fantasic service, did not deliver (during my one visit) on its promise to focus on ingredients from Serbia, mostly by erring on the side of too fatty dishes. Another fault at Iris was significantly overpriced wine pairing to its tasting menu, which amounts to the volume of about 2 glasses of averageish Serbian wine. Still, Iris team seem genuinely committed and hopefully they will persevere: after all some trial and error is needed, but maybe not at the EUR 50 price point (for tasting menu + wine pairing). I know that this is much lower than in the rest of the world, but it is still huge for Serbia and indefensible given that few really pricey ingredients are used. 
So do you have to go to the same old? Well thankfully, Belgrade’s foreign food scene improved significantly. Beside my beloved Marukoshi, affordable fantastic Japanese, two great pizzerias (Šumatovac and Campania) got us hot from their wood-fired oven mastery. Žuta Kamilica, a recent opening, serves the best creative sandwiches from a small window in Cetinjska. The mid-range Serbian is getting better (Don Gedža, Mala Slavija), while even toursit haunts in Skadarlija are deliver great hearty Serbian food, with a special mention to Dva Jelena (their beef tail goulash is to die for). There are also beautiful new sweet shops (Fini and Ispeci pa reci) and many more great coffee places (Aviator chain). Finally, the beer scene got a boost with a fantastic new festival – Vrteška, which is a great beer alterntaive to the fantastic Wine Jam. Then there are Belgrade Night Markets which try to sex-up Belgrade fresh food markets (worthy cause indeed). 

The direction the food scene is going is the right one, but sadly the excess money from toursist and richer Serbs, and their unquestioning hype seem to be slowing down the progress as chefs rest on their laurels and think creativity is enough. It isn’t. You still need to make the food edible. We are still waiting for a master chef in Belgrade and a good bruch place, but in 2017 we are in a better place than we were last year.

  
Best of Belgrade 2017

Best food

Marukoshi

Mandarina


Best foodie neigbourhood

Donji Dorćol

Best overall experience

Madera

Best traditional Serbian

Dva Jelena

Best high-end 

Toro (Beton hala)

Dijagonala 2.0 (now closed)

 

Best mid-range Serbian

Mala Slavija

Lovac

Naja

Velika Skadarlija

Best budget Serbian

Mornar

Best light option

Piatakia

Dvorište

Best grill

Don Gedža

Best Italian

Campania

Best steakhouse

Toro Zemun
Best sushi and best rooftop

Ebisu

Best takeaway sushi

Go Sushi

Best fish restaurant/ river restaurant

Paša

Best sweet shop

Mandarina (by far)
Best sweet shop if Mandarina burnt to the ground and we forgot about it

Hotel Moskva

Ispeci pa reci

Fini

Best traditional sweet shop

Orijent

Bombaj


Best gelato

Crna Ovca

Moritz Eis


Best coffee and neighbourhood cafe

Užitak
Bistro Bar


Best coffee chain

Aviator

Best bakery and burek

Micić

Čarli

Petrović (Zemun)

Best street food

Žuta Kamilica

Sarajevo

Hummus bar

Best (non-burek) breakfast

Croissants at Mandarina on fridays and 

Best bar-cafe

Meduza (for the G&Ts)

Best hangout

Lift

Best craft beer bar

Samo pivo

Best Serbian craft beer

Svetlost (Dorćol brewery)

Salto (Salto)

Best burger

Burger house

Best people watching

Cveće zla

Centrala

Koffein 2

Zaokret
Best chill bar

Zaorket

Best event

Vrteška

Belgrade Night Market

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