Amaghleba Street and its environs stretch like a long arm of the Sololaki neighborhood up into Tbilisi’s hills. The broad main street is lined with 19th-century brick buildings, some of them graced with the magnificent wooden balconies characteristic of Old Tbilisi. At No. 16 sits Terracotta, where a patinaed metal awning hangs over steps heading down into the small, welcoming restaurant and wine bar below.
The warm earth tones inside evoke its history as a ceramics studio, and the vases, cups and plates on display are a direct inheritance of Tata Samkharadze, who took over her parents’ art space when they chose to close it in 2018. In its place, she opened a small restaurant a year later with cook Anna Burduli.
Also inside the former studio are ornate antique cabinets from Estonia, where Tata was raised after moving from western Georgia’s Chiatura at 3 years old. In Tallinn, Tata’s family had opened a Georgian restaurant. So, when her parents decided to close their art space in Tbilisi – which they had opened in 2015 after moving back to Georgia – it made sense to convert it, keeping the name of the studio, Terracotta. “So, I was always into this,” Tata says. “Sometimes I even think that I did not have a choice – but there is actually always a choice.” She now manages the front of house while Anna manages the kitchen.
Anna long had a passion for cooking, and made her own way into that craft after studying psychology. The small but carefully curated menu is what one might call cosmopolitan Georgian, or perhaps just Tbilisian. The dishes show influences from different regions of Georgia, predominantly the Racha highlands, where Anna has roots, but also from elsewhere. The kupati (sausage) for instance, is Imeretian, Tata tells us. “Our friends make it in small quantities, and each of them is made by hand. No machines are used.” She adds, however, that “they are using a German technique of making sausage, creating a very high-quality product.” The kupati is served with gognosho made in “Anna’s way” – a slightly sweet and tart plum sauce, similar to tkemali but more mellow.
“We are not restricted in the kitchen,” Tata says. “Anna freely makes her own interpretation of how local products can be used in her dishes. We made sort of a fusion. Traveling to different countries brought us to that kind of a kitchen.” Tata had spent some years traveling around Europe between her time in Tallinn and moving to Tbilisi four years ago.
“We are in a process of discovering,” she says. “We pick up all the products by ourselves. Every morning, we choose the best products and ingredients, that are for sure seasonal and natural. Also, we visit different regions of Georgia, where we study those products.” They travel to Racha for ham and to Imereti for nikhvi (Caesar’s mushrooms), to name a couple.
Their natural wine list is carefully selected. They discovered Alice Feiring’s book For the Love of Wine two years ago, and it influenced them profoundly, leading them to look at the winemaking heritage of their native country in a new light. “You never forget the feeling of trying a bio-natural wine,” Anna says. “It reminds you of hearing jazz music for the first time. There happens an improvisation with grapes, winemaker, qvevri and the wine itself. When you try your first natural wine, you need more and more. When you meet the winemaker in person, you start to understand their wine in a different way.” The list is growing as they sample and choose. They also serve chacha, most notably a botanical chacha served in “drunk cups,” rugged little ceramic cups that wobble but don’t fall over.
When Covid-19 hit Georgia, Terracotta had only just opened. During the lockdown, when brick and mortar restaurants were closed, Tata, Anna and some friends started a moving restaurant project called Gestumre. With everything closed in Tbilisi, they moved to Racha. “That was sort of survival mode,” Tata says. From Racha, they went on to travel throughout Georgia. Gestumre attracted media interest and was able to keep their dreams for Terracotta alive until they settled back into Tbilisi when restaurants opened again.
The warm earth tones inside evoke its history as a ceramics studio, and the vases, cups and plates on display are a direct inheritance of Tata Samkharadze, who took over her parents’ art space.
To meet the growing demand after the Covid-19 lockdowns ended, the duo added another team member, Giorgi, to the kitchen. With only the two or three of them working, one might expect some difficulties, but even on busy nights the food arrives quickly and is consistently excellent. Anna often comes out to mingle for a bit and see how people are liking things.
“Anna and I are doing all the stuff here,” Tata tells us. “We are together in this. Our morning starts from the farmers market and finishes with closing Terracotta at midnight. During the restrictions, our timing is changing, but still only two of us are here. And our friends are helping in their free time!” The friends who come to give them a hand are a very spirited, musical crew. Sometimes, if we are lucky, as closing time draws near we’ll hear them singing popular old Tbilisi songs of the last century together as they dash around helping.
On a recent visit to Terracotta, we were joined by a friend who is an artisan baker and grains expert. He has long been on a quest to find traditional gomi, a porridge dish made of millet, having had it once in a village. Nowadays, gomi is almost always a white maize polenta and, in his experience, the millet variety is very hard to find. Our baker is at once intrigued and skeptical when Tata announces gomi with adjika (red pepper paste) as one of the day’s specials. Anna comes out to answer his questions: “It is sort of a lost tradition,” she says, affirming that it is her grandmother’s recipe and is indeed made with the traditional millet, along with adjika from her family’s own recipe. It’s topped with Narchvi, a traditional Svan cheese pressed and aged in small wooden barrels. Upon tasting his first bite, he is ecstatic. Here it is.
This seems to us a Terracotta signature: creative engagement with tradition and always producing delight.
- January 9, 2020 Galaktion
As winter descends over Istanbul, cloaking the city in gray rain clouds that make for […] Posted in Istanbul
- June 23, 2012 Culinary Backstreets Tbilisi Wine Club
Quick bite: Join our small group Tbilisi Wine Club meetings to get to know independent […] Posted in Tbilisi
- March 25, 2021 Recipe
When our friend applied for a chef gig at the cooking department of a northern […] Posted in Tbilisi