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After two years marked by significant changes and challenges, 2023 has emerged as one of stability and consolidation for Tbilisi’s dining scene. While there may not be any groundbreaking revolutions, the city, true to its dynamic nature, has still experienced a noteworthy turnover of venues, with new establishments opening as others close.

In the heart of the Sololaki district, the cherished Ezo sadly closed its doors in late October. Translating to “courtyard” in Georgian, Ezo was more than just a restaurant; it was a sanctuary where patrons sought solace while indulging in delicious dishes. Since its establishment in 2015, Ezo had been a trailblazer, introducing a fresh perspective to the local food scene. Emphasizing quality, organic ingredients and authentic recipes, it diverged from the more conventional Georgian eateries of its time by providing a laid-back and outdoor (most of the tables were in the courtyard) setting, contributing to a unique culinary experience.

As Ezo bids its farewell, Tbilisi now boasts a plethora of novel culinary treasures, each with a distinctive identity – take Gunda and Asi Khinkali, respectively catering for enthusiasts of Georgia’s national cheese pie and the national dumpling.

But we should not forget international cuisines which have become an increasingly important part of Tbilisi food offerings. Long gone are the days when a few pizza places, Asian restaurants and German brasseries were the only culinary escapes available in town. Establishments are even opting for specialization to stand out from competitors. This year, our culinary exploration led us to a Lebanese restaurant focusing on saj bread sandwiches and a Thai eatery nestled in the outskirts, delighting food adventurers with savory barbecues.

Throughout 2023, we had great culinary moments both outside and at home which is reflected in the digest you can read below. That said, the experience of eating at home and eating out are not mutually exclusive. As social life undergoes acceleration with economic growth, many professionals find themselves with limited time for home cooking. Concurrently, new eateries such as Praktika endeavor to capture the simplicity and flavorful essence of homemade dishes.

The Family Supra

Hosting guests at home is always a special moment, especially when they happen to be my parents visiting from France. On the day following their nighttime arrival, a common occurrence at the Tbilisi airport, we prepared a cozy supra, a traditional feast, with my mother-in-law. We carefully chose a few Georgian dishes that we personally enjoy to make the occasion warm and welcoming.

If you were to ask my mother-in-law, she would kindly express that perhaps the spread wasn’t quite extensive enough (our wonderful guests certainly deserved more, in her opinion). As proof, she could show the photograph below, in which many empty spots are still visible on the table.

But for my parents accustomed to the French way of dining, one dish at a time, it was more than their stomachs could allow. Still, they enjoyed small bites of each dish. We had tolma (cabbage stuffed with minced meat), fried red peppers rolled in walnut sauce, Mingrelian khachapuri (the western Georgian savory pie generously topped with cheese), a classic cucumber-tomato salad, chakapuli (traditionally a veal stew made with white wine and tarragon, but made here with chicken) and tender new potatoes.

Each dish contributed to the delight of the moment but I’d like to savor the memory of the new potatoes a little longer. Despite their seemingly mundane nature, they stole the spotlight during this supra.

Every late April and May, we eagerly anticipate the arrival of new potatoes at the grocery store. Typically classified by size (small or medium – the smaller ones often a bit pricier but still quite reasonable), these potatoes have a short shelf life, prompting us to cook them quickly. We opt to fry them in a pan with a touch of sunflower oil and some dill. This transforms them into the most exquisite dish of spring, featuring a slightly crispy skin and a soft interior that almost resembles a puree.

Puri Guliani’s Ponchiki

Puri Guliani is a trendy bakery and bistro situated near the Mtkvari River in the city center. Renowned for crafting a diverse array of bread and traditional Georgian pies, this establishment also offers a delightful selection of pastries. Among their featured desserts are ponchiki, a treat with origins beyond Georgian borders. These doughnuts are popular throughout Eastern Europe and can be prepared in various shapes, sizes and fillings.

Ponchiki holds a special place in my wife’s heart, akin to Proust’s madeleine. The nineties in Tbilisi were challenging times marked by frequent electricity shortages and a scarcity of good food. Queues lasting for hours were a common sight as people sought out bread. Amid these hardships, ponchiki was a comforting presence, readily available on the streets to brighten those difficult days. Not only were they delicious, but they were also very affordable.

In the present day, ponchiki are sold in numerous places across Tbilisi, but the ones served at Puri Guliani resonate most closely with my wife’s childhood memories. These delectable treats, approximately 15 cm wide, boast a generous filling of vanilla cream. Our preferred way to enjoy them is right away, while they’re still warm and the cream is melty.

Gobi at Shavi Lomi

Established in 2011 by chef Meriko Gubeladze, Shavi Lomi, named after a painting by Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani, stands with a few others as one of the foremost restaurants that has redefined how Georgian gastronomy is presented over the past decade.

When we visit Shavi Lomi, our go-to choice is the gobi – it may not be the most elaborate dish, but it’s a no-brainer. Gobi is the Georgian name for a type of wooden bowl made of linden or elm that is used to share food. Customers can choose between the smaller version for two people and the bigger catering for four people.

The contents are a thoughtfully curated assortment of appetizers, featuring mchadi (small maize-flour breads), cheese slices, cottage cheese with mint, pkhali balls (chopped and minced vegetables mixed with walnuts) and the intriguing jonjoli. Often unfamiliar to those outside the region, jonjoli consists of pickled sprouts from a local shrub with a unique bitter taste.

Pkhali, an underrated gem in Georgian gastronomy, takes center stage here. Beyond the well-known spinach pkhali, Shavi Lomi offers variations with beetroot, pumpkin, or red pepper. These dishes add a colorful and light touch to Georgian meals, which typically lean towards the heavier side with cheese and meat.

Ravioli at Republic Restaurant

Despite its incredibly convenient location, just a stone’s throw away from Rustaveli metro station, we had never seriously considered the Republic Restaurant and its sleek structure as a good option to eat out. It seemed too upscale, too pretentious – a place reserved for VIPs, not for people like us. However, our assumptions were proven wrong. Not only did we feel warmly welcomed and the prices turned out to be quite reasonable, but the culinary experience was also truly memorable. The menu leans towards European cuisine with a significant influence from Italy.

We opted for the avocado toast adorned with two perfectly poached eggs, accompanied by a salad. Additionally, we indulged in the triangular ravioli, a creative masterpiece filled with a delectable combination of cream cheese and shrimp, elegantly topped with aged Parmigiano. This second dish, with its visually striking presentation and the unique touch of black dough, proved to be both mouthwatering and nourishing. The avocado toast emanated simplicity and exquisite flavor. Although the situation regarding ripe avocados in Georgian shops is gradually improving, it can still be a challenge to find them. Therefore, establishments like Republic provide a reliable haven for savoring an avocado treat.

Black Hot Dog at Craft Shawarma

Creativity is often a rare trait among fast-food choices, where on-the-go options like shawarmas, hot dogs and khachapuri typically share a similar appearance and taste. But Craft Shawarma, a novel chain which currently operates two venues, is offering a refreshing take on fast-food meals. While their primary focus is on shawarma wraps, the establishment stands out by presenting unique hot dogs. A visit to their Dighomi Massive location, situated in a Soviet suburb, becomes particularly enticing, especially since the more centrally located Bazari Orbeliani branch doesn’t have the dogs on the menu.

We indulged in a “classic” hot dog at Craft Shawarma, a delightful creation featuring a substantial black bread brioche bun, a succulent sausage, red onions, parmesan cheese and a meticulously crafted sauce. This unique rendition incorporates a blend of mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise and cheddar cheese, complemented by the richness of the ranch sauce. Undoubtedly, this inventive take on a beloved street food item stood out as one of our unexpected culinary finds of 2023. Beyond its innovative culinary approach, Craft Shawarma distinguishes itself by a commitment to using locally sourced ingredients, with both the bread and meat hailing from Georgia.

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Clément GirardotClément Girardot

Published on December 14, 2023

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