Which were the best restaurants in Bulgaria for 2018 according to Bacchus Magazine?
Reading time: 8 min.
I had the pleasure again this year to attend the ceremony Restaurant of the Year for 2018 by Bacchus Magazine. And you know what- the event was on the Birthday Eve of the magazine. It started on 01.04.1999, 20 years ago, which is a young age for a human, but for a business is a decent solid life. A 20-year company life usually contains challenges overcoming, lessons learned, much success and competitions winning.
Happy Birthday, Bacchus! Keep up, with persistence, perseverance and with your subtle sense of finesse!
The grand dinner on the award ceremony covered all important aspects for a good and memorable experience. According to the Experience Economy theory by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore, the good experiences should be directed as drama in theatres, in which the customer is actually both a spectator and an actor.[i] Pine and Gilmore have come to the conclusion that the best and memorable experiences have 4 main characteristics: they entertain, educate, they are aesthetic and escapist.
The diagram was explained in more details in my post- The Experience Economy in action with the cooking class of Chef Heinz von Holzen on Bali- Part 1
When an experience has these 4 features, it becomes memorable for the customers, urging them to desire repetition, return to the place providing it, continue to give their money to that business, tell about it and thus attract other customers.
Entertaining and Aesthetic
The ceremony Restaurant of the Year is a true entertainment. For one night you immerse yourself in the diverse culinary world, filled with various cooking techniques, delicious and quality products, interesting recipes. You meet people who gave their whole personal and professional time to gastronomy, the Chefs. World famous Chefs cook for you their specialties. You chat with friends and other attendees on the table, share your opinion with them, discuss, rate, just like a professional jury. 😊 😉
It is aesthetically pleasing, because besides the wonderful presentations on the plate, we enjoyed wonderful staging[i] in the main hall of Sofia Event Centre. Last year, there were balloons filled with helium hovering above the tables which was really shrewd. Finally, we left the show with even more impressive visual pleasure- hand-made pralines by Pavel Pavlov as a gift, which resembled little gems. This year we left with handmade truffles, unfortunately there was no name of the pastry chef who made them. I’ve prepared a brief flashback to the ceremonies from 2016 to 2019.
Video watch time: 2.5 min.
Probably you wonder what so educational is on this gastronomic show. Well, since last year Bacchus made master classes during the day with renowned Chefs from all over the world, including from Bulgaria. Back then they had as a guest Chef Emil Minev- Director Culinary Arts at the academy Le Cordon Bleu in London. Gourmet fans remember him with his extravagant cuisine in Talisman restaurant in Sofia.
This year there were lecturers from the Basque Culinary Center. Fernando Palacio and Adrian Leonelli. They told us about contemporary cooking techniques.
According to Chef Palacio and Chef Leonelli, innovations in gastronomy are inspired by the use of traditional products and local items, as well as by borrowing from international flavors, tastes and cultures.
You can read more about the master classes this year from my post Is gastronomy science or art?
Now, I’m going to tell you how, for 4-5 hours, we just escaped from reality.
The whole evening, we had this festive feeling of celebrating gastronomy in Bulgaria. In a 6-course menu we immersed ourselves in exotic worlds with new flavors, we tested various wines, one of which you cannot even purchase any more since it was totally sold out. This was exactly the case with red wine Tikves Barovo Red 2015. The last bottles were bought by Bacchus magazine especially for the award ceremony.
Besides, we had a nice chat with the neighbors on the table- friends, acquaintances, new acquaintances. We listened to a lot of quality music, from the Spanish-speaking world, performed live by the El Padre Quartet, the festive noise, the glasses jingling for cheers. In front of our eyes took turns the scenography in the hall, the decoration on the table, the presentations in the dishes, each and every one more and more impressive. Unfortunately, the photos are not good enough to represent the true wonderful look of these dishes, as there was not enough light.
A culinary performance requires enough luxes to highlight the colors and nuances. This is the huge difference between the real theatre and the “theatre” of a dinner in a restaurant or gastronomic event.
I’m going to share my personal ranking about the delicious 6 courses we had, which was quite similar to the ones of the other members of the table.
For an appetizer we had a kind of rice gyoza stuffed with Iberico Bellota, shrimp and spices on a bisque of shrimp, sherry, tonkatsu with blueberries and Jamon chips. Well it sounds good, but it was not delicious- somehow tough and cold, did not impress me. I just disqualified it.
I liked much more the cocktail by Drago Ivanov from Public Bar– Beluga Noble with cordiale apple, pear, coconut, lemon verbena and vermouth. Nice fresh apple aroma and herbs. Great opening of the dinner! We’re are prepared for a great culinary performance!
One of the courses was Basque Surf & Turf- Changuro crab with traditional Basque beans. I love Surf & Turf, because of the bold combination of meat with seafood- I like it as a combination of flavors, textures, everything. My favourite Surf & Turf in Sofia is served at ANDRe. However, this one at the event here basically smelled of beans mostly. The rest of the flavours were literally lost. I had high expectations, especially for the Changuro crab but only the chips on top, made a nice impression, adding playfulness to the dish. What to do- big expectations sometimes confuse the results. Maybe if I had tried this alone, without the others that followed, I’d like it more.
Video watch time: 3 min.
And now my ranking:
First place, not just because it was the most delicious, but also because, at least in my opinion, it was quite difficult to prepare, was the culmination of the dinner- Baby Lamb from Valladolid with wild Mushrooms prepared by Chef Victor Martin, from the Spanish restaurant Trigo, Valladolid, who had just won a Michelin star. The man had a difficult trip to Bulgaria, some of his equipment had disappeared in the airports and yet he prepared the most amazing dish for the evening. This piece of lamb was a perfect combination of crispy crust and extremely soft and soft texture inside. It was garnished with “spaghetti” of flavorful mushrooms and chips on top. It was real pity that Chef Martin didn’t tell us anything about the technique of its preparation. This dish was unique and perfectly suitable for a culmination! Bravo to the Menu Designer!
With very little difference after the baby lamb, the second place in my ranking was occupied by the previously served Polenta with crispy bacon from Bulgarian and Spanish pig, Bulgarian soy sauce from fermented Smilyan beans, marinated vegetables and beurre noisette. We were served the last glasses of red wine from Tikves Barovo Red 2015, which I mentioned above, with basic varieties Primitivo and Vranitz, aged 18 m in French oak.
This polenta was so airy and fluffy, that it won the admirations of all my companions. The bacon- brittle and crispy very well contrasted with it. The pickled vegetables slight acidity balanced its taste. I like Vranac variety very much in the wines of Macedonia and this one made very good combination with the polenta. The aroma of berries was a wonderful match to the appetizing smell of the bacon. Congratulations to the author – Chef Vassil Spasov from aEstivum restaurant, in Zornitsa estate.
In the third place of my ranking, I put Bacalao or translated from Spanish, cod fish, cooked at low temperature, carrots on coals, saffron alioli, air of parsley and lemongrass. This dish was the first thing I enjoyed in this dinner because of the delicate and dense texture of the fish, the crispy asparagus, the light smell of smoke in the carrot puree and its elegant partner- the scent of garlic in the alioli.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t fish it, since the waiters took it away too early, while I was close to the stage to shoot a video. If I compare these people’s work to that of the curators in the theatre, they may have overdone the discipline. 😊 At the same time, they have delayed the serving of one of the next dishes. I don’t know if the mistake was theirs or at the backstage in food preparation.
In such problematic situations with customer service, to prevent disturbance in the rhythm of the “theatrical performance”, it is necessary to prepare scenarios for prevention of negative outcomes.
For example, a bun can be offered with a dip or an appetizer to it, to pour additional wine at the customer’s choice, or simply to offer as a bonus, something from the catering, which was served to the customers at the beginning before the ceremony. These pre-planned measures are important because the customers are waiting and getting nervous while the new dish is presented on the stage, and they have not tried the previous.
The wine to the cod was also great with a variety of fruity notes-Kapatovo White 2018, Lower Struma. The main variety was Sauvignon Blanc, additional Chardonnay and Viognier, matured in oak. I think the wine and the dish didn’t correspond much. I would enjoy the wine separately from fish or sea food, just on its own.
The dessert was also very nice. Orange, chocolate and Iberian emotions by Francisco Lorenco, from the Bulgarian Culinary Academy HRC, in Sofia. In addition to having a demonstration restaurant, I mean Talents here, the academy will soon acquire a demonstration hotel. For the dessert I can only say that it was a very nice finale of the dinner, with delicious liquid and hard chocolate, crispy cookies, decorated with beautiful daisy, combined with a wonderful cognac from Hennessy V.S.O.P.
We had the opportunity to stay a little longer and discuss the good event on a glass of single malt whisky, also covered by the tickets. Whoever wasn’t a whiskey fan could get a glass of wonderful wine from SeeWines, where I regularly educate my receptors on wine.
Since this publication has already become very long, I stop here and continue in Part 2, where it will finally become clear which restaurants won awards.
Are you looking for info on good restaurants, hotels and any nice places around the world and in our country? Then dig into the categories of placescases.com to find something just for you.
Do you ever wonder how some places are so very different from others in service, environment, as a general experience? This means you are also interested like me in the topic of The Experience Economy by Pine and Gilmore. I’ve tried to recognize those places which apply it in practice its principles, whether deliberately or accidentally, and I think it is worth to consider them. Right click on category The Experience Economy.
[i] A term used by Pine and Gilmore to compare a customer experience as a staged drama in theaters in their book The Experience Economy, updated edition, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, Massachusetts, by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore
[i] The Experience Economy, updated edition, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, Massachusetts, by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore