The rebirth of Kiev

It's a special time for the restaurant scene in the Ukrainian capital. Here's a list of places worth visiting

11-12-2016
A photo taken from Ulichnaya Eda, Kiev's stre

A photo taken from Ulichnaya Eda, Kiev's street food road, a very popular meeting place for young people, where you can taste specialties from all over the world. It is the emblem of the culinary rebirth of Ukraine, a country that has been independent for 25 years and with a restaurant scene growing rapidly, as local reporter Marina Mayevska tells us on the Guida ai Ristoranti di Identità Golose (photo from destinations.com.ua)

For us, Ukrainians, past 25 years manifest the path from obtaining political independence to actual freedom, and, to my great joy, this freedom has gastronomic dimension as well: there are more and more ways and locations to indulge in and share the fun of food. And now, despite economic and general uncertainty, our gastronomic and restaurant community is in a good fiery rage: new projects emerge, ideas get materialized, with progressively convincing taste.

Even names speak of growing heat of the moment: almost the same August day, two sharply notable restaurants in Kiev have opened, benamed Fire Game and Pesce al Forno. The first one – a Ukrainian steakhouse, based on local products and modern preparation techniques, a calibrated combination built to last and to affirm the latest trend of search for the new Ukrainian taste. The second one has been opened by Savva Libkin, creator of emblematic restaurants in Odessa, long-awaited in Kiev, where now he suggests to taste sea fish, cooked in a wood-fired pizza oven, in ceramic dinnerware.

But, perhaps, the best restaurant Kiev has discovered, is Ulichnaya Eda street-food festival. It has been the biggest food-buzz over the past 3 years that made stuffy Kievans memorize the way to a remote industrial factory, renovated and revitalized by fest organizers. The vibes of weekend celebration with friends and an endless table of succulent treats from all over the world have won over particular restaurant visits: where else will one get Black sea fishlet from Odessa, or typical sandwiches from Vietnamese hinterland, or pastrami, or truffled risotto, and a lot more, at its best, at one time? This is the place to look for geeky treats like cezve coffee and so on, too.

The spirit of food festival has inspired more open-air ventures like Wine and Sea festival on Dnieper beach or Kiev Food&Wine Festival on a spectacular heliport. The thing is that our city lives intense business, political, cultural, scientific life and likes to relax at the same time. Luckily, Dnieper river, running through Kiev, has countless creeks, inflows, lakes; and this natural landscape creates numerous locations with absolutely non-urban atmosphere, within the city. 30 minutes walk from the center – and you are on a deserted island with Viking footprint. (Okay, these are remains of Swedish Euro 2012 football fan camp), beaches, and wakeboarding club. 15 minutes from Central railway station – and you are on a ski piste.

Vozdvyzhenka, a neighbourhood built in the 2000s, later became a ghost-city and is now a hipster and very popular area with the best coffee shops in Kiev: Coffee in Action, Cafe Boutique, Svit Kavy, Espresso Holic, London cafe

Vozdvyzhenka, a neighbourhood built in the 2000s, later became a ghost-city and is now a hipster and very popular area with the best coffee shops in Kiev: Coffee in ActionCafe BoutiqueSvit KavyEspresso HolicLondon cafe

UBK, or South Beach of Kiev on Trukhaniv island (the one with the Vikings), is a must visit summer spot – a hip open air club at the sandy river bank, with music and movie nights. Best summer sunsets over the river, with the best soundtrack (or at least not annoying), with comfy wood terraces for chilling, enjoyable snacks, wine, and no haste – a real Zen place.

Speaking of Zen, it definitely spills over to the neighbourhood closest to the island - Podil. Historically, it was the 'lower city' of craftsmen. Today, this area off the upper city centre is chosen by creative youth and artists. In this district with shabby 2-storey houses, at certain moments, time seems to linger. At the same time: beards, tattoos, alternative coffee brewing and the highest concentration of hipster spots is here. All best coffee places are in this district, to name some: Coffee in Action with international award-winning cezve coffee, small  Cafe Boutique – Kiev pioneers of own roasting, or Svit Kavy - “imported” best Lviv coffee spot, miniscule and always lively Espresso Holic, amiable London cafe. Numerous small shops, perky Zhytny market, Zhovten art-house movie theatre, vegan cafes, barefoot café with no chairs and tables, pay-what-you-wish café, and other original locations are in great popularity with Podil and city youth. Creative Pink Freud bar is not to be missed, too: it will surprise by cocktails served in metal tea-pot, Asian fusion tastes, and an extensive list of gins (and cocktails using them).

Closer art-club, also in the neighbourhood, is a must-visit as well. Located in the abandoned old industrial buildings of ribbon loom factory, it remained a secret place for years – and the secret easily kept, due to the hardly revealable location (despite easy 5 minute reach by subway). Today, the walls are shared by the club, Ukrainian designer 24/7 boutique (some positively explosive stuff here), a garden, summer yard bar, and a squat. Relaxed atmosphere is supported by low prices, as if they don’t matter at all. Closer is a place with inimitable ambience uniting research spirit of highbrow lectures, brightness of costumed nightlife, cosmic vibes of world music evenings, and much more.

Interestingly, food locations have been shaping some of our city’s districts. Abandoned or unimportant bedroom community becomes sought after and fashionable. For example, Vozdvyzhenka, also in Podil. New brightly colored houses imitating a European village, woefully expensive, were built in 2000s and remained empty for years, called ‘a ghost city’. Everything changed with the opening of the first restaurants by a successful entrepreneur and promoter Dima Borisov. Gastrorock pub, followed by Okhota na ovets and Rybalove,  fish restaurant, several city picnics and flea market events – and this area became one of favorite and liveliest weekend destinations, with more cafes and shops, bars, offices, art galleries, and residences.

Shoti, great Georgian cuisine in Kiev

Shoti, great Georgian cuisine in Kiev

Another example is a quiet neighborhood in the center that looked like nothing more than a dormitory area 10 years ago, before Napule pizzeria and Good Wine store were opened there. As the name has it, Napule is Napoletan pizzeria, following all pizza preparation rules that was promptly certified by Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana – and has full bookings up to this day. A new restaurant by the same owner was opened next door: Shoti, presenting the new take on Georgian cuisine, with khachapuri, khinkali and tone (tandoori) meat. Today, this small stretch of the street is crowded with restaurants, as varied as Coyote Ugly crazy bar, Bao – new Chinese cuisine, Ibsen – Scandinavian restaurant, and there are more to come.

Cultural sites, UNESCO world heritage and everything else worthy in between dining points are well covered in widely available city guides. My special “one for the road” here will be another bunch of places to dine and imbibe. Odessa – innovative fine dining from a chef Yuri Priemsky with international career stretched over Kiev, London, Moscow and Sicily. By the way, just a hint: he also owns a small clubby Karkas restaurant, in easy reach from Sophia cathedral.

Khutorets on the Dnieper – a secure place for first acquaintance with traditional Ukrainian cuisine. A fresh version of Ukrainian food-tainment is presented at new Ostannya Barikada (at Maidan). Transcarpathian Kiflik (now in the process of location change) and Crimean Tatar Musafir are authentic comfort food locations. And Parovoz Speakeasy is here with some of the best cocktails in the city, 24/7.


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