Deivydas Praspaliauskas, the owner and head chef of Amandus, hastobeoneof the most vibrant personas in modern Lithuanian restauration. The list of restaurants hehasestablished is lengthy. And his very own restaurant is its logical apogee. The organisational pinnacle reached, Deivydas focuses his remarkable energy on food. Amandus stretches through two floors at the fashionable Hotel Artagonist in Vilnius. The ground floor, meant for hotel guests, offers up a short à la carte menu and a three-course degustation menu. The basement is Deivydas’ signature space. The longer degustation menu served here changes monthly. This month’s menu draws inspiration from Japan. The water is purified with Ubame oakcoal and the recommended drink to accompany the dessert is Japanese apple wine. Plum and cherry dominate the sauces. The medium rare duck seems tobeoneof the chef’s special favourites –it resurfaces from menu to menu, is always perfectly cooked andsurrounded by seasonal accompaniments. And when Deivydas is not out seeking inspiration elsewhere, you will undoubtedly meet him inoneof the dining halls. This man will not be restricted to the kitchen. Customer feedback is oneof his primary sources of inspiration. On your next visit, you might well encounter something your own suggestions inspired. This is the power of inspiration.
In the blossoming neighborhood of Žirmunai, at the edge of Vilnius’ city center, among a bouquet of new boutiques and other entertaining temptations is Bučeris, a small butcher shop and restaurant that lures us back time and again. It was one of the first establishments to open in this part of town where the local eateries form a sort of amusement center, packed next to each other, yet, charmingly, not competing with each other. Bučeris has specialized in offering an impressive selection of meats from all over the world. Either buy some and bring it home, or choose a cut, let the deft cooks sear it to your liking, and enjoy it in the sparse dining room where the atmosphere is laidback and the wall of wine bottles add a bit of warmth. Will it be the T-bone, the ribeye or the côte de boeuf? Why not go for the “cowboy steak” and pretend for a moment that you’re Lucky Luke? Succulent, umami-laced and grassy, for sure, you’re still going to need good molars to chew this cut––it contains less fat than, for example, North American beef, its texture is much less tender than you might be used to. One thing you need to know about this grass-fed beef: it’s not always available and when it is, it runs out fast.
The Dia (from the Latin word for daytime) hides its charms behind a stone wall. When the restaurant is closed, the passer-by might never suspect food and a warm welcome behind the big pair of wooden gates. But they open to a cosy courtyard not a hair broader than the gates are wide; and the first tables are within arm’s reach, and so are the plush, comfortable chairs and couches. In the summer, there isnoneedto venture further. In the winter, the interior appeals with even cushier chairs upholstered in blue velvet, with eye-catching lamps lighting up the room. On weekdays, Dia closes at10pmand thus justifies its name for any Southern European guests. Champagne and sparkling wines take up nearly half of the drinks card. The perceptive browser will take the hint. The menu certainly does– most of the dishes are designed tocomplement sparkling wines. The squid & crab is served on a cushion ofgreens with peashoots and samphire in preponderance. The crab is fresh outof the tin (tut-tut!), butthe squid, lightly dusted with herbs, is extremely fresh, juicy and delicious. The pairing isunusual, but why not? It reflects the streets of Kaunas, where derelict former industrial buildings stand side by side with cutting edge design. During the day, Kaunas looks like anup-and-coming place. Sodoes the restaurant.
A good rule of thumb for determining a restaurant’s quality in the Baltics is the bread. Itisalways served first; ifit leaves something tobe desired, the evening is unlikely togo uphill from there. At Džiaugsmas, bread comes to you even sooner – right at the door. Upon entering, you see the administrator and a sculpture of a Neanderthal man. The latter lived to eat. At Džiaugsmas, the staff lives to feed everybody well andto help the time pass pleasantly. The bust is designed to remind usof this. Designed in the numerous shades of black, Džiaugsmas is stylish down to the minute details, from the Neanderthal bust down to the eye-catching cutlery. Asper tradition, bread is presented first. As per trend, itis a soft multigrain bread that goesas well with olive oil as with butter. It certainly gives rise to high expectations. The guest might want to note that the appetisers are moderately small. The mains, however, would do the Neanderthal proud. The escalope, a pleasantly juicy piece ofgolden meat, is larger than the plate itself. The fries and sumptuously crunchy spiralled beetroot are served separately. Two or three appetizers or one entrée will feed you well. Getting in, however, might prove complicated. Booking tables online isnot possible at Džiaugsmas, and the impression at the door is that all of Vilnius is trying to spend time there. And we mean it when we say spend time – the crowd, on the younger side, is quite loud, perhaps even too much so for a solo diner.
Nowhere is the Spanish spirit as evident asin the markets of this country. What wanderer of the markets of Madrid and Barcelona would not wish to have something similar athome? But attempts to export Spain result all too often in a restaurant with a Spanish kitchen but whose spirit falls flat. Last year was a good year in Vilnius – success crowned not just one, but two such export attempts (see also: Selfish). The first glimpse atEl Mercado confirms that this isno kitsch. A combination of a minimarket, wine and tapas bar and restaurant, El Mercado spans two floors and may have the potential to change Lithuanians and Lithuania. Its mix of peoples reminds of the actual Spanish el mercados. While there are noSpaniards among the staff, the food and atmosphere are authentic. The fried peppers are flavourful without the dreaded bitter undertones. The paella – often a pale shadow of itself outside of Spain – leaves nothing tobe desired. And there are four of them! Also of note: El Mercado is a Cava paradise.
The Ertlio Namas offers a literal history class with dinner. The restaurant serves two tasting menus (four and six courses respectively), which hark back to times goneby. The house bread - a very special rusty brown in color, baked with carrot and beetroot - isprepared according to a 14th century recipe. Modern in comparison, the newest recipes are over two centuries old. The nobles of that time supped on mostly exotic ingredients composed into a delicious, refined whole. It appears that no single ingredient could dominate. Entirely contrary tomodern trends, isn't it? The historical food is contrasted by the newest products of local small brewers andwinemakers. The Gintaro Sino apple-gooseberry sparkling wine as aperitif has a fine, intense bubble; dry with sweet nuances, itis extremely drinkable. The oak-fermented apple distillate with its long aftertaste makes for an extremely smooth digestif. The staff will tell you about the food and drink, its story and provenance, inas much detail as you could possibly desire.
Gaspar’s, a small local restaurant at the edge of the Vilnius Old Town, takes its name from its owner and head chef Gaspar Fernandes. Gaspar was born in Goa to Portuguese parents. While the visitors might not know his background, anyone familiar with those cuisines will certainly recognise the flavours predominantin his cooking. The restaurant is not geared towards the wildest and most outrageous flavours from India and Portugal. Exotic dishes are adapted for local palates. The eel, marinated and grilled, isseasoned with Indian spices, but the delicate flavour bouquet of the dish is dominated bythe asparagus cream with marinated watermelon peel. The presentation emphasises the exotic inspiration. The turmeric ice cream with pistachio foam and cake crumbs is served in a coconut shell. The restaurant offers a small, quite individual wine selection. Gaspar’s is the threshold to the world of strange and exotic flavours. Lithuanians with their conservative preferences find it appealing. The restaurant is always crowded, andbookings are taken only byphone.
Yet another one of those nondescript Vilnius canteens? The eatery on the ground floor of a residential building might have windows from floor to ceiling but it doesn’t scream “Come hither”. Not until you actually see the menu that is, and realize that it’s a top-notch place, offering simple and affordable lunch options, creamy octopus soup with rice that looks and tastes like it should cost more. Nighttime Lauro Lapas magically changes into an even more appealing dining destination. Those water glasses from lunch service have morphed into champagne flutes. The Mediterranean-flecked, à la carte menu now features ravioli with shrimps and sepia or rabbit. Lauro Lapas, bay leaf in Lithuanian, is a key ingredient in marinated mushrooms––one of this country’s most popular foods, the flavorful herb lends a fragrant aroma to a humble dish. At lunch these mushrooms look rather common, at dinner they turn into something undeniably festive. Looks can be deceiving.
This small restaurant in central Klaipeda strikes with an exceptionally homelike atmosphere. The small sitting area at the edge of the dining room offers seclusion and comfortable armchairs to enjoy an aperitif or a digestif. The kitchen cupboards with dishes stand right there on the dining room wall. The enticing aroma of fresh bread is wafting from the cutting board. But since this is a restaurant rather than a home, locals generally visit it for a fast working lunch or business dinner. Occasionally, people bring their close onesto take their time celebrating a special occasion. For people newly in town, the order is taken and the food served at a fast food pace. Luckily, there is a way to signal that you would like to take your time. The key is ordering anaperitif. You will be given exactly as long as you need to enjoy a glass of sparkling Altemura Rosamaro Brut Rosé. The staff will take time to introduce the four appetizers and four mains in detail. The beetroot cake isan inside out cake. The slightly marinated crunchy beetroot base istopped with sweet granola of roasted peanuts and seeds. The rump of lamb is cooked tospecification and served with baby potatoes, broccoli, and green pepper sauce. The gourmand is treated to a salad made of tomatoes and raspberries from the chef’s own garden. While Monai is ready to bring out excellent food at breakneck speed, let the chronic rushers make use of this. Slow food at fast food pace is less ofan experience, more of a convenience. We recommend taking your time at Monai.
Monte Pacis may well have been last year’s single biggest surprise. After all, what would you expect of food inan active monastery? Austerity, perhaps, and meager offerings...yet throughout history, monasteries have contributed a lot toour knowledge of food in general and drinks in particular. And this is where Monte Pacis lives upto its heritage and blazes the trail for restaurants everywhere. The authentic rustic milieu created by the rustic wooden furniture belies the menu, which ismodern fine dining. The first section of the drinks menu covers...water. The fifteen different choices range from the crystal-clear Norwegian Vossto the Georgian Borjomi whose salty flavour some might consider an acquired taste. The list moves onto local fruit wines, monastery wines, beers, and ciders, and then champagnes. Choosing your beverages distracts pleasantly from the urgency of hunger. The Borjomi is a good choice for anyone who believes that all water is created equivalent. Moving on from there, the standout among sparkling wine-like aperitifs is the Abbazia di San Gaudenzio Fragolino, a mix of fermented grape- and strawberry juices that the Piemontese monks have beenmaking since the 9th century. Strawberry notes dominate and provide a very sweet counterweight for those tired of the old brut. The kitchen is helmed by Rokas Vasiliauskas, the youngest chef inany upscale restaurant in the Baltics. The restaurant really puts its best foot forward with the 9-course “carte blanche” degustation menu, where each dish remains a secret until it arrives at the table. The chef’s attention is largely occupied with introducing the degustation menu and guests that settle for the brief à la carte options might notget his full attention, even though the food is equally delicious. The lamb in the dumplings is coarsely chopped, which allows the flavor of the mutton a clarity that regular fine mince cannot quite achieve. Still today wehave fond memories of the perfectly cooked duck breast with delicate pickled rhubarb.
Thereis a deep meaning to the name of the restaurant at the intriguing new design hotel Pacai in Vilnius. The processes that started in the Baltic states in1918 culminated with the three becoming independent countries. The restaurant serves Baltic cuisine. Itis the first and only such in all three states. Apart from this historic date, the Baltics are certainly similar in their Nordic landscape. Anything else, though? Itis too early to tell. The restaurant is conducting R&D to find out. The Nineteen 18is a small restaurant in the back of a large hotel complex. Its limited space is divided into anopen kitchen and a small dining hall seating just 22. Its interior isminimalist, with black-painted walls and a low white ceiling. The tables are made of dark wood and the chairs are upholstered in grey. The overall impression is formal and slightly introverted. Not unlike, perhaps, the first impression upon meeting Baltic natives...Dinner at the Nineteen 18is a single tasting menu. The dishes are kept secret until they hit the tables. The guests have a single choice to make: whether toopt for the alcoholic ornon-alcoholic matching drinks selection. The head chef, Matas Paulinas, is a Grand Old Man in Lithuanian culinary circles. It took him just a year to skyrocket his previous restaurant, Nüman in Kaunas, to the position ofthe top restaurant in Lithuania. His ambitions for the Nineteen 18 seem tobe even higher. Matas’ cuisine is honest, thoroughly original fine dining. Every concept is taken toaninnovative, original solution. Vegetables, grown on the restaurant’s own farm, dominate themenu. The most spectacular of the dishes is the turnip-stuffed turnip. A turnip is hollowed outand filled with creamy churned milk-horseradish sauce, with layered, pastry-like squares of baked and marinated turnip. Simple and clear flavors are Matas Paulinas’ signature. Hehas a way of blazing trails, doing what others haven’t tried. The food is paired with house-made juices (or if you chose the alcoholic selection, try atleast the carrot-hazelnut juice or the smoked beetroot juice to know what you're missing out on). Or with a selection of alcoholic drinks, of which some Latvian and Estonian ciders are the most memorable. The challenge posed by Baltic cuisine is massive. Each of the three national cuisines isstill undefined. So how can there be overlap when there are no boundaries? But you have to start somewhere. The first menu at the Nineteen 18is a first, brief, but appealing excursion to this undiscovered land. We look forward to the next steps.
Snobbery is something quite new in Lithuania. Whether in architecture, interior design, clothing, or necessities, itis a fresh trend just entering the public sphere in the country; weobserve with interest how Snobas – the Snob – chooses to present the concept. Searching for snobbish people in this area in the evening is a desperation-tinged task. The restaurant is located in a tall glass bank building, with a view of a parking lot on the oneside and a gas station on the other. But if you trek up the stairs to the first floor, the interior you encounter will not disappoint. The chic, open kitchen isat the heart of the space, it’s fully exposed toone single oval table. But not so fast! The oval table seats only a lucky few and requires booking far in advance. Everybody else is seated at tightly packed regular tables. Ordering champagne orsparkling wine – which we recommend doing – offers another hint at the underlying snobbery: the graceful, fragile glasses appearto have a fairly original design. The napkins and cutlery are hidden in drawers under the table, and the guests pick out what they need.The cuisine is a simple European one that emphasises the natural flavor of the excellent ingredients. Itis surely more than a touch snobbish to serve multiple strawberry-heavy dishes in the autumn, butwe must admit that the pure, clear strawberry flavor pulls through rather well. Snobas isoneof the newest eateries in Kaunas, as well asonour list. We are confident inrecommending this earnest young snob that it will mature into an even better establishment well worthy of its name.
We couldn’t help but notice the new wine restaurant Somm. This is a place where wine turns guests from strangers into locals. As time goes by, Somm, just like good wine, stands out more and more in its segment. We are hard pressed to think of other restaurants where the discussions between clients and servers last as long asat Somm’s. Neither the server nor the guest is short on time, because Somm turns customs upside down. The drinks are primary, and the whole selection, updated once a month, is always ready at just the right temperature. The food list, more ofan afterthought, is brief and the dishes are simple. They are not even designed to complement the drinks, but rather cater to the sudden hunger. But these few dishes are expertly prepared and make the mouth water like nobody’s business. We leave this charming contrarian enriched by long discussions, having sampled a fair few different wines and eaten a few bites. But our stomachs are full and spirits uplifted. Nomatter that food was notin the center of attention.
Eat like a fisherman, in his kitchen. Well almost. Šturmų Švyturys is that rare gem of a restaurant that makes you feel like you found your way into someone’s home. When you enter the place you’ll find yourself in front of a small fish counter, yes, it’s a shop too. To the left is the kitchen, its door always open, allowing the most irresistible aromas to waft straight into the dining room on the right. A small kitchen and a room (albeit with another dining room in the basement) just like a fisherman’s abode. This is what Šturmų Švyturys is like. The food is made from what you can see at the shop counter. Impossibly fresh, and honest, just like at the countryside, sister restaurant Šturmų Švyrirt. Nobody can resist the famous fish soup here, and the smoked lamprey, neither should you.
Lithuania’s ports are dotted with simple canteens where fishermen eat upon returning from the sea. Šturmų Švyrirt, in the postcard-perfect village of Ventės Ragas, is one of them. It’s rustic. You should order the famous fish soup that doesn’t even have a recipe (it depends on the day’s catch) but comes with the added fragrance of the here-and-now and is made with skills that have been handed down from generation to generation. It’s fresh, honest and very authentic food served with a side of back roads charm, as Ventės Ragas is located far from anything else, in the Curonian Lagoon. There’s a small guesthouse nearby, we strongly recommend staying overnight. In the early morning hours, you can see how the fish goes straight from the boat and into the pot. The restaurant also has a Vilnius outpost, serving the same famous soup, but of course it tastes better here, when enjoyed harbor-side, next to drying fishing nets that add an extra layer of quaintness.
Sweet Root is a good name for this restaurant at the fast-developing Užupis district ofVilnius. Liquorice as a herb is ubiquitous, yet slightly mysterious. It gives all cola drinks their irresistible flavour, but its main uses lie in pharmaceutical sciences. The food atSweet Root strikes foreigners as local and locals as slightly foreign. Itis a place togetopinionated about. The table is equipped with a pen and paper. The paper – the supposed ‘menu’– limits itself to listing the ingredients the guest will encounter. The dinner begins with what the co-owner and genie of the restaurant, Sigitas Žemaitis, introduces as the “principal” course –bread and butter. Sourdough bread and fresh cream butter. Both, naturally, made in the house. The guessing game begins. The bread, succulently soft with a crisp crust, is topped with silky whipped butter, which, in turn, is sprinkled with gratings of the same butter, frozen. Can the two really account for all the flavour!? The ingredients list mentions fresh goat’s cheese and cured sheep’s cheese. Perhaps there is one...or both involved? We find ourselves switching between the cutlery and the pen rather more often than normally during dinner. The staff take their time in feeding us information. Each dish is literally memorable, since the taste memory and thinking are engaged as much as the palate. Far beyond the ordinary. Sweet Root titles its cuisine a seasonal local one, but not new Lithuanian cuisine. The consensus on the definition of the latter does as yet not exist. Lithuanians are conservative about their eating habits. Sweet Root is decidedly unrestricted by such attitude. Perhaps that is why foreign languages are more common inthe restaurant. Sweet Root serves a fixed seven-course menu with drinks. Written information oneverything that was consumed is brought to the table at the end of the evening – the guessing game comes toanend.By the way, the drinks are as special as the food. If you did notpay attention during the dinner, feel free to catch up online. Thinking along brings the guest closer to the Sweet Root family and seemingly bestows a bit of responsibility as well. And just like cola drinks, Sweet Root makes people come back for more.
Telegrafas, the Kempinski Hotel restaurant, is situated in the very heart of Vilnius, facing the cathedral across the central square. The atmosphere, foodand drink are accordingly elegant and measured. Even the pace of time seems to disengage from the rush of the city behind the tall windows. Itis customary here to start the dinner with an aperitif at the bar or the restaurant itself. The cocktail list, while very short, is drawn upof signature drinks closely tied to Lithuanian customs and preferences. The Taste of Victory blends the local ancient monastery liquor Krupnikas with sea buckthorn juice and old school moonshine for a dry, slightly bitter overall impression. The state of Lithuania recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Perhaps this is indeed the taste of hard-won freedom. The ingredients used in the restaurant are valuable, carefully selected and often imported from faraway places. But the menu always includes a specially chosen local dish, whose history is noted down for the visitors’ edification. We have always opted for those dishes and taken pleasure in the way flavours change with the times in a classic, long-established restaurant.
Located in a former monastery next to the Church of St. Catherine, this trinity preaches a new religion - the cult of food and drink. It consists of a restaurant and two bars, andwewould warn you against limiting yourself to just oneor two of them. The whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. The aperitif bar is impressive. Tall vaulted ceilings, dramatic black furniture, many lush green houseplants and flowers. The same repeats through the restaurant and digestif bar. The Primitivo G&T, with its touch of Primitivo wine accentuating the gin and the tonic, is a good choice for the aperitif. The red wine billows slowly downwards and complements the striking space in look and in taste. After a cocktail or two, you ascend the stairs to the restaurant. Take some care. Werecommend ordering one course at a time, because a starter along with a main might bemore than you can handle. The beef tongue entrée, two silky-soft pieces of tongue the size of regular hamburgers, is served with seasonal vegetables. The bartenders are clearly experts in their field and will gladly rise to the challenge of crafting cocktails that fit each course even better than wine. Virtual angel wings wave welcome and goodbye alike on the wall of the digestif bar. The relatively young, pleasure-seeking crowd has gathered to honor the cult of good food and drink.
Do you know what uoksas means? If not, you may initially find the restaurant confusing. Lights dimmed, night and day. Red brick walls accentuated with plenty of tree branches, moss, and other organics. Bird nest lamps in the ceiling. But when you find out that uoksasis the Lithuanian word for burrow, everything falls into place. While it stands above the ground, it’s a plenty convincing place to settle down andeye the proceedings in the open kitchen. The chef welcomes the guests to his den with chunky pulled beef tartar served on a potato chip, sprinkled with crushed hazelnuts and freckled with creamed pumpkin. The welcome bite combines with the surroundings to activate your imagination. This is an earthy bite indeed...it hints at rich and fertile soil. Uoksas isnot a carnivore’s abode. Ingredients other than meat are in preponderance. The autumn cucumber with pureed peasand onion gel is a juicy dish, where various techniques are used to present the clear and natural flavour of each ingredient to its best advantage. We are surprised by the trout: the fish displays neither the pinkish shade of farmed trout nor the grey of wild fish. Itis milky white! Smoked, then poached in cow’s milk, the fish tastes half of trout, half of flounder. Coffee is accompanied by the local digestif Suktinis – a mead brewed of grain, honey, andwater distilled into strong liquor. Uoksas is a stylish, natural, rustic streetside den, where excellent cooking brings out the clean flavours of simple ingredients in a way fit for a feast.
With over 100 Masters Level restaurants, the Nordic countries offer a wide variety of excellent culinary experiences. The Top 30 are all at the Global Masters level and they include some of the best restaurants in the world.