A Tale of 3 Lithuanian Lunches

3-5 October 2016

Naturally during my three-day stay in Lithuania, I also had a few lunches. Despite running around crazy from dawn every morning, I did manage to sit down for three of them — 2 in Vilnius, and one in between in Kaunas. Three very different and distinct meals, which made it far more interesting.

First up was the venerable Lokys, where I returned for the first time since the 1990s. I had that good dinner at Ertlio Namas the evening before and had a very busy day running around Vilnius all morning, so I dropped into this cellar restaurant famous for its game for a late lunch. Looks about the same as before, and I hit my head in the same place I did about 20 years ago…

Service is still spotty, and there’s no signal in the cellar, so it’s just a time to chill. It’s a bit of a tourist trap, but I remember the game meats being excellent, which is why I dropped in here. I ordered, and first to show up was something I can rarely touch now — beer.


A nice local dark beer, which helped me to relax certainly. But I do have to be careful with them, as my problem with beer is getting much worse, so kept it at one despite wanting more… In any case, the soup arrived.


A simple mushroom soup, nothing impressive. Just a tummy filler really. I was hungry so that helped. Then the main course, the boar.


Lokys is known for its game meat, and this did not disappoint. The meat itself was excellent, cooked well and full of flavour. But the other stuff was way too heavy for lunch, especially with a tasting menu dinner coming. Not bad at all. I headed out back to the hotel for a wee rest.

That night was the spectacularly poor experience at Dublis, which I have moaned about enough. The next morning after a pre-dawn alarm I was off to the train station and got into Kaunas just after sunrise. After trying to figure out the local bus system due to so much road works, I got my bearings and had a very, very long morning trekking around different parts of town.

I did plan on having lunch, and I had found a place called Uoksas in the centre. They did a tasting menu but only in the evening, and their lunch menu changes daily and is written on a chalkboard. I looked over it as I had a glass of wine and decided. Chilled and soon the first course arrived, the egg and mushrooms.


A nice little dish, with a healthy amount of garlic as well. Not a bad start. Then a modest vegetable soup.


Actually quite delicious, nice for a cold day when one’s been walking around for 6 hours. Full of nice roots, good stock too. Then the main…


The skin was done well on this, the fish pretty good though maybe a little overcooked. Overall nice, lovely pearl barley. Filling. I happily headed out and trekked a little more around town before I had to catch the train back to Vilnius.

That night I had the wonderful tasting menu at Sweet Root, which revitalised me quite a bit. If yesterday’s dining at Lokys and Dublis represents something backwards-looking (Dublis not really but carried the air of the country’s past burdens), this day’s dining at Uoksas and Sweet Root shows what the future of Lithuania can be, full of potential.

The next morning I was getting ready to fly out to Frankfurt to connect back to the US, but I had enough time for a quick lunch. So I walked out to a fancy seafood place called Žuvinė. With it located on the side of the Town Hall in one of the most in-demand locations in town, you gotta imagine this is made for business lunches.

I did indeed manage to eavesdrop on some interesting conversations…goodness, people need to be more discrete discussing big business deals! Anyway, I had some nice wine and ordered my lunch. The service here as you’d expect is very polished, as are the prices of items… Anyway, soon came my first dish, a very nice fish soup.


Healthy amount of fish there, very nice flavours. Again, nice on a rather rainy and cold day in Lithuania. Next up was my main, and it was bigger — and surprisingly better — than I expected.


This fritto misto is one of the better I’ve had in ages to be honest. It’s actually in tempura style, rather than the Mediterranean fashion. The breadth of seafoods, from octopus to shrimp, from scallop to squid, is actually fabulous, as are the really nice vegetables. No potato to be found anywhere, yes! Loved it!

That was a very good last meal in Lithuania. As I hopped on a cab towards the airport to leave this country I have such a soft spot for, I feared for it. It has depopulated so much over the years, and the current election campaign has really been demoralising. Some poor meals, but some excellent ones — ones that made me feel good that Lithuania, no matter what goes on politically, is on a good footing. I will miss this country, having visited many times over 23 years, but at least the last memories will be fantastic.

Stiklių gatvė 8/10

Maironio gatvė 28

Didžioji gatvė 31
Vilnius, Lietuva


Review: Sweet Root

4 October 2016

You’d think after that disastrous tasting menu at Dublis the previous night I would have called it before doing another tasting menu in Vilnius, but for some reason I had better feeling about my choice for this final night in Vilnius. I had targetted this place, Sweet Root, as the top dining choice for Vilnius, and I was set to try it no matter how tired I am of tasting menu issues.

I had a long day in Kaunas, having gone there at dawn. I got back late afternoon and got myself across the river to the hipster-ish Užupis area for dinner. I got to Sweet Root and immediately I saw major differences with Dublis. Where Dublis tried to show off visually, Sweet Root clearly has a more comfy and relaxed attitude — and more importantly, far more personable.

I hate to say this, but Dublis last night reminded me Vilnius was formerly in the Eastern Bloc. If anything, Sweet Root reminded me Vilnius is in the European Union. Maybe that says more than anything else with these 2 reviews.

Anyway, I went with the pairing this time, hoping it won’t be a mistake. But clearly the service was far more personable and friendly, with the idea that customers being happy is their main goal. First up was a modest wee amuse.


A little steamed bun with sour cream. Cute, not bad of a morsel. A pour of a nice bubbly and we were off with the first course.


I was a little taken aback by this dish, as it features an item I so rarely see — snail caviar. The cucumber and buttermilk broth added to the richness of this dish, alongside these little pearls of awesomeness. Fabulous. Found out it’s all local from Kaišiadorys. Awesome. In fact, all of the stuff is sources locally, and they helpfully tell you where each of the ingredients come from!

What a great start! Then a very generous pour of a Portuguese white then we have a dish covered in chard…


And when you open it, it’s a nice dish of lamb tongue! Excellent flavours, again locally sourced from Molėtai. Lovely dish, the yoghurt and the berries adds just a wee touch to the lamb tongue. Excellent!

I am enjoying this far more than last night for certain! Better pace, I’m not waiting for everyone else in the restaurant for one. The wine pours are far better, and far better dish and wine description by my excellent server. Next up, chanterelles.


Ah, not quite, but indeed. The chanterelles are within this raviolo. Nice, with a bechamel-ish sauce that really worked with the raviolo. Another good dish! A generous pour of cava and we move on with a cute dish that looks like an egg custard…


But it’s not, it’s actually a corn custard. There’s also cheese and quail egg here. Tasty, but honestly hard to eat with the construct. It was flaking too much and I didn’t know what utensil to use, but it all fell apart at the end. Really tasty, but a messy dish.

So far it’s a million times better than last night in every way. I am so glad I stuck through and went with another tasting menu! A generous pour of burgundy and we have some pike-perch.


One of the region’s more popular fish, this was a nice little dish. Love the wee turnips and onions too, works perfectly with the fish. Good dish, though it looks a bit sparse on the big plate. Then we got a pour of Austrian Blaufränkisch and here comes the duck.


Nice quality duck from Lazdijai at the Polish border, the breast is juicy and delicious. The pumpkin was a seasonal nicety though I hope it’s the last time I have it this October! But the star here is something that I usually detest — the confit fried up. This was the nicest, juiciest one I’ve had in ages, and the crust is not overly intrusive and annoying. Lovely stuff!

I was really happy with this meal at this stage, even if the adjacent table are a bunch of academics that are spewing on various inane things that are so annoying I was biting my tongue trying to act ignorant… In any case, the food and service has been excellent, complemented by generous wine pours. Just the way I like it.


A wee palate cleanser presented and we move onto the final item, the dessert.


A nice selection of items that featured many of my favourite things — sea buckthorn, beetroot, and goat cheese. Honestly one of my favourite set of items for a dessert, a very good ending to a surprisingly good dinner!

I enjoyed myself so much — despite those yammering academics — I stayed for a few after-dinner drinks. And just to show how generous they were, they allowed me to sample a lot of different things.


So needless to say I was very happy when I finally took my leave and made the rather hazardous walk back to my hotel in the dark — with the cracked pavement and potholes. But this dinner reaffirmed my faith in Lithuania’s restaurant scene and tasting menus in general. Now I know why this is considered the best restaurant in Lithuania. This was a heck of a dinner.

If you have one dinner in Vilnius, I would highly recommend this place. Plus, the walk across the river will do you good.

Sweet Root
Užupio gatvė 22
Vilnius, Lietuva

Review: Dublis

3 October 2016

A long day in Vilnius and I was looking forward to dinner. Tonight’s destination is Dublis, one of the new set of places that’s opened in Vilnius that offers a tasting menu. I’m looking to see what Lithuania can come up with for this evening’s meal, considering last night’s meal at Ertlio Namas was pretty good.

I got to Dublis and was seated at the counter — which snakes around near the kitchen. It’s not really a chef’s counter, more like a dining bar. I chilled out and went with the pairing with the tasting menu. It’s a chic setting right in the centre of the Old Town and the clientele is largely foreign from what I hear.

You can tell they put a lot of investment into this place, it tries to be very polished. But one annoying factor — there is a connection to its sister, more relaxed eatery next door that has a heavy yet automatic sliding door. It was a major distraction all night, especially sitting right next to it…


Anyway, soon the amuse series began. The first was some rice and buckwheat “cracklins” in a nice display. Not bad, though the herb emulsion dip was a little thick and was not the nicest addition. But good start. Also some nice beet-y bread…


A bit of corn strewn within, alongside some nice marrow butter. So far so good! Then the second and last of the amuse is a cep tea.


Not bad, with a lacing of lemongrass oil. This is starting pretty nice. After a bit we finally get a pour of bubbly as the first course is served — goose liver.


Lot of stuff here, but all rather ordinary. The chutney was a bit boring, and the goose liver was rather flavourless. Hmmm… Oh well. Then we had a wee bit of time off. A little annoying because the restaurant’s wifi was not really working, and the not-very-generous pour of bubbly was drained quickly. Took awhile, but then the second dish was presented.


Scallops. It was cooked well, but a rather ordinary dish. After the amazing ones I’ve had recently, especially at Senses in Warsaw a few nights ago, this was really on the meh side. Nice roe inclusion, but the various veg preps didn’t do much for me. And again, it took ages before anything moved. I noticed why — the kitchen seems to be putting every diner on the same schedule so they can prep everything at the same time.

Now I understand why they do this, but this isn’t really the way things are done if you have different dining times and groups. It ends up with me waiting for ages for everyone else that I have no interest in waiting for. Great. It would have been okay if the drink pours were better, but… Half the time I was sitting waiting with only half a glass of water. And no wifi.

Next dish came after another 20 minutes wait, a quick oyster snack.


Shredded, but unfortunately in that questionable herb emulsion that came with the first amuse. Hmmm…actually not bad once I scooped that green glob to the side.

And of course, another lengthy wait. I was starting to become rather impatient, and they don’t seem to have any clue — even when they have to top up my water 2 or 3 times between courses (and wine pours). I should have just ordered a bottle instead of this limited pairing scheme…

Anyway, another 20 minutes or so, the next course comes with a pour of rose — the duck.


Yeah… It was supposed to be confit with peas. It looks a mess, and there was rogue bone shards all over the place that actually came close to cause a bleed in my gums. It tasted pretty good, but it was dangerous to eat with sharp bone shards. Terrible prep work here. And of course, another long wait.

At this point I asked my server what’s up, and he said that the meal is scheduled to run 3 hours. Huh? For a not-so-long tasting menu? I asked them if they can hurry things up for me as I noticed they were just doing everyone’s food at the same time. That may have been a mistake on my part…

The next course came out after another 20 minutes but it was the first of the lot. This was the beef.


Okay, this was not good. It was barely edible, the beef was cooked so poorly. By asking them to rush my stuff the quality has dropped so dramatically. Honestly, I don’t have the energy to keep going here. I have a 5am wake-up tomorrow and I didn’t expect this much of a dragged-out dinner — with no wine to boot.

So I did the unthinkable. I abandoned my meal. I asked for the bill, and lost the balance of the menu and pairing. I know there were only 2 more items, but when the “hurried” version was so ridiculously bad (I abandoned most of that awful beef dish), it was just not worth it. They didn’t seem to get it…

I left extremely disappointed. I don’t know what they are modelling themselves after, but it’s not what it should be. Not every diner is the same, and by running things in a factory style setting they short-change their own efforts. There is so much that Dublis could be that it is not, and it’s mostly self-inflicted.

Maybe on another day I would have sat through the last 2 items, but I doubt it would have made a difference. It was one of those meals that made me reconsider doing tasting menus as a concept. I am so sick of places that think they know better than their customers and have zero flexibility — not of the set menu, but how they choose to be hospitable. Huge difference.

If Ertlio Namas last night showed potential of something interesting in the future, this night at Dublis showed the pitfalls of incongruence.

Trakų gatvė 14
Vilnius, Lietuva

Review: Ertlio Namas

2 October 2016

It’s been many years since I’ve been back to Vilnius, certainly a sight for sore eyes. I’ve always got a soft spot for Lithuania, and I really wanted to enjoy these few days back here. The changes over the 20+ years since I’ve been coming here is astounding…

Still full from yesterday’s spectacular dinner at Senses in Warsaw, I arrived mid-afternoon and checked into my guest house, which turned out to be an excellent stay. If you don’t need the bells and whistles of a full-service hotel, I’d recommend Real House Apartments. But I did some unpacking and logistics for my stay before I headed out for an early dinner.

Tonight’s destination is Ertlio Namas, a place that specialises in “historic” dishes. It’s reminiscent of Asitane in Istanbul, though less extensive. But I like the idea of doing stuff that comes from historic logs, and they pain to mention that potato was not a major part of Lithuanian diet until a more recent era. That made me smile certainly. I ordered and chilled with some wine. Soon the first item arrived.


A nice beef soup with a myriad of vegetables like turnips and onions, with some good pieces of local beef. Good flavours, a nice start. Then the main course, the duck.


Very solid, cooked well and flavoured nicely. Throw in an assortment of vegetables, from roasted roots to beets, it added to the overall plate. I enjoyed this enough to have a dessert.


Nice, a combination of pastry, gelato and other goodies, full of nutty goodness. A nice close to a nice dinner.

Having experienced some questionable food in Vilnius over the years since the early 1990s, this was an excellent meal. They can easily become one of the best restaurants in town from what I see, lots of potential here. A nice start to this trip!

Ertlio Namas
Šv Jono gatvė 7
Vilnius, Lietuva

Review #3: Senses

1 October 2016

One of the things I looked most forward to on this trip was my very quick stop in Warsaw en route to Lithuania the next day. I timed a connection perfectly so I got to have dinner at one of my favourite restaurants in the world, Senses. I still remember my first visit here, totally blown away…

Since I previous visit last year, my friend Andrea Camastra’s restaurant had been given a Michelin star, and people are finally taking notice of what I saw since the first few months this place opened. I’m so glad it’s going so well!

I ran into Andrea outside as I got to the restaurant, and we caught up a bit before he headed into the kitchen and the excellent staff showed me to my table. I have to say, the service here has always been top-notch and the FoH here is one of this restaurant’s best assets.

I relaxed as they caught me up with some developments and how they want to do the pairing, and I told them to go for it and surprise me. This should be fun! Then, as expected, quickly the amuse segment begins…


The first item was kind of cute, an “olive” filled with local cheese with some lamb ham. This came with a nice Aperol Spritz too. Then we got into a large set of goodies…


First was a saffron rice puff with mortadella…


Then a cute green olive taco with bresaola and smoked mackerel…


And finally the potato pancake souffle with smoked salmon. Mmm, all three were tasty, although the rice puff was a little hard to eat due to its big size! But an excellent set, getting me ready for the tasting to commence. Oh, of course the excellent bread service too…that lovely apple essence…


Then we began the first course with a very nice New Zealand riesling…


Mmm, this was a joyful tasting of cured sea trout and lardo from the Tuscan Cinta Senese heritage pig. Lovely flavours that worked well alone or in combination, as well as with the horseradish-centric foam on the side. Oh, did I forget the wee brioche that came on the side? Mmm…a nice surprise in the centre complemented the nicely steamed treat. Good start!


Next up a cute “Russian pierogi” in a tasty broth. The lardo and prawn combination was dreamy, and you can’t see it but there’s also bottarga… A lot of stuff in a small package! I wish I did the photo better as it really didn’t show this right. A wonderful pairing came by way of Jerez too…

So far I’m really enjoying this. The first two dishes were excellent, though for some reason I was tasting a lot of salt where there wasn’t. I suspect too much flying has utterly dehydrated me. Goodness, the last few weeks I’ve been in Tokyo, California, Vienna, London, Frankfurt, etc… Anyway, a beer is brought courtesy of Arzak, and the next dish arrives…


You can’t quite see, but it’s a fabulous venison tartar under the healthy amount of truffles. A little hard to eat logistically, but fabulous stuff. Lovely quality venison. I usually am not a fan of truffle due to its texture, but they have sliced these so well that this worked excellent. A rare “yay truffle” for me here. Plus, not pictured, a nice cup of mushroom broth.

I was happy with this tasting so far as you can see, and then the lambrusco was poured with essence of beet. Then the next course arrived, and as you imagine it’s focused on beets.


I love beets, so I love this. A fabulous tasting of beets, including a tasty sorbet. And a healthy amount of goat cheese too, one of those awesome combinations that always works. Fabulous break here, but with an Austrian tipple being poured, I see the next item coming…I smell it too…


I’ve enjoyed Chef’s take on gulyas in the past, but this is a more tempered version that focuses on the twin goodies of pork cheeks and king crab. Oh my…what a rich and wonderful selection. The king crab was just juicy as anything, and the cheeks were soft and succulent. Oh, and on the side, was a very cute “hot dog” full of more crab…wow…I can eat these things forever! Awesome stuff!

With that strong dish we needed a palate cleanser, and indeed it arrived… A nice grapefruit-centric shot, and we were ready to continue. A nice biodynamic wine from Alsace was poured and the next item arrived.


Oooh, these scallops were just absolutely lovely. One of the best quality scallops I’ve had, even if we add Japan to that list. The sweetness was just oozing out of these babies, and the cucumber and dill really made this a wonderful, refreshing dish. Wow, one of the dishes of the year…

I was still smiling as we move back drink-wise to New Zealand and we were presented with the next dish, wild sea bass.


Solid fish, but I thought this was a bit on the thick side. For some reason, I feel far more full this meal than I usually do here. Perhaps again with the consequences of flying too much, but I felt pretty full. However, this dish I gotta say the star was that Astrolabe sauvignon blanc… A rare so-so dish here.

I was getting really full, but I know there’s one more savoury dish as I see a big Italian red being poured. Then I started to smell what was coming and got excited again…


Oh my when they opened the box and I saw this beautiful imported Kobe beef rib. This was utterly fabulous, the rich beef just melting in one’s mouth. Beautiful stuff, another candidate for dish of the year. I actually grabbed the box just to keep sniffing it… I wish I could have taken the bone home!

Wow…I was very full. That was a heavy dinner. Good, but heavier than I am used to these days almost. The pairings have been utterly fabulous and rarely do a pairing stand out so strong for me. Kudos to the team for this selection! Then a wee cannolo to start the sweet portion of this meal…


Nice stuff, then the main dessert came, a tribute to the apple…


Wow. They called it “Apple Pie” and every portion has a resemblance to apple pie here. Excellent flavours working well both alone or together. And a fabulous Hungarian riesling added to the wonder of this. Awesome close!

But it’s not a close… a few more treats were coming, a tasting of cranberries…


…And even more…with a bit of a presentation…


Look at all this… It was almost too much!


Took awhile to fully enjoy all this, but at the end, we close with what has become the traditional last item, my cigar…


Lovely stuff, just sniffed it for a few minutes before eating it. Lovely close.

That was an excellent meal. I think the quick drop-in in midst of so many flights took its toll on me and my appetite was not as big as usual, which is why I thought this was heavier than usual. Strong as always, I noticed Chef is pushing the flavours even more than before. Many times it was at the utter limit, such as for the gulyas. It was intense without damaging the crab and cheeks. For me, a person who is more into pure tastes, sometimes it feels every dish is challenging my palate to its very limits, though not breaking it. It’s definitely an excellent thing, but I think my body was just too exhausted from travels. And to think I have about 2 more weeks of it to go…

I had a long good chat with Chef after the dinner going over a lot of things and I’m glad things are going so well for him and the restaurant! They certainly deserve a second Michelin star by the next guide, and I would not be surprised if they are one of the highest debut entry for the next 50 Best. I groan about both, but I know this place deserves to be rated alongside places like Maaemo (where I have eaten several times even before their 3rd Michelin star), Hedone (where I had lunch the day before), 11 Madison Park (where I have eaten way too many times in the past) and so forth. This guy is about to become a superstar.

Seriously, this place is worth a trip to Warsaw just for dinner. And it keeps evolving and growing. If you want a true challenge of your tastebuds, this is the place to go. It’s like Hedone on acid.

Bielańska 12
Warszawa, Polska

Review #2: Bocca di Lupo

29 September 2016

I had a wonderful night out with a dear old friend, with good drink and food (at St John Bread and Wine), but more importantly great conversation. I will miss these as circumstances will make these evenings in the future unlikely in London — although I suspect they will continue in other locations around the globe…

I had an important afternoon so wanted to fuel up with a late lunch at another of the “safe” places for me in London, Bocca di Lupo. I heard restaurants in SoHo were hurting from the massive drugs problem that is escalating quickly in the area, but the place was rammed. In fact, like some other times here, it was uncomfortable to eat at the counter due to overcrowding. Plus a drunken “celebrity” nearby taking up much room, it didn’t help.

I tolerate it because of the good food, but it’s one of the biggest downsides of this place. Very uncomfortable. And with it rammed the service was at a crawl at the beginning. Took about 15 minutes to get some wine, and another 10 minutes to order. Not starting out too good here…

I chilled out and remember that this happens every time here, so just take a deep breath and carry on. After a bit of time the cascade of dishes arrived. First were some nice “Jacob’s peppers”…


Good stuff, and then some so-so stuff like this spicy sausage…


And the rather weak scallop…


But the star was something you rarely get outside the region, rigatoni con la pajata


Mmm, in this pasta dish you have veal chitlins with its mother’s milk inside…a wonderful rare delicacy to get in the UK. Lovely stuff, something I’ve not had for over a decade. Fantastic.

And things quieted down a little, though everyone was puzzled by the person next to me ordering a plate of PLAIN pasta and to not really eat it. What is with food wasting with millennials? Of course an American tourist too… Embarrassing…

Anyway, for a dessert I usually always do the sanguinaccio, but this time I did a 2-parter. I began with these…


Honestly not that great… Anyway, then the espresso gelato…


These were fantastic, especially with some grappa on the side. I finished up and headed out for my very important afternoon.

I have to say, as usual, the frustration of the counter spacing is soothed by good food — although to be honest today was weaker than usual, and more chaotic than usual… One of the most important aspects of this place for the many years I’ve come here is to get stuff you cannot get outside of Italy easily, and that makes up for all the inconvenience and discomfort.

I’m glad I got to drop in one last time on this trip tho.

Bocca di Lupo
12 Archer Street
London, England

Review: Noble Rot

28 September 2016

My return to London of course was not to go without hiccups. I got some takeaway from one of the places I always thought was reliable, and of course they failed me and even ripped me off. Sigh… So the next day I needed a nice jolt for lunch.

I’ve seen so much praise for Noble Rot in London it actually turned me off. I don’t like places that has such universal praise, as it usually fails to deliver. But nevertheless I headed there and after a slow and awkward start the lunch began. Nice seat in the back with the skylight, which was cooler thank goodness.

I ordered and enjoyed some wine. I had a busy afternoon and a busier evening so didn’t want to overdo it — even if the wine list was pretty awesome, as it should be. I ordered and chilled out.

I like this atmosphere. But soon that happy chill turned into a happy drooly chill…


This was an excellent gazpacho with smoked eel. Lovely flavours in the eel of course, but I really wish there was more gazpacho — it was fabulous! Excellent stuff. Then my main…and I was drooly again…


Wow, this was amazing if you love pork — and I LOVE pork. A beautiful middlewhite chop cooked perfectly, without being trimmed to boredom. Lovely stuff for any pork lover, I can still taste it a fortnight later… Fabulous, one of the best pork of the year.

I enjoyed this lunch and made my way out after a final drink. I guess this place is deserving of all that praise, though I fear over-hyping this place will not do it justice. Safe to say this was a darn good lunch.

Noble Rot
51 Lamb’s Conduit Street
London, England