In the last few years, several places with outer space-themed names have transformed Sofia's gourmet scene. The Rakia Raketa Bar bistro sporting a "modern socialist" interior and Fabrika Daga, which has expanded into two brunch cafeterias, are not just venues to eat out at but also hot spots for local hipster bohemians, as well as young families and people with fluid careers.
The Sputnik bar impresses with its interesting cocktails, while the Cosmos restaurant attracts with auteur recipes based on traditional ones, with quality local products and a thematic interior. Cosmos won the Best Modern Bulgarian Cuisine award from Bacchus magazine last year, followed by the big prize - Restaurant of the Year 2018.
The "rakia bar" concept is inspired by similar places in Serbia since that sector is missing in Bulgaria despite the country's strong rakia-drinking tradition. In Sofia's case, the interior of the rakia bar combines retro and socialist styles. The cuisine is reminiscent of the menu of Balkantourist, the former communist-era monopoly tour operator, but with a twist. The result is an unpretentious atmosphere, without too much emphasis on retro banality and with a "homey" vibe.
The upscale version of Rakia Raketa Bar is Sputnik - a Balkan-themed bar with a focus on rakia. That's actually a bit untypical, since mixing rakia with other drinks is anathema to hardcore fans. However, Sputnik has an interesting take on this, while the owner also infuses elements from his yoga passion.
Fabrika Daga attracts the hipster crowd with light food and brunch options. The quality coffee is something worth noting here.
However, the place that truly confirms the impression that a stylish and innovative concept combined with attention to details and adequate design is the winning formula, is Cosmos.
The ambition of the restaurant is to offer a modern, even avant-garde take on Bulgarian cuisine, with high-quality products and effortless presentation. Price-wise, the restaurant is in the expensive category but don't expect white tablecloths and silverware - the atmosphere is topical, modern and comfortable. The design is dominated by wood and metal in different forms. You're surrounded by spheres, cubes, tiles and hexagons, while mobile lights define the two floors. The idea is to create a hypnotizing effect as well as to recreate star constellations.
The cosmic theme is also reflected in the cocktails: you can choose one based on your zodiac sign. The menu starts with shopska salad and finishes with yoghurt with honey and walnuts. Expect non-standard takes on chicken with potatoes, mish-mash served cheese and Rhodope-style rice with chicken. In other words, the menu consists of traditional products cooked with contemporary techniques.
More at cosmosbg.com/en; sputnikcocktailbar.com
Predi 10 (Before 10)
The place for heritage cuisine
There are no compromises or small gestures to the general taste here. The menu changes often and some of the offerings are usually based on an interesting or a rare product like veined rapa whelk.
More of the dishes here are revived old recipes from the Balkans or the Middle East, all exciting for a true culinary detective.
The heritage cuisine includes the old Bulgarian dish "krokmach", kyopolou (roasted and mashed eggplant) with green tomatoes, fried beef "momici" (the thymus gland of the animal). The main menu changes six times per year and there's also a "menu of the day" aside. All the wine brands are local.
The all-round vibe is different from what you'll feel in the first seconds - the personal space seems tight but once you get behind the table you'll actually feel the comfort of anonymity. The other advantage is that the hall can be easily redone for different types of events which makes it a good choice for a family gathering or a party. Check it out at 359 884 935857
Wide selection of wines
A visit to Grape Central offers a genuine experience to wine connoisseurs. It is a true wine bar whose owners take the wine culture seriously and handpick the best that can be found on the market - the selection has expanded to 320 brands. There's a rich choice of sparkling wines - from Tasmania to Washington State in the U.S. The single glass options include around ten seasonal brands.
The menu might be dominated by wine but it also offers a wide range of food options. The bar escapes from the typical French fries or sautéed potatoes, replacing them with mushroom stew, sundried tomatoes with onions, mashed potatoes with authentically-tasting mustard, steamed vegetables with lemon juice and green salad. The pasta goes in two varieties: tagliatelle with tomatoes, olives, capers, speck, grana padano cheese, cream and yolk, while the carbonara is satisfying and warm enough for the winter. There's a brunch every Saturday until 4 p.m.
The interior is eclectic: you'll see a combination of secession, rustic, something that reminds one of Serdika's legacy, while other elements might give you Toledo vibes, all close to the original look of the space. Check it out at facebook.com/grapecentralsofia