Sunday, 11 December 2016

Secret by Chef Petrov - restaurant discovery in Sofia, Bulgaria

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Secret by Chef Petrov offers the first tasting menu in the whole Bulgaria and shows there's fine dining in Sofia, too. 

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Only few days into my trip in Bulgaria I've realized that it might not be a destination for a foodie traveller. Sure, the huge portion sizes make sure I never go hungry, but the content of the plate is invariably a big chunk of meat such as pork shank (they do love their pork here...) and equally blandly seasoned potatos. 

Capital Sofia does, however, have some gems in store. One of the most celebrated chefs in Bulgaria (you know: famous from TV's talk shows and women's glossies...) Boris Petrov just opened his first restaurant in Sofia a couple of months ago. 

The restaurant is called Secret by Chef Petrov and it is, in fact, so secret that none of my Bulgarian contacts had ever even heard of it. They don't even have a website. 

In addition to the depressingly long and unimaginative à la carte typical for Bulgarian restaurants, the restaurant offers a tasting menu - first of its kind in the whole country, actually. 

A 15-course tasting menu, to be precise. 

Though still reeling from my recent defeat at Hella and Huone in Tampere, I wasn't going to let anything stand in between me and that.  

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria

The overall appearance of the restaurant was far from convincing. Cheap-looking tapes on the windows combined with rows of hanging flower baskets and flickering plastic Christmas lights only created a strange image of a pop-up that might potentially also offer some Thai massage. 

Was the atmosphere really not considered a crucial part of the overall dining experience or does it take kitch to such level it's actually cool and therefore outside my limited understanding and boring sense of aesthetics?

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria

Perhaps I'll never know. 

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria

Take these toilet doors, for one. Their comic value is undeniable, but not necessarily something I'd expect in a place like this. And though by all standards we're talking about one of the priciest and best restaurants in the whole country, the unfortunate left-handed delivery is obvious here, too. 

As a rule if there are ever more than one toilet stall aywhere in Bulgaria, only one of them seems to be working. That was the case here, too. Ladies' did stock proper towels for guests, even matching the interior, but there was nowhere to dispose them of. 

As a result they were piling up on the counter and eventually on the floor.

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria

Tasting menu costs BGN 79 (n. 40€), but later I heard an amused comment from the head chef at Sofia Grand Hotel, claiming that the price may differ greatly from one night to another, depending on the chef's mood and the clientele.

They stock only one Champagne (Louis Roederer), so I started my evening with a demi bottle of that  (BGN 85/ €43). 

Service was great, though, even in English. As each of the courses turned up, my charming waiter was even on hand to move the table for me, allowing me and my camera to better position ourselves. Later he profusely apologized for an incident when some nutcase walked in the restaurants, started going from table to table demanding money and eventually created a scene refusing to leave. 

That kind of customer service is something we certainly could have used at Faces in Latvia's Jurmala during the dinner where we actually witnessed a knife fight of all the things...

Dinner was off to a good start with a beautifully presented Tomato tartare. I had briefly forgotten what a cheese-loving bunch Bulgarians are, but luckily my waiter swiftly checked the menu and assured me this was the only dish containing cheese.

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

Next up was Taste of the Earth; according to the menu "citrusy beetroot, Iberico pork aspic and earth (?)".

The dish certainly had an intriguing texture and it was like... well, eating earth. I think I might have detected a whiff of truffles in there, too...?

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

Third stop was Salmon remulade: celery, capers, beetroot mayonnaise vinaigrette and salmon marinated and smoked on the premises. 

The cloud of smoke that was released from under the glass dome lended the dish more smokiness, but also some of that wow effect I'd been dying for all trip.

Fine, call me a snob. 

But I just want to see some effort going into my food!

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

Then we were off to Galisian marinated mackerel and citruses

For me the grapefruit element didn't quite sit well with the mackerel's somewhat typical muddiness, but damn it was pretty. 

Even if the spelling wasn't: that's not how Galicia is written. 

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

The great animal lover that I am, I happily welcomed the fifth dish: Trilogy of Foie Gras. I loved everything about the dish, down to the little details on the plate: first and third serving were actually piped onto the plate in the shape of the particular nuts they contained. 

As the waiter topped up my Champagne I leaned back and smiled contently. 

How come I haven't been to Bulgaria before?

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

Menu celebrates Spanish favours that apparently they love as much as I do and the next dish was a testament to this: Gambas al Ajillo - the shrimp and the octopus.

Oh, come on! 

My quiet contentment was verging on giddiness by now.

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

Oh yeah, and there was squid in the next dish, too! Chiperone squid had a wonderful, gently Asian twist. The inclusion of olive struck a bit of a discord with me though, along with yet another case of incorrect spelling.

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

Next I was served an exellent Vichyssoise. Such elegant flavour and such sublimely pillowy texture.

The purpose of the smoked foie gras it was served with didn't quite reveal itself to me, though. In this form and context its texture was reminiscent of slimy latexness of tinned mushrooms. In case it was there to add a contrasting texture, something crunchier would have worked better.

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

Asian influence was evident in the dish #9, too; Salmon concept 2016.

Cooked sous vide the juicy, the melt-in-the-mouth salmon had been paired with salmon skin crisp and fantastically fresh maki rolls. 

One of the greatest triumphs all night.

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

At this point I'd polished off all my Champagne, so on the recommendation of my waiter I moved on to red (a Bulgarian I can't remember as it was the only one they had in a demi size); BGN 29 / €14. 

Love Birds consisted of quail leg wrapped in pancetta, accompanied by beetroot crisp and wonderfully fluffy potato mash seasoned with truffle along with jus from quail's cooking process. 

Loved, l o v e d, LOVED this dish.

Owing to the perfect portion sizes I still wasn't feeling stuffed to a point of nausea. 

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

But with some trepidation I eyed the menu and the name of the next dish: Lamb knuckle stuffed with creamy boletus mushrooms with mousse served over pea and curry crème.

Luckily they didnt't lug over an entire knuckle. Instead the dish #11 was another sous vide concoction, accompanied by foam made with the meat's proteins seeped out during the cooking.

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

Dubbed Intermezzo, the next dish turned out to be a palate cleansing sorbet lollipop, prepared at the table using liquid nitrogen. Great combination of freshness (citrus) and fruitiness (banana). 

More points for the fact that unlike last time at Vincents in Riga, my guy got it right straight away withougt fumbling around. Even more points for not turning it into a spectacke requiring a specially made cart to wheel it over... 

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

As we hit the dish #13, it was time to move on to the sweets. As the first one; Cheese cake break the ice to get to it arrived at the table I found myself longingly staring at the empty chair across the table. 

Now, if ever, I missed The Cat Blogger as just by looking at the presentation I knew exactly what her reaction would have been: a deep, admiring sight followed by lovingly uttered "I want to marry this dish". 

And sure enough, it was maritably magnificent. So fresh; so lemony.

Damn. Want me some of that right now!

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

The next dessert, Smoked chocolate, again played around with the glass dome and smoke effect. 

The dish itself? A little (thank God for that!) piece of chocolate cake containing three chocolates. 

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

15. and last stop was Lemons straight from the tree - pick them. At this point a tree was carried to the table with the most divine lemon truffle dangling off its branches.

A perfect finish for a great meal.

Ok, so it did get even better as the next thing they brought over to my table was the Chef Petrov himself!

Secret by Chef Petrov_restaurant_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu

The total for the evening came to BNG 193, so a little under €100. Worth it? Oh, yeah. Though, in all honesty a dinner like that is not within the reach of most Bulgarians: the average monthly salary here is around €400.

PS. ready for one more secret? While smoking in restaurants is forbidden (EU and their regulations...) in Bulgaria, too, most of the good places (such as this one!) have a separate dining room where it is still very much allowed. 

Bulgarians love to smoke, though, so in case it's a table over there you're after, you'd better make a reservation well in advance!

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Secret by Chef Petrov
Bul. "Tsar Osvoboditel" 12, 1000 Sofia, Bulgaria
Tel.+359 87 844 4474

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Hella ja huone Tampere 6   Jouluinen maalaisterriini possusta_vaaka   


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