Restaurant Barbarestan in Tbilisi, Georgia - Hole in the Donut Travel

Restaurant Barbarestan – a Delicious Discovery in Tbilisi, Georgia

It happens to me a lot. I arrive in a new place with no plans and little knowledge of the country. I do this purposely. I want to see every country I visit with no expectations. I prefer to be surprised. Somehow, the universe always seems to lead me to the places I need to experience, and Tbilisi,
Georgia, was no different.

Beautifully set table at Restaurant Barbarestan

Beautifully set table at Restaurant Barbarestan

I arrived in the capital city after an 11-hour night train from Baku, Azerbaijan. After checking into my hotel, I got local currency from an ATM, then focused on my most immediate need – food. There are numerous restaurants in Tbilisi for Georgian cuisine, but I was tired and didn’t want to go far. Fortunately, I spied a few tables on the sidewalk just a block away from my hotel. It was Restaurant Barbarestan, one of the most popular places in town that offers a pure Georgian menu. I stepped down into the sunken restaurant timidly, expecting to find only meat items on the menu. To my surprise, I was assured the selections included several vegetarian and vegan items.

Cellar dining room at Restaurant Barbarestan

Cellar dining room at Restaurant Barbarestan

The Kurasbediani family had been operating a restaurant on this spot in Tbilisi since 2001. Their food, while good, did nothing to differentiate them from scores of other restaurants offering modern Georgian food. Four years ago, they decided a change was in order. With the country of Georgia becoming better known in tourism circles, the patriarch of the family, Zviadi Kurasbediani, proposed a total restoration of the restaurant decor and a shift to a menu that featured Georgian cuisine as it would have been prepared in the 19th century.

Kurasbediani family photo at Restaurant Barbarestan

Kurasbediani family photo at Restaurant Barbarestan, used with permission

Manager at Restaurant Barbarestan shows me the book of Georgian recipes, written in 1874, upon which the menu of the restaurant is based

Manager at Restaurant Barbarestan shows me the book of Georgian recipes, written in 1874, upon which the menu of the restaurant is based

The restoration was well underway when the family realized the menu was going to be a problem. For nine months they had searched for historical Georgian recipe books but couldn’t find any. Though I could find no confirmation of this (and one of my readers claims it it false), the manager told me that the libraries in Georgia had been burned down in 1935 and all the historic recipe books had been consumed by the flames. As anxiety about about the menu was reaching fever pitch, Zviadi wandered into an area of the city known as the Dry Bridge. Older residents gather here each week, selling artifacts and antiques from the Soviet era. Searching for items to decorate the dining room, he flipped open what looked like a carved wooden jewelry chest. Inside was a book from 1874, written by Barbare Jorjadze, the first Georgian feminist and the first woman to create a culinary cookbook in Georgia. It’s fragile parchment pages held 807 recipes, which Barbare had collected from around the Caucasus.

Four-starters at Restaurant Barbarestan

Four starters at Restaurant Barbarestan: pickled bladdernut plants with walnuts, a purée of wild garlic with pumpkin, caramelized onions, and Nadugi with tarragon

Using only fresh, local, seasonal ingredients, the chefs have recreated 200 of the historic recipes found in the book. While modern Georgian cuisine focuses heavily on meat, the availability of vegetarian and vegan selections on Barbarestan’s menu is likely attributable to the fact that people living in the 19th century were too poor to afford meat. Several of my selections had a delightfully peasant feel and taste. The Chickpeas Gufta, for example, featured grape leaf purses stuffed with a purée of forest beans, floating on a base of beans and braised onions in a spicy tomato sauce. It was perfection. My appetizer featured four small ceramic bowls containing pickled bladdernut plants with walnuts, a purée of wild garlic with pumpkin, caramelized onions, and Nadugi with tarragon, all served with a delicate lavash crackers and homemade garlic butter.

A hearty main course of Chickpeas Gufta

A hearty main course of Chickpeas Gufta

I was pleasantly full by the time I’d finished my starter and main dish, but I asked for a second Americano. It was delivered with a dessert, the Almond Rose Meringue, compliments of the chef. It was almost too pretty to dig into. Almost. I pushed my fork through the high meringue cap to the layer of mascarpone and down to the bed of raspberry sauce. The meringue cap broke in half to reveal a hot pink interior, redolent with the fragrance of rose water. It was equally delicate and hearty, and sinfully good!

An exquisite dessert to finish it off, Almond Rose Meringue

An exquisite dessert to finish it off, Almond Rose Meringue

Since opening in December of 2015, Barbarestan has become one of the highest rated eating establishments in Tbilisi. They are so popular that the family has continued to add more space each year. Last year they took over the cellar of the building to add another public dining room, two private dining rooms, and an extensive wine cellar that exclusively stocks Georgia’s famous wines. Built in 1863, the cellar was formerly occupied by a butcher. As always, the Kurasbedianis restored the space with an eye to preserving history. They left the old brick walls and arches, and even the metal hooks in the ceiling where slabs of meat once hung.

Wine cellar at Restaurant Barbarestan

Wine cellar at Restaurant Barbarestan

Even with the added space, the restaurant is sold out most nights. I was lucky. I arrived around 1 p.m., after the lunch rush and before the dinner crowd had descended. But if you don’t want to miss out on one of the culinary highlights of Tbilisi, I highly recommend you make reservations. You can contact the restaurant on their Facebook Page. Expand any of the posts to see them in English.

Restaurant Barbarestan - a Delicious Discovery in Tbilisi, GeorgiaRestaurant Barbarestan - a Delicious Discovery in Tbilisi, Georgia

20 Comments on “Restaurant Barbarestan – a Delicious Discovery in Tbilisi, Georgia

  1. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the Restaurant Barbarestan and enjoyed trying the dishes there. The setting looks really charming.

    It was really interesting to read your response to ‘Charlie.’ I dislike the ‘hit and run’ articles which are so common today and spout the ” Top Ten… this or that” and those pop-up ads and even ads between paragraphs of a blog drive me mad! I like reading personal travel journals and posts, not commercials!! The blog site I post on has no commercials and no member rankings — just travel journals and that’s how I like it.

    I’ve been a subscriber to your blog for about a year or two and I’ve really enjoyed your positive voice in all your posts. So I, for one, hope you will continue writing for many years to come! Your blogs on incredible places you’ve visited certainly has lengthened my own wish list of countries to visit!!

    • I had to laugh when I read your final sentence Sylvia. When I first started out on this journey, nearly 14 years ago, I made a list of all the places I dearly wanted to visit and did a six-month round-the-world trip to see them all. You would think my travel wish list would have been whittled down after that, but just the opposite happened. It seems the more I travel, the more places I find to add to my wish list! I so appreciate you as a long-term reader.

  2. Am so impressed by your philosophy and thoughts on blogging, google listing etc etc. I feel exactly the same and often wonder if I can ever make a difference or get attention to my thoughts on my posts, especially when I wonder if I am bucking a trend . I have no advertising on my site yet, despite the offers, but freely advertise places/hotels etc that I feel deserve it without the bias of a fee so others can get the info they need. Georgia, Armenia and the “Stans” are on my list of next places I want to visit. Loved your frank view of Tbilisi as I had heard so, so much great stuff I wondered f there is a down side. It’s great to get another perspective. I’ve subscribed to your website for about a year now and really enjoy your posts, keep them coming.

    • Hi Barry. You just made my day. I so appreciate when people tell me they value the stories that I work so hard to publish. Hope you find a way to continue publishing yours as well.

  3. Barbara:
    Are you all right? I read your website every day, waiting for new articles, and I’ve noticed its been 21 days since you’ve written a new post. Are you ok? I think this is one of your longest stretches? I for one, since I can’t travel, read yours and other travel blogs for inspiration and refreshment for the soul. I’d like to encourage you to keep writing-as they say-early and often! I know that other travel bloggers-along with large swaths of world population are dealing with a lot of stress. You are a refresher for me and many others. Stay safe, happy and healthy.

    • Hi Charlie: Yes, I’m fine. I cannot tell you how much your comment meant to me. I’ve been doing this now for nearly 14 years and every once in a while I ask myself if I want to continue. Publishing a blog like mine is an incredible amount of work. On top of that, it’s very hard to make much money from it unless I want to produce the kind of “crappy” (sorry) content that most publish – the top ten of this, the best of that, how to do this or that. That kind of content is designed to do one thing, get listed on the first page of Google search. Despite Google constantly saying they value quality, original content, my kind of storytelling does not achieve the same kind of visibility that the shallow content gets. As a result, I have less traffic coming to my blog.

      I also refuse to plaster my blog with ads or pop-ups that take away from the reader experience. Nothing infuriates me more than having to close out three or four pop-up windows when I’m trying to read an article. I also refuse to accept guest or sponsored posts (people who offer to pay to put a story on my blog). All they want is a link back from my blog, which helps them to rank higher in Google. Most of these guest/sponsored stories are poorly written or cannibalized (read: stolen) from other writers. No thank you. I refuse to sacrifice quality in order to rank higher in Google.

      As a result most of the annual cost of the blog (about $5,000) comes out of my pocket. I have continued to do it for altruistic reasons. I’ve always felt that people everywhere are more alike than different. I don’t understand the idea that “others” should be feared. By writing stories about the places I visit and the people I meet along the way, I hope to eliminate this idea of “otherness.” Given the current situation in the world, I am questioning whether I have made much of a difference after all these years.

      Up to this point I’ve continued because it has been my passion to travel and write and take photos, but with COVID the decision may be taken out of my hands. I live in Thailand and am very grateful to be in this country during the pandemic. The government here has eliminated community transmission and we are COVID free for the past 72 days. The only cases are from Thai nationals returning from overseas, or guests of the Thai government, such as diplomats or experts. All of them are quarantined, so it is safe for us to travel domestically. I have a visa to reside here, so I can stay. However, I’m American, so if I leave the country I cannot come back. This is my only home in the world, so that would be problematic for me. What that means for the blog is that, after I’ve published that last of my backlog of articles, I will only be able to write about destinations in Thailand. I suspect my readers will get pretty tired of reading about Thailand, thus I’m trying to stretch out my remaining stories about international destinations. So, you will still see content from me, though not as often as before.

      Thank you for being a voice in my ear and letting me know that there are people out there who appreciate what I do. You stay safe and healthy too. All the best to you and your family.

      • Please write about Thailand – it helps keep the faith about the possibility of future travel and I for one love local stories… especially from the perspective of a mature single traveller. ?

  4. Wow, truly a wonderful visit and great posting. By any chance, have you been visiting Armenia? I hear wonderful things from that country and they are neighbours of Georgia.

    • Hi Peter. Yes, I visited Armenia and absolutely loved it. I especially loved the capital, Yeravan. I’ll be writing about it soon on the blog.

  5. Wow! Another lovely place to visit. I really like your writing style and am always pleased to see a post from another of your adventures. Happy travelling!

    • Thanks Irene, as always. I have to say I wasn’t particularly enamored with Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia (next story to be published), but I think the countryside of Georgia has a lot to offer.

  6. It is not such a name as Sviadi in Georgia, it is Zviadi. And all libraries were never burned down in 1935 in Georgia. But anyway, the restaurant has delicious food. I am not a journalist, but I was born in Georgia, so all generations of my family did too, and one of my grandfather’s sisters used to work in libraries in 1935

    • Hi Inga: Thanks so much for your comment. I’ve corrected the name to Zviadi, but since the manager told me the story about the libraries being burned down, I hesitate to remove that part. Instead, I changed the sentence to say that I couldn’t confirm this fact, and that one of my readers claims it didn’t happen. I always appreciate corrections!

  7. I really enjoyed this post, Barbara, so much so that I am going to save it for future reference. My hubby and I are in Budapest now (and for the foreseeable future) and there is a Georgian restaurant nearby. Hopefully, it will be as good as the one you found, but that is a high bar. I agree with you. We don’t do much research or planning before we head to a new place either. Things seem to unfold in a delightful way. Also, great photos.

  8. I was just going to skim this article, Barbara, but your writing style and intriguing content compelled me to read it in its entirety! Loved this story of the family and how they transformed their restaurant to reach new levels of success. So happy for them! Excellent journalism, Barbara! (Oh, and that dessert!!!)

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