One of my favourite things about travelling somewhere new is when that new place pulls something out of the bag that you really weren’t expecting. You know, you go to Rome or Paris and you have a fair idea what you can expect from the food – but Vilnius? I did a little bit of googling about restaurants in Vilnius before I went, but I really had no clue what was in store for me. So what was in store for me? Well, as it turns out, day after day of some of the best eating I’ve done in a long time. And not just that, but really affordable eating too.
Foodies – if you don’t know, get to know. Put Vilnius on your city break bucket-list, and go there, and eat your way around this gorgeous little city. Here are a few highlights to get your mouth-juices flowing:
The Shakespeare is a lovely boutique hotel with a literary theme (which you may or may not have guessed from its name), but where the hotel really shines is in its dining room. Whether you stay here or not, you can eat in the restaurant. I highly recommend you go and eat breakfast. They have an a la carte menu that includes gorgeous Lithuanian baked eggs with ham, pancakes with poached egg and caviar, and – the ultimate protein-lovers’ breakfast; steak, with a fried egg on top. Just a plate with a beautifully cooked steak on it, and an egg on top of the steak. Yes.
Dinner is similarly good – big plates full of rich, perfectly cooked food. I only had dinner here once, and chose a fairly ‘Lithuanian’ meal of beetroot soup followed by a beautiful roast pork belly with potato and courgette pancakes. The dessert, an amazing cheesecake, actually looked as good as it tasted, which rarely happens. Mains are between €10 for the veggie option up to €23 for the steak, so it’s not the cheapest place in the city, but it’s really, really good.
Oh, those bakers. Those beautiful bakers. Tie Kepejai is a tiny little café and bakery near the main street in Vilnius. The soft lighting, smiling staff and exposed brick walls are warm and welcoming, but the real welcome comes from the shelves stacked with biscuits and pastries, candied nuts, homemade granola bars, amaretti biscuits, marshmallows, cake-pops, macarons, toffee, home made jam and peanut butter, meringues and much more.
It has only one table and can accommodate around four people at a time eating-in. The rest of its trade is take-away and event catering. The bakery is owned by Laura Donele, a young woman who wants to make the world a better place, one fluffy little cupcake at a time. And by god, I think she’s actually doing it. I’d know, I’ve eaten those cupcakes.
It’s really not so expensive, either. We went a bit mad, and tried the home made amaretti biscuits, two cupcakes, a bagel, some toffees, sesame and tahini cookies, and a mini lemon cheesecake that was incredibly light (didn’t want to overdo it or anything). Their homemade peanut butter is worth keeping space in your luggage for, buy some of it.
Brace your arteries for this one. Aline Leicaiai serves up proper, hearty, traditional Lithuanian food. If you want a real taste of old-school Lithuanian food, go here. It’s not a tourist trap, it’s not gimmicky… this is where the locals eat. The most important thing to remember about this place is that you need to arrive hungry, because not only is the food incredibly rich, but there’s a lot of it.
Picured above on the left, for example, is our STARTER. Our STARTER. The thing you eat before you get to the main meal. After this we had baked rabbit in a creamy mushroom sauce and ‘wild meat’ (venison) in a beer and cranberry sauce. Everything was beautiful and robust and a little bit like a Game of Thrones banquet. I’m not gonna lie, this is food that will put you in a coma. I recommend going here if you don’t plan on doing much afterwards – a few pints of the local ale and this dinner, and all you’ll be ready for is a walk back to your hotel and a very satisfied lie down. I can’t tell you what dessert is like here. I was so full I had to be rolled out the door and home.
In the heart of the Republic of Uzupis there’s a restaurant that makes foodie dreams come true. Sturmu Svyturys doesn’t have a printed menu outside. It has a chalk-board that changes daily, depending on what fish Ceslovas and his wife Asta, the husband and wife who own the restaurant, can source. Their suppliers are independent fishermen who work the Curonian Lagoon, beside Ceslovas’ home town.
The restaurant has been lovingly decorated to honour the fishermen of the lagoon, the whole place is a homage to and you can honestly taste the love in the food. Ingredients are simple, local, and seasonal, and the menu lets the fish speak for itself. This is one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time – creamy, delicate fish pate with crusty bread, beautiful pike-perch broth, ceviche of Asp with tomato jam and roast zucchini, vimba bream carpaccio with mango, vanilla sauce and plum chutney… and a superb wine menu to accompany everything. It’s just beautiful.
I’ve written about this place before, and I’m writing about it again. Anyone who has built an entire room out of chocolate, and has then included a chocolate cat in said room, is worthy of multiple write-ups. Don’t miss this place – go in, get cosy and have hot chocolate, and plenty of it. Try lots of truffles, but especially try the blue cheese and walnut one just because it tastes so much better than it sounds. That white chocolate one in the picture is peach cream and pistachio, which tastes a lot like how I imagine happiness would taste, were it a truffle.
Kitchen is a modern, beautifully designed place that looks like it’s going to cost an awful lot more to eat in than it actually does. At lunchtime, they offer a two-course set menu that costs €5, and even the mains from their dinner menu almost all cost less than €10. We had smoked salmon rillettes, beef carpaccio with rocket, parmesan and apple, a beautiful salmon and radish salad, and bream with a balsamic glaze. The dessert – cheesecake and panna cotta – was good, but not the star of the show. Honestly, if and when I return I’ll skip dessert and just get extra starters instead; they were excellent. You get a big basket of crusty bread and a huge carafe of water when you sit down, which is a huge brownie-point winner.
Ok, this one is a little outside Vilnius, in Trakai. You can get there in about half an hour, and it’s a great day trip from the city anyway; sitting on the shores of two beautiful lakes, it’s a peaceful and beautiful place that comes complete with a fairytale castle and a shedload of Lithuanian history. But there’s also a foodie-reason to come here.
Trakai is the heartland of the Karaim people, a religious community of only a few thousand throughout the world. This makes it one of the few places in the world where you can taste Karaite food, most notably the kibin. These are pretty much what you might know as a ‘pasty’, a thick pastry crust filled with delicious fillings. Go to Kybynlar and eat many of them. I had one with chicken, and one vegetarian option with spinach and cottage cheese (this was particularly good). Wash them down with a pint of Lithuanian beer, and afterwards, try some Karaimu liqueur while you’re at it. It’s really good value and very filling, which is pretty much exactly what you want after a day wandering around the gorgeous lakes out here.
Oh – and the AJ chocolate factory is out in Trakai too, so if you’ve managed not to completely stuff yourself with Kibinai, head here for a little dessert.
I would usually run a mile from the kind of place that charges €6 for a bar chocolate, but I’m actually glad I found this little place on Didžioji street in the old town. The House of Naive’s craft chocolatiers make really beautiful chocolate, with emphasis on using local, natural and seasonal ingredients and sustainable practises. They come up with some pretty sublime flavours too – never in my life would I have thought to put chocolate and mushrooms together, but their dark milk chocolate with Lithuanian porcini is something else. The price might make your teeth clench, but the multi-multi-multi award winning chocolate will make your mouth water. Really worth splashing out on.
I was about to walk by this place, wandering quite aimlessly through the streets and hoping to find somewhere to get a snack. It was a Monday afternoon and quiet enough on the streets. Drawn by the mellifluous sounds of Slick Rick’s rhymes oozing out the door, I floated in, not really knowing what was inside. Café de Paris is a very cool little bar and café where you can get a really good bagel and a glass of wine for under €5. They do serve more substantial meals here too, but if what you want is a little break without having a full-on sit-down lunch, this is a good place to have it. Good bagels and good wine at a good price, which you can eat and drink while you listen to good music. Shut up and take my money.
Flights to Vilnius
- Dee Murray