One of the biggest challenges with my annual January European junket is that the trip is too short. I cram too much in to a quick weekend trip. Yes, it is completely voluntary and I do it on purpose, but it creates a different travel experience than I normally seek out. I cannot settle in and pick a coffee shop or café to relax in all afternoon, sharing a more traditional, local experience. At least not if I also want to be a “good tourist” and see some of the main sights of the cities I’m visiting. With roughly 18 hours on the ground in Sofia, Bulgaria I chose the tourist path and still managed to barely scratch the surface of what is available.
I wanted a traditional pub-style dinner for my first meal in Sofia. My heart was set on stewed meats and a local beer or three. Some planning might’ve helped on that front, but I rolled in to this trip more casually. That cost me my beer on night one, but I still ended up with a great meal.
A quick search online had me walking the 10 minutes from the Sofia Hotel Balkan to Halbite (Бирария Халбите) a/k/a “The Beer Mug” where I figured I’d grab a seat in the corner and relax for an hour before collapsing in an exhausted, jet-lagged and beer-fueled slump. I was denied. The restaurant was full, or at least that’s what I was able to suss out from my non-existent Bulgarian and the hostess’s limited English. The place looked perfect inside but it was not to be for me on this random January evening.
As I wandered back towards the hotel while searching for other restaurants on my phone I happened upon Cosmos (Космос). It was bright and modern, with high ceilings and tons of space inside. And, pertinent to my immediate needs, had plenty of seats open at the bar. I stepped inside, hesitantly asked if they could handle an English-speaking customer, and then settled in to a seat knowing precisely nil about what I was about to eat. Turns out it was a pretty good choice.
No local beer here, at least not on tap. But the cocktail list was rich with localized takes on classics. The bartender was friendly and explained that they make many of the syrups and such in-house, adding to the local twist. My “daiquiri” drink (I generally prefer rum or vodka, not whiskey, and this was the ideal choice from the menu in that context) was the perfect balance of flavors but also slightly Balkanized. The glass was dusted with Samardala salt, an endemic herb to the region. I’m not entirely sure that was make or break on the overall drink flavor, but it was a nice touch in the preparation.
My salad was a take on the traditional Mediterranean style, with tomatoes, cucumbers and a firm, crumbly cheese. But it was hipstered up with foams. It also happened to be delicious, though the photo doesn’t show it off too well.
As a main course I chose a roast pork option. Rather than a chunk of pig I was presented with a beautifully plated mix of cuts from across the animal. Cosmos takes the various bits and repackages them almost like a casserole, but without anything extra added in beyond the pork. The result is a great mix of the different cuts of meat, offering some variety of flavor and texture. And, of course, the crispy skin on top.
The meal would have been at home in a modern restaurant anywhere in the world. Yes, it was more expensive (~$30) than I’d expected to pay for a quick Bulgarian dinner, but it was also a much more involved version of that quick dinner than I expected to eat. And absolutely delicious, even with the foams and jellies and such.
More from this trip:
- Why did airlines decide that "1" isn’t first?!?
- Country hopping: A quick weekend in Europe
- Ups and downs on the new British Airways business class service
- DLD 179: When we couldn’t figure out where to go
- Checking in: The Sofia Hotel Balkan, a Luxury Collection Hotel
- Cosmos: Hipster dining in Sofia, Bulgaria
- Chasing food across borders: Banitsa at Sofia’s Tsentralni Hali
- Seeing Sofia: The Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski
- Finally a successful CSR travel insurance claim!
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