($ up to 12 leva a person for three courses; $$ 12 to 20 leva/pp; $$$ 20 to 35/pp; $$$$ 35 and over/pp)
Address: 2 Kotel Str, Sofia
Tel: 02/ 964 03 86
Open: every day, 11.00 to 23.00
Credit cards: yes
The glories of German cuisine can really only be properly experienced in an authentic Bierstube, but when 1100km separate here and there, Die alte Lampe/Fenerite offers a good alternative. As an interpretation of the beer hall, the restaurant pays due respect to its German roots, while not forgetting its Bulgarian host.
Cream-coloured walls are broken up with brick accents, and with photos, and knick-knacks and Biersteins from beer festivals on wooden shelves; sturdy benches and tables, too, are of a similar dark-stained wood. Random whorls of colour in the form of fans of paper napkins pre-empt the possibility of staidness.
When entering the restaurant, which is near the end of Arsenalski Boulevard in Sofia where it meets Yuzhen (South) Park, the first thing is the wooden bar, decorated with plaques with German sayings. German is not uncommon to be heard here - nearly every time I have visited Fenerite, German speakers have been happily dining on emmenthal cream soup or pretzels, though I have not yet found a staff member who speaks the language. They do speak English, and good English at that, enough to understand questions and requests, and answer politely and competently. The menu, too, is bilingual: the original one featuring German food is in German and Bulgarian; the insert - with "European" or "Euro-Bulgarian" food - is in Bulgarian and English, as is the menu of new offerings that sits on the table, presenting a variety of wursts (lamb, currywurst, original bratwurst, platters of wurts, all served with potatoes in different forms).
The waitstaff are wonderful. When I've had to send an item back because it did not match the server's description (the sauerkraut was swimming in oil), there was no complaint. Another time, asking for a substitute for the potatoes that accompanied a dish, the server said that he did not think that such would be permitted, but kindly promised to check with the kitchen. Though it did not prove possible, the fact that he willingly took the initiative was a good sign.
With festive groups, at lunch with a friend or for a dinner alone, Fenerite discriminates not (it is the type of place that seems to have a following of regulars, of businessmen and of Bulgaria's confident, but not snobby, upper-middle class, aged about 30/35, having been educated abroad, and then returned home), and service remain efficient - in fact, though the inside would only seat about 50 or 60, there are normally about four waiters. Impressive for Bulgaria.
I love Eisbein. Fenerite offers Schweinshaxe, which, while not the same as a brined pork shank, it comes close enough. Though instead of being grilled, as is typical, the Schweinshaxe (pork knuckles or something, about 27 leva) comes prepared like Eisbein. Or so it seemed. Arriving hot on a wooden board, was tender, not too salty and, with the spicy mustard, hard to stop eating. Sauerkraut (side dish about 4.50 leva) rounded things out.
To start the meal, we usually take one of the good-sized lettuce and mixed vegetable salads (5.65 leva), and one of the tasty pates (Obatzta, a Bavarian mix of Camembert and Roquefort, or Liptauer, an Alpine spread of cheese, fish and spices, about four leva each), which are served with a toasted split roll. These latter remind me of the sharp-cheese spreads with which my German grandpa used to treat us, though he served it with jam spread on top and no fish. Though the creamy-salty combination at Fenerite is very pleasant.
A happy touch to the meal - and one very German at that - is that Maggi, a soy sauce-like liquid seasoning, is available if you ask. I would eat it on everything (but not ice cream!).
The Grießklöschen Suppe is a nice start in cooler weather, though when I had it one day, the clear chicken broth in which floated the semolina dumplings was very salty.
Because I couldn't help but wonder what a German restaurant would make of Bulgo-Euro food, I recently tried something from that menu: hesitating between the grilled sea bass and the parsley balls with yoghurt sauce (7.90 leva), I settled on the latter, and was pleasantly surprised: it was just like home-made. Unlike the dense, pan-fried parsley balls I've had elsewhere, these were five light, crispy patties, the batter mixed with the herb recalling tempura croquettes. The accompanying thick dilled yoghurt sauce had a bite, thanks to the freshly minced garlic, good enough to eat by itself with a spoon.
As to drinks, there are three brands of German beer - Krombacher, Warsteiner and Erdinger - available draught for a price (200ml is two leva, though the way in which it is served makes it look more like Champagne than fermented wheat). There is also bottled Erdinger dunkel (500ml for 6.80 leva). A small selection of wines focus on Bulgarian cellars; the "house" wine (Telish!) is a pleasant option at 14 leva for a litre.
And if all this were not reason enough to visit, the music is an intelligent mix of oldies but goodies, and at a low volume, which allows conversation.
I would love to eat at Fenerite more often.
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