You can often spot a newly opened restaurant by the exceedingly polite staff, and so it was with Buñuel, an old house shrouded in trees with an elegant forecourt and upstairs terrace, right on busy Shishman Street.
All the downstairs tables were taken, even though it was a Wednesday evening, and so we were ushered upstairs to an exquisitely discreet covered terrace. The staff were so solicitous that I wondered if they had mistaken me for a famous film star (ok, perhaps not!) but in fact – full marks to the staff of Buñuel – this was de rigueur for them.
Our waiter confirmed they had only been open five days and apologised for any teething problems. He also asked us to be forthcoming with any suggestions.
Initial impressions of Buñuel are very pleasant. The atmosphere is bohemian and relaxed, the presentation artistic and tasteful - photos of performers adorn the walls - and the music is unobtrusive, jazzy and fusion. The upstairs cloakroom is spacious and fragrant with drapes and towels (instead of paper tissues) and a wide washbasin. A special room designed for film projections lies by the cloakroom. Our tablemats, depicting legendary filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni (Blowup), complemented the sense of being in an arthouse environment.
The restaurant's name, of course, refers to another iconic filmmaker, Luis Buñuel, whose perhaps most celebrated masterpiece is The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, in which a group of diners are constantly frustrated in their attempts to sit down and enjoy a meal together. Thankfully, this was not the case here! Although, having said that, every 15 minutes or so someone would appear on our terrace - I say "our terrace" because it had room for only one table and so it felt rather like "The Royal Box" - to enquire if we liked the food. In Bulgaria's case, however, where service is traditionally a hit-and-miss affair, it was welcome attentiveness.
Complimentary chilled lemon drinks were quickly brought to the table before we had even ordered - a refreshing touch on a warm summer's evening. A potential problem for foreign diners is that menus are not in English. We deduced, however, from the prices that Buñuel does not cater to your standard fare. Chips and pizza, for example, do not feature. "Haute cuisine" and self-designated "healthy food" definitely do. In fact, what caught my attention, while passing down Shishman, was a plate of magnificent giant prawns.
The dishes are not named as such, just described. For my first course I had a mixture of iceberg lettuce, avocado and dried tomatoes, sprinkled with home-made vinaigrette sauce (7.90 leva for 300g). Nothing remarkable, but at least the avocado was ripe and, unlike in other establishments - where you have to rummage to the bottom of the bowl to find the delectable green morsels - the serving was generous. My wife had iceberg salad, rocket leaves and lettuce with pine tree honey vinaigrette and roasted goat's cheese with oregano - (10.90 leva for 300g).
Having tasted my wife's dish, I think hers was better. She especially liked the warm cheese. Our five-year-old daughter had a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and marinated cheese with herbs - (8.90 leva for 300g), not exactly a Shopska salad but a posh relative. She liked it, although not as much as she like gawping at the large family of cats in the courtyard over the fence.
For our main course I had tagliatelle with prosciutto, cherry tomatoes and rocket leaves - (11.90 leva for 350g). It was very tasty, although I have never had Italian food that really matches the real McCoy - as in Rome, for example.
My wife had chicken Teriyaki garnished with pesto rissotto - (11.90 leva for 400g). She found it somewhat disappointing. Teriyaki is meant to be a Japanese marinate made of Soy sauce, Sake, sweet rice, wine and ginger. Anyway, it seemed like they had forgotten to marinate the chicken breasts in the sauce, or at least there was barely any taste of it. The chicken was decidedly dry and over-grilled.
By then we were full, but we decided to order one dessert, shared among the three of us for our daughter's sake - chocolate truffle cake accompanied by slices of carambole fruit. When we enquired about the carambole, they brought some more out, complements of the chef, they said. The cake itself was rather like a chocolate mousse - rich, soft and tasty.
The bill, together with a beer and two apple juices, was 63 leva. It seems like Buñuel is aiming to become a gathering spot for Sofia's artistic and intellectual crowd. A good spot to unwind in the evening, although perhaps more so for adults than those with children. Overall, a promising new venue and one to which we shall return.
Overall: 4/6 Food: 3/6 Atmosphere: 4/6 Service: 5/6 Price $$$ ($ up to 12 leva a person for three courses; $$ 12 to 20 leva pp; $$$ 20 to 35 pp; $$$$ 35 and over pp)
Address: Tsar Shishman 12, Sofia Tel: 088 4145995 Open: Every day 10am to 1.50am Credit cards: No
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