T he restaurant Black Lion can be categorized as a “posh” Tbilisi establishment with one notable difference – instead of excessive gloss and sheen, it attracts visitors for its coziness and family-style ambiance. The interior combines the design elements of an old Sololaki apartment with those of a traditional Tbilisi cellar – thin doors, antique locks, brick walls, cupboards, vintage-1970s tablecloths, non-matching chairs, oversized floor cushions, sieves whimsically transformed into chandeliers, and many other embellishments. In short, it is a blend of Soviet camp and old-Tbilisi tradition.
Service is pleasant – the staff is quick to dispense equal helpings of jokes and advice. For example, after we ordered lavishly, our waitress quipped: “If you do not eat it all up, I will not let you in next time.” Smiling, we asked for a wine menu. The waitress treated us to yet another serving of humor: “Am I not a wine menu myself?” she asked and then went on to recite a list of six or seven wines of two wine companies and two different bulk wine choices.
We started with Roasted Bread and two appetizers – Spiced Mashed Pumpkin and Beetroot with Walnut. We tried the Tsinandali wine of Telavis Marani (GEL 22 a bottle) and continued with soups. Pumpkin Soup (GEL 4) was delicious, with pumpkin seeds floating in a spicy broth. Tkemali [Georgian sour plum] Broth with Beef (GEL 5) arrived, looking at first like kharcho [a traditional Georgian soup with beef, rice, tkemali and walnuts] but with a taste of sour tkemali reminiscent of chakapuli [a popular Georgian dish made from onions, lamb chops, dry white wine, tarragon leaves, tkemali sauce, mixed fresh herbs and garlic]. The sourness of the tkemali broth overpowered the Tsinandali, a wine more suited to the pumpkin soup.
Lettuce with Chicken and Ginger Sauce (GEL 15) was, in a word, extraordinary – four types of lettuce leaves, cherry tomatoes and roasted white chicken. Less successful was Beef in Pomegranate Sauce (GEL 12), served with mashed potatoes as a side dish. However, Black Lion’s turkey Kharcho (GEL 15) was intriguing. The Kharcho entrée was accompanied with corn bread, which was baked from parched corn but tasted more like crusty corn porridge. We thought this dish would be good with Kakhetian wine served from qvevri (Georgian earthenware vessel) or with Tsolikauri wine from the Imereti region. We changed our mind when the restaurant advised us that Kakhetian was too strange a wine choice and that it did not serve Tsolikauri.
I should add that Black Lion serves very tasty ginger lemonade (GEL 4.50 per glass) with lemon and ice cubes. Green tea (GEL 5 per cup), on the other hand, was terribly disappointing – I could not even figure out what it was that I was drinking. Cheese in Honey (GEL 8) also proved to be a great disappointment – the cheese apparently had been placed into the honey just before serving and, moreover, the cheese was sour, even possibly rancid. Having ordered a dessert wine, we were instead served some strange semi-sweet wine made from an unknown species of grape by some unnamed producer.
Complaints about wine are clearly not addressed only to this restaurant. Unfortunately, this seems to be a general practice of many restaurants. But it has to be said that Black Lion does nothing to select wines complementing its dishes, thereby undermining the best efforts of its chef.
Address: 23, Amaghleba Street
Hours: Daily, from 12:00 to 02:00
Bank cards: Accepted
Price: GEL 80-130 (Dinner for two including wine and gratuity)
Parking: On street outside restaurant
Tel: +995 32 293 10 07
E-mail: [email protected]
This article first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue # 93, published 26 March 2012.