On our first foray into Georgian cuisine, we were quite quizzical about what to expect and the arrival experience is part of that journey. Being intrepid tourists and with some not so hasty homework done, we arrived on foot from the Avlabari metro station in the old Tblisi neighbourhood and easily found our way to the restaurant location after some 700 metres casual walk and we were confronted with a very elegant mansion. mylifestylenews writes.
Khinkali is one of the many Georgian national dishes and if you wonder what it is like? Think of the Chinese Xiao Long Bao (steamed dumpling) in double or triple the size and in thicker dough paste wrapped around with soupy, slurpy and tasty meat fillings. While Khinkali comes in many varieties with meat filling such as minced pork, beef is commonly used as well as lamb with or without cilantro, pastry and other herbs. There are also vegetarian Khinkali served with sulguni melty molten cheese (a sort of between firm mozzarella and mild cheddar with a unique and slightly stronger flavour that melts perfectly and forms a crispy bubble in a hot oven) and/or mushroom, spinach, potato and cream as alternative. The flavours are sealed inside the dumpling appearance that is boiled to turn the center well cooked to soupy and mushy texture while the outside dough remains strongly protecting the inside filling without slipping out. Khinkali is everywhere in Georgia and is to be enjoyed as a starter, snack, sharing plate or main course and it is widely ordered at almost every table although it may take up to 20 to 30 minutes as they are a-la-minute freshly made to order. While it arrives to the table steamy hot, Zaza took the liberty to demonstrate the rustic Georgian way to savour the Khinkai without much hassle by picking up the rather hard stem “nipple” top with his bare hand and carefully bite a small hole at the side of the dumpling to suck out the contents without spraying volcanically steamy hot soup all over your body. While the thick “nipple’ top is usually use as a handle and is normally discarded after sucking all the intense flavour of the soup and meat together with the lighter paste of the bottom part of the Khinkali. Unlike the Chinese dumpling where chopstick and a spoon are used to hold the substance and accompanying black vinegar and julienne ginger as dipping sauce, the Khinkali is to be enjoyed by its own.
Another must-try Georgian national dish especially for the first timer! Khachapuri is a Georgian version of cheese bread that comes in various forms with 9 different styles or more. Adjarian Khachapuri is definitely the most iconic as it comes in a boat shape style with the dough moulded into a boat shape, filled with pork and beef and topped with heavily loaded sulguni cheese and Imeretian cheese – from the region of the same name with a firm yet crumbly texture, salty in taste (some mixed with other cheese for the extra complexity) and baked in the oven. Originated from the southern Adjara region of Georgia, an egg is cracked in the middle of the melted cheese and butter for the devilish sinful taste on palate. The best way to enjoy this national treasure of boat shape Khachapuri is to break the crusty side of the dough, dip and stir well with the egg and lift up the cheese for the extra kick. Heaven forbid by using a fork and knife to enjoy such a reputable dish, otherwise, you will be missing the finger licking good experience. There are many types of Khachapuri and every version of Khachapuri originates from a different part of Georgia. Khachapuri is legendary and every traditional recipe is passed down from generation to generation, thanks to its abundance of authenticity from the country’s richness of culture and history. This daily local eats also comes in another popular flatbread “pizza” version from the Samegrelo region of western Georgia called Megrelian Khachapuri that is stuffed with cottage cheese and grated sulguni cheese and baked to golden brown, which is equally tasty and enjoyable. Khachapuri can be quite filling and you must make room for what is to follow but to be able to enjoy a good version of well made Khachapuri is totally a guilty pleasure.
<Pork Ribs Shashlyk>
A giant pork ribs was well barbequed to golden brown color accompanied by thinly sliced onion and pomegranate and sprinkled with a distinctive red spice called “Barbaris” which is the autumn harvest Barberry berries that are dried and then crushed into a fine powder. The spice is not too dominating yet gives an extra sense in taste while the pork is to be eaten with a mouth full of the accompaniments. Additionally, a sour green plum sauce is given to counterbalance the richness of the meat on the side to lighten the palate of the heavy meat. The pork meat is delicious and has a flavour that is more intense than usual, moist inside yet rather chewy and tough to our liking, you may need a little extra bite to break down the fiber, but still very flavoursome.
This dish is a classic Georgian dish with a twist from the added spices presented on two small skillet dishes. It was beautifully cooked and a joy to taste and is not a complex dish, but sometimes simplicity is the best and it spoke volumes on the palate. It is best to dip with some hearty homemade Georgian bread.
Another Georgian pork dish to order. Odjakhuri literary translated as “of the family” and it is a common comfort food home dish prepared in any (Georgian) household with their very own recipe with an alternative twist. Basically it is a meat dish with deep fried or grilled potatoes and herbs – the family of ingredients and sautéed onions with vegetables like capsicums and some even use zucchini and carrot to give some balance to this heavy yet heavenly dish. The meat was a little dry for our liking, but still quite enjoyable.
<Shkmeruli-Mukhrani Chicken in Garlic Sauce>
The name may sound convoluted, but it is usually chicken baked in milk with garlic sauce, but Gandagana decided to use sour cream instead, as it creates a more savoury taste and soften the strong flavour of the garlic. A stunning dish and it is a whole young chicken, so a lot of meat to enjoy and such tender meat to boot. The generous portion usually serves two and be prepared to fill your stomach with every sumptuous and heavenly bite. This signature dish of the house is another must order!
To enjoy a great Georgian meal without the accompaniment of wine would lead to disappointment. Bearing in mind that Georgians have been making wine for 8,000 BC – yes, you heard that right! With such a rich wine making history and culture may possibly put some famous old world wine brands to shame for its unique style and exquisite quality productions as most of them (almost every established restaurant produces their own wine from their own cellars) still preserve their small, family run vineyards.
There are also European style wines being produced in Georgia following the traditional method but in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels by fermenting the grape juices after it has been separated from the grape skins which are quite elegant and worth exploring. But take it from us, you don’t have any idea how interesting their wines are until you try your first few wines and you begin to realize and appreciate their unique way of wine productions. Perhaps this is how wine should taste like with such characters and style that was brought down over the centuries where no modern equipments, technologies were introduced the natural way that blends in with nature. Totally organic!
“In Vino veritas” – In wine, there is truth. Zaza organized the pairing wines with our meals by starting with the Tsolikouri white wine with the light tallow-skinned white grape variety grown mainly in western Imereti of Georgia. It has a heavy taste due to being aged in a qvevri and subsequently has a deep rich colour and a high viscosity. The red wine for the evening was their own label of draft Gandagana Saperavi 2020 – another native grape of Georgia that is acidic, teinturier-type grape variety with the vivid aromas of autumn berries, ripe dark fruits, cassis and spice. The earthy and smoky notes are followed by the flavours of cherry, blackberry, blackcurrant and plum with hints of leather, licorice, chocolate, coffee and even tobacco; aged and fully fermented in a qvevri which is an elegant intense full body wine to go with the rather meaty dinner with a long and pleasant finish.
“Wine is the only artwork you can drink” – said Luis Fernando Olaverri and the famous quote was proudly printed on Gandagana menu. We were also given a guided tour of the wine cellar which has to be seen to understand the qvevri and how the cellars look. The underground cellar was a former room of the headmaster being discovered and recently renovated and extended a couple of months ago for a new look while preserving the history.
ChaCha is also extremely popular and commonly consumed in Georgia. This double distilled grape pomace brandy is a clear and strong hard spirit liqueur and sometimes called “wine vodka” or “grape vodka” which is one of the best digestive drinks or even served as an aperitif. This Georgian version of vodka or grappa has a remarkably smooth flavour and quite aromatic that is pleasantly enjoyable with the alcohol content ranging between 40% for commercially produced to 65% for home brew.
It is definitely the honored representative of Georgian gastronomic culture and fun to drink with groups the etiquette of never pouring your own ChaCha. Shout it out loud with the word Gaumarjos (გაუმარჯოს) when the toast is made – victory and long live yet drink responsively to avoid making your own cha cha move.
As you can probably gather by now, we ate more than our fill and did not have one skerrick of space left to enjoy dessert. It was apparent that our first Georgian meal was a triumph in all regards. Zaza was highly informative and guided us through the menu and wine list and then ChaCha, as he wanted us to understand the best of Georgian cuisine and wines and we were thrilled with everything he recommended.
Our server Edgar was also courteous and helpful. It was a truly magical night as we had so much anticipation on all counts and our expectations were met in all regards and it also made us excited about the ensuing days to come and all the wonderful food and wine that awaited us. Gandagana is a wonderful part of the Georgian dining scene and is fairly central in its location of Old Tbilisi, as indeed we used our feet to get there with ease and it was particularly good to know we had a nice walk back to our hotel to help digest all the evenings excesses. Make your reservation without hesitation!
Tried & Tested:
Design & Decor: 4/5
Food & Beverage: 4.8/5
Value For Money: 5/5
14 Aleksandre Tsurtsumia Street,
Tel: +995 322 228 528