Shavi Lomi: a hot spot for Tbilisi bohemians
Shavi Lomi is a very special place for Tbilisi. Opened 6 years ago by chef Meriko Gubeladze in collaboration with designer Guga Kotetishvili, Shavi Lomi became a hot spot for food enthusiasts and local bohemians in Tbilisi. According to Meriko when she came back from New York she was asked to open a restaurant in an old wine cellar in the Old town. When she looked around she realized that all the restaurants in Tbilisi offered very similar menus. So she decided to do something different, twisting well-known recipes and inventing new ones.
Shavi Lomi became the first place in Tbilisi to offer Georgian fusion cuisine, quickly gaining cult status among locals and foreigners alike. The name ‘Shavi Lomi’ is translated as ‘Black Lion’ and is named after a famous painting by the artist Pirosmani.
Last year, after 5 years in Sololaki, Shavi Lomi moved to another address on the other side of the river. Now, it is located in a big old house in the middle of Okros Ubani (gold quarter). One has to wonder how people find it as there is no sign and the new location is far from any main roads. But, in the evenings the place fills with a beautiful, international crowd proving that location doesn’t matter, if the food and the atmosphere is quality then people will still come.
The design work of Guga Kotetishvili is well known and it’s almost a trade mark of success. Here, he has created the cozy atmosphere of an old house with the main emphasis on the garden, it’s truly magical! Sitting under a huge walnut tree or pomegranate bush it’s so easy to lose track of time.
Over all these years, the food has always been at the highest levels of quality cuisine. One of Shavi Lomi’s signature dishes is a huge bowl with a set of appetizers and several mchadi (cornmeal flatbread) called Gobi. There is an old story that says that the Georgian word ‘megobroba’ comes from the tradition of eating all together from these big wooden bowls. Meriko herself remembers how her grandmother in Imereti used to make these ‘gobi’s’ for her family and friends. The appetizers change seasonally and the amount served depends on the number of people ordering.
In general, it doesn’t matter what you order, everything is delicious. Only two things have failed to impress me, the fish and the couscous salad. My all time favorite is their chicken Shkmeruli, which I consider to be the best in Tbilisi, maybe in the whole of Georgia. It is a heavenly combination of browned chicken in a smooth creamy garlic sauce. Perfection! One portion is big enough for two to share. And don’t forget to ask for extra bread to dip in the thick sauce.
We ordered a traditional tomato-cucumber salad, roasted young potatoes and set of pkhali to accompany our main dish. The salad infused by the rich flavors of fresh Georgian herbs is dressed with Kakhetian sunflower seed oil and wine vinegar. If you don’t like the latter don’t forget to tell the waiter beforehand because there is a lot of it in the dressing.
The set of spinach and eggplant pkhali is served on ‘little boats’ of mchadimake a great combination of the soft texture of veggies with the little tough crust of the corn flatbread. The potatoes were as simple as they can be – just beautifully roasted to a golden color and garnished with some dill and butter. This food is all about the simple pleasures of life: fresh ingredients, unique recipes, and a perfect combination of taste.
In the drinks department you will be surprised to find that there is no printed drinks menu, a peculiar situation that might change in the near future. Here they make their own compotes from seasonal fruits, fresh homemade lemonades in the summer and offer a selection of good organic and natural wines from interesting companies. The list of wine is constantly changing so it is better to go to the bar and have a look. Or you can opt for a simple wine on tap that is also nice.
Being a regular in this place, I don’t usually pay attention to the service. However, I understand that for new customers who are more used to quality service this might be a drawback. In general the service here is ok, but not stable. As with many things in this country a lot depends on the mood of the waiter on that day or some other factors. They might not speak English or Russian; they might forget about you or your order. If you live in Georgia or visit often this won’t be surprising for you. If it is your first time in the country the only advice I can give is to relax and maybe just ask again. And of course I hope that the staff work on the quality of their service and soon we will see a positive change.
Shavi Lomi is one of the most iconic in Tbilisi and it’s really worth visiting. It is especially charming in the summer when you can sit for hours in the garden. A visit to Shavi Lomi is one way to experience Tbilisi at its best.