Jonjoli: Cuisine in Shardeni, a quiet corner of Tbilisi
Locals are well aware that the interlacing pedestrian streets in Old Tbilisi known as ‘Shardeni’ are not the place to eat in the city. These streets are full of hookah bars and cafés. Most of them are very expensive and the food isn’t interesting at all. However, the situation has started to change recently. Several nice wine bars have opened in the area along with a cool club with good live music. Almost a year ago a restaurant called Jonjoli appeared on one of the most hidden side streets of this neighborhood.
Inside the lights are dimmed and the walls are covered with traditional Georgian carpets and tablecloths. There are only about 4 tables inside but outside there is an open terrace with cosy sofas and a stunning view of Metekhi church across the river.
The menu was developed by the famous chef Meriko Ghubeladze, who was the first to introduce Georgian fusion cuisine to a local and international audience. Her masterful touch can be seen at first sight with dishes such as the Gobi plate of appetizers, Khachapurito, and of course, the chicken shkmeruli. We decided to try the more traditional dishes and ordered chikhirtma soup with free range chicken and shkmeruli. We also ordered an interesting sounding salad of peeled tomatoes with walnut sauce and basil. To complement our food we added some local draft wine to our order.
The wine menu here is only available in Georgian, which is pretty weird given the fact that the restaurant is located at the epicentre of tourism in the city. Also, the list is dominated by big, well-known wine companies and I didn’t see anything particularly interesting. When this is the case, the draft wine is usually the better option and today was no exception.
It was a good thing that we had the wine because we were waiting for quite some time for our food. I hope that the long wait was because the food was being custom made just for us otherwise it was too long to wait. Anyway, once the flavoursome soup and the beautifully presented salad arrived our spirits were immediately lifted.
The Chikhirtma had the perfect aroma. It was just the right consistency and had a strong chicken flavour, just as it should. However, I thought that it lacked a bit of vinegar so I asked for some more and the chicken was also kind of tough, maybe a chicken thigh or leg would have been better for this soup.
The salad was great! Juicy, pink, peeled tomatoes were covered in the perfect sauce made from blended walnuts, oil and vinegar. The tomatoes were fantastic which shows the chef’s attention to detail since it’s difficult to find fresh tomatoes in the middle of November. The only surprising thing was the lack of basil that was described in the menu, instead the tomatoes were garnished with fresh coriander.
These two dishes would have been a great lunch on their own, but we had one more to try. When it finally appeared on the table it was obvious that the local chefs only partially follow Meriko’s recipes. The pieces of chicken were almost burnt and served in large bowls with way too much sauce. In fact, the dish really disappointed me because the meat was hard to chew, the sauce wasn’t thick enough and it didn’t taste particularly good. I was really looking forward to this dish, especially after the first two but it was a big let-down.
Finally, we ordered coffee that was actually very impressive, probably due to the expensive coffee machine in the bar!
In general, our visit to Jonjoli was a very pleasant experience. I was particularly impressed by the fact that several local people came for lunch which is quite surprising for a restaurant in the touristy part of the city. This is a good sign for any restaurant in Tbilisi and could prove the key to its success. I would definitely recommend Jonjoli to visitors if they happen to be in the area and feel hungry because it stands out from the other bars and restaurants in the Meidani area. And of course, they accept the Guide-U discount card, meaning that you can get a 10% discount when you eat there.