Ever since I visited Tallinn earlier this autumn, I’d had a slightly OCD obsession with getting the hat trick of Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. I’d spent some time eating my way around Riga a few years ago when I was asked to judge Latvia’s 30 best restaurants (not the kind of invitation one gets every day!) and I’d loved the restaurants in Tallinn more recently. So I was excited to be able to persuade a foodie friend to head over to Vilnius with me to catch the start of the festive season. Although the Christmas market was scheduled to open the weekend we were there, it turned out to be a little underwhelming – a pretty Christmas tree, but not much in the way of actual market stalls. Luckily, though,
It’ll come to no surprise to any of you that I spent the majority of my 72 hours in Vilnius eating and drinking. And while there was still much more to discover, I felt like I’d taken a decent bite out of the city’s dining scene. So here you have it: my guide to the restaurants and bars of Vilnius…
Fine dining in Vilnius: Amandus
Of the three Baltic cities I’ve eaten in, Vilnius takes the top spot for most creative dining with the fabulous restaurant Amandus. Modern gastronomy, with a nod to Lithuanian tradition, goes hand in hand with excellent service and fabulous wines. The fixed multi-course tasting menu included “one bite of Lithuania” – a catfish tart with a spicy shrimp and celeriac purée on the side; tomato and trout ceviche; pumpkin broth with rabbit ravioli and hazelnuts; and autumnal duck breast with celeriac and a rich jus. But even the bread and butter were memorable: whipped beurre noisette with crispy garlic, beetroot bread and a kind of seed cake that tasted like it should be healthy as well as delicious.
Kudos also to the sommelier, who realised we were wine geeks and offered us the “jazzed up” wine pairing instead of the regular one. It involved some excellent six-year-old gamay (not a grape you’d generally associate with ageing) and New Zealand pinot gris made in an Alsace style. We loved it until the end when he handed us a glass of the bitterest Italian amaro I’ve ever tasted – not an experience I’ll be repeating! But other than that, an excellent meal all round.
Traditional Lithuanian cuisine in Vilnius: Stikliai Tavern
You can’t visit Vilnius without tasting the local Lithuanian speciality that is cepelinai (or “zeppelins” as they’ve been rather strangely translated in English). Cepelinai are essentially giant potato dumplings stuffed with minced meat, curd cheese or mushrooms. I’d been told by a Lithuanian follower to try them at Stikliai Tavern, in the heart of Vilnius old town, and who was I to argue? I went for the meaty variety, which came steeped in a rich bacon and sour cream sauce. Delicious but extremely filling, so I didn’t need much more than a glass of red wine and a few pickled vegetables to go with them.
Brunch in Vilnius: Taste Map
We didn’t eat a whole lot of brunch in Vilnius because breakfast was included in our hotel price, but the day we arrived we stopped at Taste Map on the way into town from the airport. As well as excellent coffee and fresh juice, Taste Map does a line in sweet and savoury waffles that will rival the Belgians for fluffy moreishness. I got their spinach waffles with smoked salmon, avocado, rocket, horseradish cream and plenty of dill – fresh, tasty and good value.
Vilnius food hall: Paupio Turgus
If you can’t decide what you want to eat and fancy trying a little bit of everything, head east from the old town along the river to Vilnius’s very own food hall. Paupio Turgus is a bright, airy, atmospheric space with stalls selling everything from pizza to peri-peri chicken and from paella to poké bowls. Because we were after shareable finger food, we plumped for stuffed arancini (which went excellently with a glass of Cava from the bar), fried sushi rolls and chicken yakitori skewers. We whiled away at least three hours on a Sunday afternoon, and we weren’t the only ones – Paupio Turgus was buzzing with kids, dogs and their (paw) mums and dads.
Coffee in Vilnius: Kavos Reikalai
There’s lots of good coffee to be found in Vilnius, and more than one person mentioned Coffee1 to me – which we sadly didn’t make it to in the time we had available. We did, however, discover Kavos Reikalai for an excellent flat white and some reliable wifi for a spot of Black Friday shopping. (Were cases of wine ordered? It’s possible.)
Six of the Best Bars in Vilnius
It was below zero degrees Celsius for the entirety of our trip to Vilnius, so popping into bars for a restorative gluhwein (or Old Fashioned, or Crémant) was pretty much a survival tactic. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. As such, we checked out a disproportionate number of bars for a long weekend and were lucky to find several that were definite keepers. In no particular order, here’s where to top up your tipple…
Taurès Wine Bar
Before I get onto Taurès, I need to mention Senatorių Pasažas – which is officially the most Christmassy little corner of Vilnius. Accessible via two street entrances, it’s a sort of L-shaped courtyard that’s flanked on either side by restaurants, bars, cafés and shops. At the time of writing, there’s a giant Christmas tree in the middle, lit-up reindeer at one end and an endlessly flowing gluhwein stand at the other, with plenty of outdoor seating (think heaters and blankets) from which to enjoy the festivities. I’m not sure what it’s like at any other time of year, but at Christmastime Senatorių Pasažas is the place to be. That said, it’s definitely worth stepping inside some of the spots that line the arcade – including natural wine bar Taurès. We tried a lovely red aglianico blend, with a platter of Lithuanian cheeses. Had we not had a dinner reservation elsewhere, I’d have happily stayed all night.
Augustas & Barbora Love Story Café
I’m not sure who Augustas and Barbora are, but they certainly understand romance. Think trailing pink roses absolutely everywhere, plush pink velvet upholstery, idyllic green trelliswork, and pretty-as-a-picture pastries. We only popped in for a warming glass of gluhwein, but we came out of the aptly named Love Story Café feeling thoroughly pampered.
Nick & Nora
On the same street as Augustas & Barbora, you’ll find Nick & Nora. Go figure. Perhaps a different type of romance, Nick & Nora is a slick lounge bar with Absinthe-green walls, low lighting and leather seating that feels ever-so-slightly reckless. I tried a smoky Old Fashioned, while my bar buddy ordered a quince Negroni. Both drinks felt fitting of their circumstances: grown-up, sophisticated and highly boozy.
Speaking of Negronis, we sampled another (plus a Daiquiri) at beer and cocktail bar Drops. I can’t comment on the craft beers – although the taps looked promising – but I can vouch for the cocktails. Drops is an inviting venue, although the music can be a little loud for those of us over the age of 40 (especially with a hangover).
On our way to restaurant Amandus (see above), we stumbled across a cosy, bare-brick, cave-like bar at Kitas Kampas theatre. You wouldn’t even know there’s a theatre from the outside (apparently it’s in the basement) but at ground level the bar is definitely worth a visit, even if you’re not seeing a show. We only had a couple of glasses of Crémant and some olives, but they were top notch and served in a very atmospheric location.
I debated whether to include this bar because, despite its name, the primitivo they served us was absolutely dire. But (and this is a big but), they did mix a mean Old Fashioned and all was forgiven. Tucked behind Vilnius Town Hall, Primitivo IV has a slightly grungy feel to it – ideal for the sharing of secrets and the confession of sins. Just take my advice, skip the primitivo and head straight for the whisky.