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ZALA Restaurant & Cellar - Exquisite Georgian Dining In Tbilisi

While Georgia has 8,000 years of winemaking history and the food also goes back a long way in terms of traditions, dining out in Tbilisi by finding the desirable restaurant is a wonderful surprise. The 200 year old epic and historic house of the Zala Restaurant & Cellar would be a shame to miss for a refined and exquisite dining experience in Tbilisi. mylifestylenews writes.

History is such a mesmerizing counterpoint when experiencing a new destination especially for the first time or on your first visit to a city that awaits your exploration. One thing Tbilisi and Georgia have in spades is lots of history! It is not always about ancient monuments and buildings but the bountiful culture and true to their heritage has made this country so diverse for the locals and tourists alike to embrace the rich bequest. With an open mind and heart ready explore the unknown, a pleasant surprise awaits and bringing the most memorable experience home to share, especially when it comes to an unforgettable dining experience, which is that moment when you step outside the restaurant with the most satisfying and happiest smile on your face - it says it all. Zala Restaurant & Cellar is tucked away in a leafy corner of the city, which is within walking distance of the old town for the adventurous, depending on your preferred mode of transport. Otherwise, a short metro ride for the less intrepid, exit through Rustaveli metro station with a short walk up the slope will take you to this epic restaurant in no time.

The façade is a large window with some elegant signage making a stand out from the entire street of this absolute colourful residential and charming neighbourhood. The street frontage is discreet and inviting, which belies the treasures hidden within. With two tiny steps of the elevated stairs to lift your feet off the ground, you really can’t wait to see what is inside.

Expect the unexpected, so upon entering Zala Restaurant & Cellar, you are immediately transported into an enchanting home with so many details to be discovered. The first visual of the entire dining room is overwhelmingly impressive, straightaway taking you back to the bygone era by the first look from your eyes. The rustic art décor and vintage interior design concept approach is unavoidable and well preserved from the old building history, keeping this former lady’s school noble milieu, making the old new again with an elegant style, as though you just walked into a movie production set without further embellishment needed to be adjusted on its own. Visually stunning and totally captivating!

With so much character and style to get inspired, it is only then that your eye begins to wander over every inch of the room. The exposed brick walls and objet d’art beautifully judged, it is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of delightful interior design touches that did not just happen randomly. You are instantly taken by a wall decoration – full of old clocks, frames and many other collectable ornaments, all vintage of course, juxtaposed with table lamps and standing lamps with lace and tassel embellishments. A wall niche filled with candelabra as well as distinctive floral cut out motif, because the longer you dine the more that gets revealed by soaking in such an enamored ambience and setting.

“Zala” means salon or lounge – a room to welcome and entertain your guests, so it is aptly spelled out. The restaurant only began its life two years ago, so while the building itself has a long history, Zala Restaurant & Cellar’s pre-eminence on the dining scene in Tbilisi is still quite recent but boy, have they made a mark in such a short time and already gained various recognition from those wine and dine aficionados and pundits that keep returning for reasons that only this unique establishment can possibly proudly explain.

You may think that every table is similar, but because you are in someone’s ‘home’, every room or “Zala” has a different feel, consciously decorated with a touch of elegance to please in different soothing lighting moods. You’ll have the luxury of choice to pick your preferred corner but best to have your request made prior to reservation.

When you explore further, just the wall behind the main dining area is another elevated bricked wall cellar styled round table dining salon which can comfortably sit 4 to 6 guests, well separated with a small wooden white balustrade for a more intimate dining experience. A further exploration will lead you to another salon with table settings spaciously well spread out leaning against the walls and a big carpet making the centerpiece of the room decorated with more collectible ornaments and old photos on the wall. A small study/drawing room next to it has also being transformed into another dining area, looking out at the small garden courtyard at the back of the restaurant. Should you wish to dine alfresco surrounded by the actual living neighbourhood, it welcomes mainly well “behaved guests” that do not really make a scene or increase their volume over their conversation leaving their neighbor in peace. Rather cozy! Maxo Tsikolia, the creative chef helms the culinary team and has put together a remarkable menu with plenty of sensible touches yet keeping the soul and culture of most traditional Georgian dishes. With his greatest homage to his heritage by sourcing some very unique produce and freshest ingredients from various regions throughout his most respectable country, what is brought to your table is not only the most sumptuous meal but a history to tell. While also thinking about the importance of his own creativity, the chef has trademarked some of his dishes, as they are uniquely made in a way like no other chef, which goes to show you how important he feels the food he creates is and honest to the produce being used, we totally concur in this regard. <Chikhirtma with Lime and Mint> This is a traditional Georgian soup with boiled chicken and could be described as a typical hearty family meal dish. Chef Tsikolia’s version of Chikhirtma uses ginger as a base ingredient to add extra kick to the delightful broth, well garnished with a lime wedge to be squeezed onto the cloudy soup that was thickened by egg white, adding a pleasing palate together with pieces of mint leaves well laid onto the soup also elevating the citrusy element and rounded up with more complexity in flavour. You may dip in with the two slices of Georgian bread for further enjoyment by lifting up the tender shredded chicken. This is a perfect stimulating appetizer with heavenly flavour. <Mini Khinkali Soup> Having just enjoyed the chicken soup we were not expecting that another “soup” dish would take us to another level, but this one surely does. This soup is made from boiling bones with Georgian spices, chiefly red pepper. The mini dumplings are reminiscent of Chinese Xiao Long Bao, but the chef makes these his own creation, more refined and delicate where each Khinkali can be enjoyed as a whole with a mouth full (the usual traditional giant size won’t allow you to do that and will surely burn your tongue by doing so) and it is an explosion of divine flavours juxtaposed with a salt and spice that is so enjoyable while also pleasing and comforting to taste. Five little pieces of mini Khinkali would encourage you to want more. A must order!

<Georgian Appetizer Platter> Given that we had quite a few courses to come, we were apprehensive about ordering a Pkhali “platter”, but we were convinced that this was unmissable and how lucky we were to have a chance to sample this. Pkhali - some called it Mkhali - is absolutely a traditional Georgian mezze platter of chopped and minced vegetables: cabbage, eggplants, spinach, beans, beets are commonly used, combined and well tossed or marinate with ground walnuts, vinegar, onions, garlic and herbs or all variations of Pkhali is pureed walnut paste sauce which is rich on the palate and light on the stomach. Chef Tsikolia’s combination comes with six different bites: beetroot with Georgian sauce / marinated julienned carrot / bell pepper with walnut, garlic and cheese / smoked eggplant with walnut, garlic and Georgian spices / cottage cheese with mint/ and pumpkin puree with walnut paste – all refinely cut and chopped and presented in small colour bowls that are even more stimulating. Each taste and bite was a joy and truly comforting, your eyes instantly growing bigger with the wow and delicate flavour pleasing your palate that is completely different from every single dish. You felt like you were discovering flavours anew because of the expertise of the kitchen in balancing each ingredient so superbly. There is also freshly baked round corn bread to use to dip into the sauce which is served warm and another addition to enjoy (even on its own). This is a premium and exquisite mezze platter that is to die for with plentiful of unexpected wow moments to enjoy.

<Salmon Balls> We honestly thought that this dish was going to be a straight forward rendition of a typical dish, but how wrong we were. This salmon balls were lightly battered, deep-fried to a beautiful golden brown that sits tightly on mashed pumpkin puree accompanied by a most refreshing and succulent coriander sauce. The presentation is superb and colourful, with beet chips, lime wedges, coriander petals and creatively accompanied by cold ice cubes that add some seminal touches on presentation. The light crunchy balls are packed with salmon and the elevated ingredient is such a delight and triumph to taste. A true flavour to cherish and well executed with homage to the ingredients used.

<Chicken Satsibi> This is a cold appetizer that you shall explore and is a typical Georgian dish of chicken coated in a decadent walnut sauce. The tender chicken soaked up the walnut paste (more like light walnut soup) and is simply divine with such a unique combination that dances on the palate. This is a much filling dish that can also be enjoyed as a main dish by itself.

<Trout Rolls> We love how Georgian cuisine gives another twist on fish especially by Zala’s culinary team. The trout is baked without any marinade, so it must be eaten and to be enjoyed with the secret homemade wine with tarragon sauce. Additionally, the trout is rolled with walnut and truffle cream and then served on a bed of risotto, which is seasoned with cracked pepper (the bed of risotto is already an outstanding dish by itself – firm, sticky and full of flavours). On the surface it all sounds so simple, but in the greater scheme of things there is a wonderful complexity and harmony of ingredients. Simply divine! <Megrelian Khancho with Tashmijab>

While we continue the theme of traditional Georgian cuisine of our order in between two tempting beef dishes on the menu, the Megrelian Khanco with Tashmijab was highly recommended by Mr. Tengo – the manager of the restaurant. You may get carried away by its mysterious long Georgian name but the beef tenderloin with walnut paste, sulguni cheese, mashed potato cooked in various spices are superbly well connected by offering the most satisfying palate for a beef dish. It is such a delicious dish where the walnuts and spices are two distinct voices in taste along with the tender meat.

<Roasted Gilt> Gilt is a young female pig and the young pork belly is selectively butchered and fried with honey, accompanied with perfectly deep-fried vegetable croquettes and two different homemade sauces to tantalize your palate: capsicum sauce with peach and pomegranate sauce. The pork is seriously delicious, well charcoal grilled to the lightly burnt crust with an intense smoky flavour that is rustic and so tasty.

<Pumpkin Cake & Grapeskin Cake> Considering how many surprises we had had already, we were expecting something beyond the normal realms of a pumpkin cake and this surely delivered. The presentation is fabulous, along with the tasty and crusty biscuit base, with the seeds studded on the top provides such a rich sweet/savoury flavour that we would not forget in a hurry! If you are not a fan of Churckhela that you find on every street market/shop (a traditional Georgian all day snacker candle-shaped candy with main ingredients made from grape must, different kinds of nuts and flour, dipped in thickened grape juice or fruit juices and dried in the shape of a sausage) then just by the look of it, Zala’s Grapeskin cake is a pleasant and delightful entry level for you to have a (premium) glimpse of what Churkhela would taste like – in a form of well presented cake. Simply irresistible!

The wine list is extensive and some are exclusive, but unless you have a deep knowledge on Georgian viticulture, then you need to be guided by the front of house team, as Georgian wines are so varied and you will not be familiar with grape varieties, so the number of choices is wide ranging.

You have to be brave and order by the glass so you will be able to try more than just one or two wines, as the selected wine list is from smaller family production vineyards, which in itself is another unique point of view that beautifully complements the food choices.

Two wines which stood out were the unfiltered 2018 Gurashvili's Kisi and 2017 Gurashvili's Mtsvane. Each of these dry white wines displayed a high viscosity like a dessert wine and exuded such unique characteristics on the palate.

They are aged in traditional clay pots – qvevri – which creates complex flavours and intense colours, originate from the Khaketi region with a long history and are known for being a heavy/complex wine. Their newly renovated underground arched cellar houses its very own selective wines from different wine production regions in Georgia uniquely well paired with Chef Tsikolia’s creative and carefully crafted culinary food. If opportunity arises, do ask for your visit to its cellar where they will be hosting special events and wine tasting sessions over time. We did not want this experience to end, but we had pushed our appetite to the limit to ensure that every noteworthy dish on the menu had been tried and there was not one missed opportunity because every dish had us in awe of the flavours and presentation. Zala Restaurant & Cellar in totality is like a fine European dining scene but at a fraction of the price that won’t burn a hole in your pocket and the chef’s trademarked dishes are unique contributions with a combination of ingredients that no other restaurant is doing and they do not want to be copied. Having one of the most wonderful dining experiences in Tbilisi, dining in Zala Restaurant & Cellar is second to none, the outstanding food already has a great deal of maturity, incredible tasty and well presented that will have you endlessly talking about it yet excited to see which wonderful dish is coming next. Besides, they have proudly created Georgian fine dining at its best while making you welcome and relaxed with the interiors are a delight and make you feel that you are in a very special place. You would then gratefully thank yourself for making it here by finding this restaurant and dine to please.

Tried & Tested:

Location: 4.5/5 Design & Decor: 5/5 Food & Beverage: 5/5 Service: 5/5 Value For Money: 5/5 Experience: 5/5 Zala Restaurant & Cellar 2, Belinski St,

Tbilisi, Georgia

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