While many people imagine Minsk to be stuck in a Soviet time warp, this is certainly not the case when it comes to food. Minsk’s best restaurants range from traditional Belarusian fare to authentic vegetarian Indian dining.
As varied in style and architecture as it is in cuisine, a gastronomic adventure through Minsk can take in a former Communist-era canteen, Constructivist architecture and panoramic views of the Belarusian capital.
Dating back to 1956, Grand Café is the oldest high-end restaurant in Minsk. Despite changes to its name and ownership over the years, its outstanding reputation has remained intact. Situated opposite the opulent Hotel Europe – the quintessential symbol of pre-revolutionary Minsk – in the city’s historic centre, Grand Café serves a mixture of Italian classics (such as a creamy mushroom risotto) and regional specialities such as chicken kiev. The restaurant’s elegant design – with hardwood floors and minimalistic chandeliers – is combined with images of the Soviet-era shared apartments (known as kommunalki) that once occupied the building. Reserve a table by the window and watch over the lively Vulica Lienina, and follow dinner with cocktails at the restaurant’s chic aluminium bar.
A rare gem of Constructivist architecture that’s hard to miss as you walk down Vulica Karla Marksa, traditional Belarusian and Latvian restaurant Kuhmistr was built over the remains of an Orthodox church. The building, dating back to the 1930s, was once a Komsomol (Communist youth league) cafeteria, where young members of the Communist Party would eat during the Soviet era. The word kuhmistr originates from German, meaning ‘chef’, and being a kuhmistr in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth meant you were in charge of the royal kitchen. Kuhmistr is among the best places in Minsk to get an authentic taste of dishes from this era, with the menu put together with the help of historians. The restaurant’s interior gives you the impression of stepping into a 1930s apartment, full of vintage furniture and retro trinkets. Local musicians regularly perform – listen out for the tsymbaly, a traditional Belarusian string instrument.
Although chef Ignazio Rosa has worked on every continent, with a multitude of different cuisines, his Minsk trattoria draws on his Italian heritage. Filled with the strains of live music and rustic design, La Scala Trattoria Ignazio has the atmosphere of a cosy Sicilian home. Dine on fettuccine with salmon and asparagus or beef medallions with artichoke, while watching the kitchen staff at work or even having a heart-to-heart with the chef, who often comes out to talk to customers. Known for its extensive wine list, La Scala Trattoria Ignazio undoubtedly serves the best Italian food in Minsk.
BAR:DOT XX1 is located on the 21st floor of the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, and as such boasts an impressive panoramic view over Minsk. From here diners can enjoy a clear view of the Svislach River, the Island of Tears war memorial and Trinity Hill, the city’s oldest surviving district. The venue’s decor has elements of Art Deco and evokes the lavish parties of the The Great Gatsby. Apart from the delicious menu of pan-Asian dishes, BAR:DOT XX1 is notable for its selection of craft cocktails, such as the aloe fizz with tequila, lime and aloe vera.
Inspired by the novel (1947) by Boris Vian, Pena Dney (named after the title of the book in Russian) serves what the owners call “the cuisine of non-existent nations” and “gastronomic Surrealism”. The nonsensical decor, such as the lopsided crystal chandelier sat atop one of the tables, intensifies the impression of being in a waking dream, while Pena Dney’s menu is equally innovative. Taking its lead from cuisines across Europe, the options on offer include a salad of caramelised peaches and mozzarella with balsamic dressing, along with turkey cutlets with a walnut crust. Perfect for refuelling after a day of sightseeing, Pena Dney is just a block from the Upper Town (Vierchni Horad), where you will find the City Hall and Holy Spirit Cathedral.
Hidden in an inconspicuous neighbourhood within a warren of tech offices, just a year ago Animal Farm was open only to the employees of the surrounding IT companies. But word spread fast, and now everyone can visit this once-secret food spot. The menu features classic European dishes with experimental twists – ratatouille with Bulgarian-style peppers, duck ravioli and mango and passionfruit eclairs are just some of the tempting options on offer. Animal Farm has a buzzing atmosphere from morning until night and a sleek interior that channels industrial chic.
Supplier of fresh fish and seafood to some of Minsk’s best restaurants, John Dory also has its very own eatery. The Seafood Bar by John Dory gives customers the chance to choose their own fish before cooking, customise their dish with a choice of sauce and a side dish, then observe the cooking process in the open kitchen. Beyond the restaurant’s airy, minimalist interior, John Dory is an excellent entry point from which to explore Minsk’s historic central district – 80% of Minsk was destroyed during World War II, but here, you can find some of the rare remaining pre-war architecture.
Svobody.4 is a trendy urban wine bar set at the heart of Minsk’s Upper Town. Together with an extensive wine list, Svobody.4 offers an eclectic menu of brunch, lunch and dinner dishes. Start off your day with fluffy brioche French toast with caramel banana buttercream, strawberry sorbet and blackberries, or enjoy an aperitif accompanied by bruschetta with avocado and prawn. The bar-restaurant’s stark grey walls are brightened with large paintings by contemporary Belarusian artists, with stylish furniture – think vintage chests of drawers, striking hanging light fittings and a record player – adding characterful touches to the simple interior. Svobody.4 comes into its own in the summer months, when wine and food enthusiasts flock to its sunny terrace.
Not so long ago, vegetarians would struggle to go out to eat in Minsk. Now there’s a vibrant vegetarian scene burgeoning, with Indian bistro Om Namo leading the charge. With its name meaning ‘all are welcome’, Om Namo consistently boasts a healthy crowd. If unsure what to order, ask for the thali, a selection of various dishes including flatbread, dhal (lentils), rice, vegetables, mint and tamarind sauces, raita yoghurt sauce and a dessert. The restaurant’s location next to Komarovsky Market – the city’s biggest farmers’ market – bears special significance for one of the founders, Bikash, who spent more than 20 years selling spices and other Indian goods at Komarovsky. Thanks to its bold flavours, hearty portions and reasonable prices, booking is recommended at Om Namo.
If you’re in the mood for pub grub and a dose of history, look no further than Try Zhaunery (‘Three Soldiers’). This tiny bar pays homage to the Patriotic War of 1812 against Napoleon – look out for the realistic soldier drowning his sorrows at the corner table, along with a great variety of fascinating (if admittedly anachronistic) posters, books and artworks. With the motto ‘real food, real history’, it’s to be expected that Try Zhaunery would take its food offering seriously. Unpretentious burgers, bar snacks and delectable desserts are the name of the game here: try the pork sandwich complete with crispy dranik (potato pancake), followed by a decadent forest fruits pancake. History is also serious business here: Fedor, the bartender, heads up a local historical reenactment club and is more than happy to entertain customers with historical tales.