Updated: Nov 21
Down on the pedestrian Shavtili Street between the fabulous Leila and Metis restaurants is an intimate Old Town courtyard with an outdoor bar and a dozen tables set around an olive tree in the center. Over the eclectic dim of neighborhood dueling pianos aching for a tuning, I order a perfect Negroni and mull over the menu even though I know what I’m going to order. I’m at the Blue Fox, a new restaurant that opened last year with the stylish 17- room boutique House Hotel in the old Nikolozishvili mansion.
Named after an old Georgian cartoon character, Blue Fox breaks the mold of hotel restaurants with their “international cuisine” of rib-eyes, salmon steaks, signature hamburgers and Georgian food as an afterthought. Blue Fox is a Tbilisi original. Catalonian Chef Jaume Puigdengolas Rey earned his Michelin stars at Skina in Marbella and Zuberoa in Gipuzkoa and has designed a menu that pursues the revived local custom of engaging with imported flavors, ingredients and concepts, and has avoided all the “Crossroads of Europe” cliches.
Still in his thirties, Chef Jaume is an instinctive, unpretentious cook. “I respect traditions and work closely with local products and producers,” he says.
Khachapuri is a meal in itself, yet in much of the country a dinner without it is almost profane. Chef Jaume wants to feed people, not give them coronaries. He has lightened the dough and turned the pies inside-out, open-faced like pizzettas. Local truffles and a blend of Imeretian and sulguni cheese is a winning combo, but the lobiani is nothing to sneer at, with beans and smoked Rachan ham or for those who prefer it meatless, marinated red onions. Likewise, roasted tomatoes with red pepper confit and black olives.
The ubiquitous Georgian tomato and cucumber salad gets totally deconstructed and served with a spoon as fresh tomato wedges are served around a dollop of stracciatella on a pool of cucumber “gazpacho.” Good luck finding a more refreshing salad anywhere. Meanwhile, the marinated trout, lightly torched with barberries and a red chili emulsion is as cool as a foot bath in a mountain river.
The menu maintains its Georgianness with chicken, pork and beef mtsvadi, and with
shkmeruli, although the meats are marinated, making them the tenderest around. Oyster mushrooms, which are becoming a menu staple across the city, get treated with melted sulguni and harissa sauce, while Megrelian kharcho is served with fried ghomi. Those hankering for pasta won’t be disappointed with paccheri stuffed with adjapsandeli, Georgia’s answer to ratatouille.
I’m here for the silky veal shank and smooth potato puree, textures of my American childhood but an erotic savoriness found only here. I have long drained the Negroni and have ordered a bottle of Varga shavkapito, a velvety, full-bodied red from Kvemo Kartli vineyards sold only here. Paired like a hug and a kiss.
Chef Jaume gets it. He has united his Basque and Mediterranean experience with a Georgian foundation to create something totally Tbilisian. There may be no Michelin stars in Georgia for years to come, but there is Blue Fox, as fine dining as it gets in a town that has emerged from obscurity to become one of the most dynamic culinary destinations in the world.