Five Ukrainian restaurants and bars are now represented in 50 Best Discovery, the guide from the 50 Best Restaurants and 50 Best Bars team. Mirali and Chef’s Table, two Kyiv restaurants, are joined by the Loggerhead and Beatnik cocktail bars, spearheaded by the 2021 entry Parovoz Speak Easy. The venues have been recognized despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, and after Kyiv withstood the attack of Russian forces in late February and March.

Donate to support The Village Ukraine

Fine dining in wartime

“It’s all gone now,” Mirali Dilbazi shared his frustration with Eater in early March. The Azerbaijan-born and Kyiv-based chef had dedicated the last two years of his life to establishing the eponymously named Mirali restaurant. After the brutal and unprovoked full-scale Russian invasion on February 24 it seemed that his dream project was all but ruined. Still, the Mirali team has managed to continue working, providing food for Ukrainian military and volunteers, while Dilbazi and guest experience manager Elena Lisitskaya organized a series of charity dinners in Germany and Austria, including at Mrs Robinson's, Horvath, and Nobelhart und Schmutzig in Berlin to name a few.

“Yeah, it seems quite miraculous that we can speak in a free and relatively safe Kyiv now,” Dilbazi said in November, after his restaurant was recognized by 50 Best Discovery. “This plucky restaurant is living proof that resilience is the secret ingredient for success in the restaurant industry,” 50 Best Discovery quipped. Dilbazi confided to The Village Ukraine that his reaction to being included in the guide was one of joy and glee, but he’s first to admit that he has no time to celebrate properly.

Read The Village Ukraine profile of Mirali Dilbazi here

The Mirali chef is hard at work on the new menu, preparing to relaunch the restaurant after a period of cooking on a voluntary basis in spring and a bistro menu that the team offered in summer. “The idea of Mirali was to show what we can offer in the fine dining category, and that’s what we’re aiming for now,” Dilbazi tells me. His team’s already offering special set menus on a weekly basis (today on the menu: steamed perch dipped in perch powder and Ukrainian flatbread, palianytsya, with fermented potato and green currant), but the plan is to reopen bookings for evening service with all-new dishes in mid-December. “We’ve had such a great experience in Germany and the US, as residents at Fulgurances Laundromat. We also have a lot of seasonal products to work with, we just can’t wait to start it up again,” the 28-year-old chef says.

While Mirali has always planned to go back to fine dining, another high-end Kyiv restaurant, Chef’s Table, has a different story. “Sadly I believe that there will be no need for something like Chef’s Table in Ukraine for the next few years,” chef and co-founder Volodymyr Yaroslavskyy told Eater back in March, while volunteering with his team. “We had some trouble explaining why a dinner in Kyiv might cost 100 euros back then, and it would be even more of a struggle after the war.” For the past eight months Yaroslavskyy’s team focused on his other restaurant, Lucky; in April they started offering artisanal pizza and in June they restored some dishes from the previous menu.

The news about being included in the 50 Best Discovery list came as a huge surprise for the high-concept, open kitchen venue in central Kyiv, Yaroslavskyy admits. “We always dreamed about the 50 Best recognition, but our priorities obviously shifted in wartime. To be honest, we had this period of self-doubt. Should we focus on something more simple? Should we compromise?” the founder of Chef’s Table admits.

However, being included in the guide was a sign that there’s still a place for fine dining in times of war, Yaroslavskyy says. “The idea is not only to return to pre-war Chef’s Table,” he adds. “We should go even further, we should keep developing our vision of modern Ukrainian cuisine, even bolder and more vibrant than before.”

Cocktail bars in wartime Kyiv

It would hardly be an overstatement to say that Parovoz Speak Easy enjoys a cult following. The secretive, American-style bar in the center of Kyiv celebrated its 20th anniversary this year; in 2021, it became the first Ukrainian establishment to be put on the 50 Best Discovery map.

Now Parovoz – meaning “locomotive” in Ukrainian – is going through changes. The bar’s co-owner and head bartender Dima Shovkoplias has recently left the team and relocated to the US with his family. “I’m proudly leaving this little Kyiv basement in the status of a world-famous Ukrainian cocktail bar, confirmed by Spirited Awards, 50 Best Discovery, Top 500 Bars, and all of you,” Shovkoplias wrote in his farewell speech after 8 years at Parovoz Speak Easy.

The news is yet to properly sink in with the bar’s staff, Parovoz bartender Tima Semeniuk tells The Village Ukraine. Still, Shovkoplias has a team of leaders who are ready to rise to the occasion, he adds. Parovoz is buzzing on a busy Thursday night as we speak; one of the most popular cocktails these days is a Kyiv Sour. “We toast this great city!” one loyal customer exclaims.

Another new entry in 50 Best Discovery, Beatnik Bar, was also co-founded by Parovoz owner Mykola Holotin. Beatnik has had a long journey to this moment: the bar was founded in Kharkiv back in 2017 and re-established in Kyiv in 2019, after the whole team moved to the capital. “It’s not easy for anyone these days, and we’ve had our share of tough times,” Beatnik bar manager Roman Stadnik tells The Village Ukraine. “That’s why this guide means so much to us.”

Beatnik Bar

Stadnik’s native city Kharkiv has been under constant Russian attack since the full-scale invasion began. Ukraine’s second-largest city is situated a mere 50 miles from the border with Russia, which makes it an easy target for Russian rockets. While the Beatnik team had already relocated to Kyiv, in late February they had to evacuate their families. Some relatives weren’t able to make it out from the Russian-occupied Kharkiv Oblast, Stadnik says. His parents are still in Kharkiv, he adds. “I won’t rest until I can relocate them to Kyiv, but unfortunately that’s not possible at the moment,” Stadnik explains.

What exactly does being included in the 50 Best Discovery list mean for the beatnik-inspired bar? “That means the world, that means we’re probably doing something right,” bar manager Stadnik lets out a laugh. “When we opened the bar in Kharkiv, we actually compiled a list of what we wanted to achieve in our industry. Being on the 50 Best bars list was one of those things. And now it feels quite real, not the distant dream it seemed to be back then.”

Artem Skapenko – the co-owner and bar manager of Loggerhead bar, another new entry from Kyiv in the guide – agrees with Stadnik. Skapenko, also the best young bartender at the 2015 IBA World Cocktail Championships said that “it took years of work from the whole Ukrainian bar industry to finally put our country on the map. But now we feel it’s only the first step towards even bigger achievements. We want to show that Ukraine is not only a country of brave people, but also of unmatched hospitality. Hope tourists will get to enjoy it after Ukraine wins this war.”

Both Skapenko and Stadnik have mixed feelings about getting onto the 50 Best Discovery list under the present circumstances. “What makes me happy is that I know that the decision to add 2022 venues was made in late 2021, so it had nothing to do with the war and the politics of it all. Ukrainian bars are here, and they are here on merit,” Skapenko tells The Village Ukraine.

Wartime challenges

Still, running a restaurant in wartime Ukraine comes with a lot of challenges. Ukrainian armed forces celebrated a victory in the battle of Kyiv in spring, but Ukraine’s capital is still constantly being pounded by Russian missiles. Since the October 10 terrorist attacks, Russia has been particularly hell-bent on destroying Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that more than 30% of Ukrainian power stations were destroyed by the Russian Federation back in October. Power outages have become a part of everyday life for Ukrainians, and restaurants are no exception.

While we speak to Mirali Dilbazi, there is another power outage in Kyiv. Mirali’s spacious, industrial-style dining hall goes dark, but the staff shows no signs of panic, and power is restored in a matter of minutes after an electric generator kicks in. Both Mirali and Chef’s Table are co-owned by the Goodwine boutique retail network, both have generators handy in case of outages. Dilbazi and Yaroslavskyy acknowledge that they are lucky to work in conditions like that, because most of Kyiv’s restaurants don’t have generators.

All of Kyiv’s restaurateurs face a slew of additional challenges. Price hikes caused by inflation and the instability of supplies are the biggest disruptors, Dilbazi and Yaroslavskyy say. All the more reason to go with local producers and seasonal ingredients, the chefs agree.

“It’s an adjustment,” Dilbazi concludes. After all, from the very start of this war back in 2014 Russia's plan was to interrupt and unsettle the everyday lives of Ukrainian people. Given this, keeping Ukraine running in every way possible is an act of defiance, be it the brave military liberating villages and towns in the east and south of the country or local businesses continuing to work. Despite the wartime challenges, Ukraine still stands. Reviving fine dining restaurants and cocktail bars is just another example of that.

EDITOR: Yaroslav Druziuk