Craft beer has turned into a bubbling business all across the Ukrainian capital and beyond, turning what was once a mere cocktail for the clergy into Kyiv’s go-to for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… You get the drift – or draft.
Microbreweries have been around for decades, though it’s only been in the last couple of years the trend has really caught on in Kyiv. Now, keeping up, or certainly catching up, to the barstool hubs of Ireland, Germany, Belgium, and others, crafty little breweries like Varvar are starting to take the limelight from the dance and disco scene.
What started as an outdoor/indoor pub attached to a quality microbrewery producing some fabulous flavours in the sticks of Troieshchyna with Lysopylka, has branched into a resto-bar that bears the name of the beer they serve – Varvar. Though having opened only at the beginning of July, already the seats are full most nights, making reservations a definite should. And this evening is no exception – Ukrainian rings out from the right, Japanese-speakers from the left, while hipsters, businesspeople, tough guys, and heeled ladies round out the rest of this evening’s clientele.
Long wooden tables, coppered ceilings, exposed brick walls, and lots of brown leather make the atmosphere earthy and old boys’ club-like, while big screens and wifi remind you that you’re still in the big city. Checking out the menu, they’ve kept it simple with a few fish options and an emphasis on selections for meat-lovers. The idea I’m told was to recreate the style and taste of a typical Viking kitchen were any of these Norse seafarers left in UA. Peeking into the open kitchen – which is spotless – a little later however, there isn’t a braided beard in site. That doesn’t seem to matter though as the Ukrainians got this.
This is Tasty
“Так вкусно” – rings out from across the room. I’m only sipping on my Ipanema IPA at the moment but I want some of this “tasty” too. I opt for Gravlax to start, a traditionally Nordic dish of cured salmon. It is light, delicate, served with horseradish, capers, a light cream, and with hits of beetroot, it’s a great beer snack. I’d come back just for this, well, and the beer. My accomplice decided on the Pea Soup, another dish with definite Scandinavian roots and ideal for the winter months fast approaching. He says it is hearty, delicious, and has a super smoked taste. The only thing is he’d have dropped more bacon in there. But then he’d put bacon on just about anything.
What comes next is just as satisfying, though maybe a touch quick. Or perhaps the chefs are just quick to please. Either way, if you’re not in a hurry, make sure your server knows.
First up, Smoked Ribs with baked potatoes, onion puree, and berry sauce, all of which looks and smells fabulous. The ribs fall right off the bone, as they should, while the potato has made friends with the butter and garlic, and all of the flavours “just work”. Gum for later will be a requirement however. I wanted something a little lighter, though certainly not on taste. The Oxtail Salad is full-bodied with standout flavours, mixing marinated beetroot, goat’s cheese, caramalised nuts, and of course the oh-so-soft meat of the oxtail, drizzled in berry. The Chocolate Porter is a great option with this dish, so even if you fill up on the pivo you’ll still want to devour every last morsel.
We decide to forgo dessert for tonight, and really it’s not a terrible thing. The beer is the star in this venue, and it shines brightly. The variety is amazing – there are light and dark options, IPAs, wheats, lagers, and far more. Attention to flavour in these beverages is indeed a craft, which Varvar is very close to mastering. But in addition to taste and quality, the prices for these creations cannot be beat. Nowhere outside of this western-looking country will you be able to find a freshly brewed artfully palatable brew for a mere $1.50. The Vikings may have set sail from Ukrainian lands centuries ago, but their traditions are alive and well at Varvar.