Contrabando – a venue described as “food and wine”. But, on the contrary, is much more.
Set in central Kyiv, a stone’s throw from Shevchenko Park, Contrabando has only recently opened. Having already managed to generate significant support, with locals enjoying the as yet unseasonably warm weather at the tables outside, we take a seat inside, incognito.
At the Same Time
There’s an eclectic mix of art juxtaposed against the unmatched but rather nice modern bare wood tabletops and grey upholstery of the chairs and sofas. The music starts to draw our attention after the aesthetic appraisal – it’s the kind of thing you’d find at a pre-party venue. It shouldn’t work, these four different styles, but it all seems to gel.
The sense of calm is enhanced as we receive the menus. With a rather uncomplicated selection, it’s decided that bruschetta with veal and cheese soup with Camembert will start us off, with a warm chicken liver salad and ossobuco steak with mushed [sic] potatoes to follow. With a decent by-the-glass selection of wine on offer, a Chilean chardonnay and Australian shiraz are requested as soon as possible – it’s been a long day.
Bruschetta with Veal Tartare 149 UAH
Cheese Soup with Camembert 95 UAH
Ossobuco with mushed [sic] potatoes 255 UAH
Warm Chicken Liver Salad 159 UAH
Chardonnay Santa Rita x2 99 UAH
Shiraz Meal Matchers 99 UAH
Pinotage Man 99 UAH
TOTAL: 1 024 UAH
Make sure you try:
Sunday Brunch, which includes a bottle of house wine just 660 UAH
Daily lunch menu (something new every day): soup of the day 69 UAH, dish of the day 125 UAH, or 175 UAH for them both, including coffee or lemonade
A word, however, about the way the order is taken needs to be included. The venue is busy, and our server, who is, to be honest, short on smiles this evening, states that the food will come out “as ready” (по готовності). Not unique to this venue, the practice generally should be banned everywhere. The correct order is that the starters – whether hot or cold – are all delivered to the table at the same time. And then, after an appropriate pause, the mains are delivered to the dining group, at, the, same, time.
Setting aside the order and pace at which everything shows up, the veal tartare bruschetta, while simple, is simply excellent. It is a good hearty portion, and the finely chopped meat is well seasoned and complemented by the herby crust it is ensconced in. The cheese soup, I am informed, is “like a drug” – it is that good. Combining a number of cheeses, including blue cheese – which is not to everyone’s taste – blue cheese fans can get their fix on this dish.
Following the initial gastronomic event and a couple more glasses of wine, which are pleasant and (at 99 UAH are) good value, there is time to reflect on the venue’s buzz. It is a happy place, where the slogan “this day cannot be exchanged or refunded” floats by every now and then as featured on the T-shirt of one of the staff. Only later it is learned that this is the owner – Oleg Gavrilenko, a character who has been on the Kyiv bar and restaurant scene for quite a long time.
As a slow-cooked meat, the test of a good ossobuco is can you fork it? In this case, yes, it is quite forkable, and as such no knife is necessary. The warm chicken liver salad too passes the test and is being consumed with the approving noises. It is “the poor man’s (Ed: woman’s?) foie gras”, which, I am told, is a great compliment to this humble bit of chicken. At the end of the day, part of the ossobuco goes uneaten because I am beaten by the size. None of the salad is left, and the bowl it came in is empty of everything but air.
On our way out the door, we get a tour of the front hall which is also a shop. Here they sell various delicacies, including wines both international and local. The option to buy a bottle to enjoy with your meal is also there. Checking out the selection, Gavrilenko insists on opening a bottle of rather nice Ukrainian wine to try. Don’t mind if we do. There is nothing contrary about this place at all.
Contrabando Food & Wine
⎯ Sunday-Thursday 11.00-23.00,
⎯ Friday-Saturday 11.00-00.00
+380 93 139 5361
The WO checklist:
English Menu ✔︎