La Nocciola Gelateria, Tirana 01-2020

A near perfect gelateria in Tirana that I stumbled across by accident. There's nothing like gelato on a winters day.

Excellent pistachio with a perfect colour (pictured with a decent chocolate) and also unpictured hazelnut (as expected from the name). A couple of ice crystals but otherwise perfect. 100 lek per scoop is remarkably cheap.

Da Arturo Restaurant, Tirana 01-2020

A secret seafood restaurant that isn't known about by anyone except friends and locals? And apparently Italians too as our waiter said 50% of their clients are Italians from word of mouth (and because the owners are Italian). It seems impossible that after 13 years serving up what is considered the best seafood in Tirana, that there are no reviews, no listing on Google maps, and the tourists haven't found it - granted it is maybe also that Albania still hasn't been fully discovered I don't think. And it's a beautiful thing.

Our Airbnb host told us roughly how to find it. Forget Fishop and Fishland and go there instead. On Google map now it is located behind Bar Cafe Tuneli in a passageway with a door that advertises a travel agency. From the main streets you can either turn off Rruga George W Bush at Cafe Aroma or from Rruga Myrtezim Kellici and go straight into the passageway rather than following the road.

As my father went in and made a reservation, they asked him how he knew about the place. They must have been bemused. We went back for dinner the following evening. Luckily our young male waiter spoke broken English, enough to ask questions and order, although not quite enough for us to order properly. Sometimes when two dishes were offered and we wanted one, we got both anyway. In the end even though we wanted just seafood, there seemed to be a good insistence that we try the local Albanian dishes (which would otherwise have been fine had we not already had them before and really just wanted seafood rather than to fill up on those).

Nonetheless it was a grand feast in a simple setting. Warm bread rolls started the evening.

- Marinated artichokes;
- Radish leaves;
- Fergese (blurred in the photo background);
- Cuttlefish, squid and octopus in tomato sauce. Apparently spicy but not really for our palate;
- Pasta like small macaroni but a bit mushy, served with beans and clams;
- Ring pasta much better and slightly al dente, with a good savoury fish that had texture almost like meat;
- Cuttlefish, squid and octopus grilled. Enjoyed this much better than the tomato based version as the charred flavours and unique textures came through. The olive oil was perfect to mop up with a touch of salt and some bread;
- A cutlet of dentice (described as a big fish) was firm and a bit dry;
- A fillet of soil fish was soft and served in a butter sauce. Delicious;
- Sorbet and some fruit finished off the meal.

I was keen on the fish soup, but we didn't end up having any. Similarly they were initially going to serve us 2-4 bits of each fish and we had to tell them not to. We were simply too full.

It isn't cheap by any means, particularly for an Albanian restaurant. Nonetheless 10200 lek (€83) to feed 4 of us more than we could handle is pretty good in the overall scheme of seafood eating life.

Ejona, Tirana 01-2020

For the last meal before our transport to the airport, a local nearby Italian restaurant seemed a good idea. In our area of Blloku, all located within a few minutes walk was Vila Golosa (but looked a bit fancy) and Ejona (which also looked nice but more staple). We were the only people eating at the early time of 17.15pm on rainy Sunday.

Warm olive bread with olives and grassy EVOO and a small bowl of pumpkin soup were the complimentary starters.

- Antioxidant salad (wild cabbage, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, baked chickpeas, cereals, aceto balsamico cream) 400 lek;
- Volcano salad (caciocavallo cheese, spinach, pomegranate, sesame, dry grape, cherry tomatoes, cereals, aceto balsamico cream) 450 lek;
- Tagliatelle with beetroot (truffle cream, champignon mushrooms) 420 lek;
- Tagliatelle with spinach (red & green peppers, sliced almonds, chicken fillet, curry) 480 lek;
- Ravioli stuffed with ricotta, spinach cream, walnut muscat, grana padano (gorgonzola, ricotta, spinach) 420 lek.

The salads were fresh with excellent ingredients including the creative cheese bowl. The pastas were a bit more average with the truffle cream and ravioli having very strong flavours, and the "curry" sauce a bit unusual. Nonetheless cheap and tasty.

Oda Restaurant, Tirana 01-2020

It's nice and reassuring when a place you've read about online is also recommended by the Airbnb host and walking tour guide separately. After the very informative and quite tragic history of Albania's communist dictatorship, it was a pleasant change to walk past the many smiling faces of restaurant staff along Rruga Luigj Gurakuqi enticing us to sample the grilled meats on offer. Indeed if we were staying in that area or had a spare meal, I would definitely have gone there.

It was surprising to find Oda so empty during lunchtime. Maybe because it's a tiny bit difficult to find as the entrance is off the main road. Or maybe people seek it out but end up in the meat places instead.

- Fergese (cottage cheese, peppers) 360 lek - cottage cheese with delicious colourful peppers. Simple and eaten beautifully with the bread that resembled more of a scone or cake with nice crust;
- Lamb cooked in wooden stove (300g) 700 lek - very soft meat and strong flavour;
- Village chicken cooked in wooden stove 1500 lek - a whole chicken which was a bit chewy but not dry at all. Probably because it's been running around making full use of its life. It had a delicious natural flavour.

There's plenty of other dishes I wanted to try - stuffed eggplant, head of lamb, maybe even lamb innards - but those will have to wait until next time. Although I'd have to get through the street restaurants first I think.

Mullixhiu, Tirana 01-2020

I can't remember how to pronounce the name of this place. But it's well rated everywhere you read and our Airbnb host recommended it also. It's also in the park in south Tirana making the atmosphere around. In fact in this January winter, it was actually sunny and warm enough to sit outside - although after a while as the sun set, it seemed a less bright idea. Nonetheless modern Albanian food (although probably a very very heavy Italian influence) was appealing to try.

It's a little more expensive than other places, obviously for the quality and the fresh pasta being ground and made continuously. You can also buy their pasta (and also some bakery items) to take home to cook for yourself - incredibly their fresh pasta is actually cheaper than pasta from a supermarket. Who knew?

Boze was a corn drink, but sweet with mild corn flavour. It was really excellent. Some delicious warm bread with outstanding crust was served to eat with quality grassy olive oil, and a little dish of warm pumpkin soup.

- Petka with duck & porcini 750 lek - flat pasta with strong duck strands and mushroom flavour;
- Jufka with wild berry 700 leg - thin fettuccine type but unfortunately the pieces were all broken up. It had a milder flavour overall;
- Goat brain with pickled cabbage 550 lek - deepfried in flour but overall a bit indistinct, not like the characteristic flavour and texture of lamb brains that I'm used to. Plum sauce was sweet and strong and underneath lay marinated lettuce;
- Grilled goose 1200 lek - soft tender meat and delicious. It was quite similar to duck if I'm honest, but a little stronger in flavour.

A free dessert finished, much like the bread and soup started. Although by this time my company was cold and really wanted to leave, so it wasn't so enjoyable.

The service was always friendly and attentive. No issues there.

There were so many other dishes I wanted to try, such as baby goat pie, beef cheek, quail and more. However the fresh pasta was actually a bit disappointing, not very al dente and also weak to the point of breaking. Maybe next time I'll stick to the meats... and I'd allow more time to enjoy the park too.

Bar Restaurant Plazhi I Ri Caci, Sarande 09-2019

After driving back to Sarande and returning the car, we had enough time for one final Albania meal before taking the ferry back to Corfu. While walking toward the port, an older man sitting outside his shop saw us and asked what are you looking for? Some food I guess. Albanian? Yeah. Cross the road and go down the stairs and walk until you find the restaurant. And so we did. And opposite the beach with its perfect blue Mediterranean waters we came across Caci.

A couple of wasps seemed to hover, but not too bad overall.

- Salad - giant and the largest we had during the trip (maybe ever) with loads of chunky feta;
- Tave kosi (yoghurt casserole with lamb) 900lek - I tried hard to find this dish anywhere and failed. It is more a dish that is served at homes or more inland toward Tirana. In Ksamil I asked our Airbnb host and he didn't know anywhere to find it. Luck would have it this final place would allow me a national dish before leaving. It was like a tender lamb quiche with a tangy sour yoghurt flavour. I liked it;
- Fried squid 1100 lek - quite good. Bit chewy. Bit of salt.

Considering the location along the beach, the meal was great value overall. I left full, exchanged my remaining lek for € at a good rate at a random travel agent, and boarded the ferry which was actually (reasonably) on time.

Thanks Albania.

Guvat, Ksamil 09-2019

For the final dinner of the lovely week in Albania, we wanted a slightly more special one. The choice was between Apollonia (walked past on first evening with welcoming wait staff and a nice menu) or Guvat (which was on my list for Ksamil). After a bit of internal deliberation, we ended up at Guvat including getting the best seats in the house (which has a reserved sign until we arrived) to watch the sunset.

The sky had beautiful colours with which to enjoy some cocktails (pina colada and banana daiquiri with fresh fruit). Some average bread, somewhat plain tzatziki and pretty decent olive oil started off the food too.

- Fried hard cheese (kackavall) 500lek - I had difficulty finding this cheese fried on local Albanian menus, and finally took the opportunity. The cheese was thick, firm, squeaky, salty, delicious - it was perfect. It did cool quickly though;
- Black cuttlefish ink & cuttlefish risotto 1200lek - cooked al dente with lots of cuttlefish, red peppercorns and grated cheese;
- Linguine "Xha Aliu" with seafood, tomato, cognac, red pepper, garlic 900lek - pasta was slightly al dente. The seafood was one prawn, and bits of octopus and squid. The sauce was really tasty like a spiced chilli tomato base. It was exceptionally good in flavour.

A beautiful setting in the September twilight, without pesky insects, and a gentle not-too-cold breeze. A lovely environment with excellent food. Would definitely go back for the cheese and linguine if I'm ever in Ksamil again.

Hello Creperie, Ksamil 09-2019

My partner was craving crepes - an odd choice in the middle of Albania. But luck would have it that as I searched out some breakfast burek, I walked past a creperie. What are the odds.

After seafood dining at Ftelea (and being pretty full), the idea was to go for a light crepe to finish the day. One can always have plans but those went out the window pretty soon, we realised. It probably would have helped to see the monstrous creations.

They are only open from 1800-2400 which made it perfect for the last deal of the day. And they also have a fun quote "Waffles are just crepes with abs".

- Dried fruits waffle (ice cream, chocolate, walnuts, almonds, raisins, hazelnuts) 500lek - this was the world's largest consumer waffle, huge and thick but still cooked well. There were lots of crushed nuts, whole walnuts and topped with vanilla icecream. There's no way we could finish that;
- Pineapple sweet crepe (white chocolate, coconut, pineapple, cinnamon) 300lek - the crepe was large and thick, not so much the thin delicate French type. The white chocolate made it a too sweet (not a fan of it generally). The warm pineapple was delicious though.

The waffle certainly didn't help my abs at all.

Ftelea Fishop & Grill, Ksamil 09-2019

I was trying really hard to find a local fishmonger to buy some things to cook at home. It proved surprisingly difficult with the only one coming up on a Google search being at the beach area opposite The Mussel House. I never made it there.

I asked the owner of Zace Studios (our accommodation) and he recommended nearby Ftelea which he said you can buy fresh to cook home, or pay them an extra 100lek or so to cook for you takeaway. That would have been much cheaper than eating there, but when on holiday why not enjoy the conveniences of an atmospheric eating place. I had actually mentally noted the place while walking home from the main beach area as a seafood place that smelled good and was full of people into the evening, when most other restaurants centrally were very empty in the off-season.

- Arugula salad 400lek - bitter rocket and parmesan;
- Prawns 1000lek for 300g - flavoursome, cooked well with a little chew. A marked difference in 300g compared to the terrible Genti;
- Grilled squid 800lek for 300g - unseasoned but well grilled squid and excellent once salted lightly;
- Gilthead 650lek for 300g - panfried well with crisp skin and soft flesh.

An excellent meal overall. I'm disappointed we didn't have enough meals left to go back.

The Mussel House, Ksamil 09-2019

The Mussel House has a good reputation for - you guessed it - mussels from the local waters. I think it is the opposite side to Lake Butrint proper, but I'm sure the water is roughly the same. It's a steepdrive up/down off a mainroad, so I would be surprised if accidents didn't occasionally happen there. But none this time at least.

Along the offroad, there doesn't seem anything else there other than The Mussel House. And there's certainly lots of people coming to eat happily, including some Italians who were praising the food and pasta.

What I remember is several wasps that wouldn't leave us alone. It just meant careful moving and eating so as not to agitate (or swallow) any of them. Also the waters around were teeming with tiny little fish that seemed to detect you looking at them and move away. They would come up to the surface and make tiny little breaks in the water

- Mussels saganaki 550lek - deshelled in tomato and feta sauce. Quite good, although it did seem like a small serve and not the best way to taste the mussels for themselves. It really wasn't what I was expecting; from the waiter's description I thought it would be shelled mussels steamed in a light salsa with chopped tomatoes;
- Butrint Lake Eel 750lek for 300g - very nice grilled, with thin bones, soft flesh and little heads to chew on.

Overall a nice place to have some local seafood. Would go for the normal mussels next time.