Bulgarian cuisine is a mix of European and near-Eastern influences, especially Turkish. Being a fertile country with a wide range of vegetables and fruits, it’s famous for the variety of its tasty salads. With its long coastline, fish and seafood dishes are also popular. Other distinctive items are cold and hot soups, a lot of dairy products (especially yogurt and white cheese, similar to Greek feta) and pastries. Most dishes are baked, steamed or stewed while grilling is widely preferred to deep-frying – so all in all it provides a healthy diet.
I’d heard about Bolyary restaurant in Palmers Green and it looked good on the internet so I felt I’d have a meal there. I happened to look in as I was walking past one day, but the impression it gave wasn’t great: small and rather like a milk bar. However, once inside a few months later I discovered I was quite wrong: it’s much bigger than it seems from the street, with about 50 seats. I was also a bit surprised that at 8.45 on a spring Sunday evening we were the only customers there.
We were warmly received and took a place in the rear area, which with its wooden picnic-style tables, seats and benches had something of a Swiss chalet air. We ordered a 550ml can of Kamenitza beer apiece; well chilled and at 4.4% with a decent kick to it. There was a wide range of traditional Bulgarian dishes on the menu such as gyuvetch (beef stew) and kavarma (a meat and vegetable stew usually made with pork). For those not willing to try the Bulgarian dishes, a selection of pizzas was also available – much the same as pizzas elsewhere but with perhaps an extra thick cheesy topping. For my starter I ordered a salad of chopped carrot and cabbage with oil and herbs: fresh, crunchy and tasty but much larger than I’d expected: really enough for a decent lunch. One of my companions had breaded white cheese, also in a sizeable serving but not as heavy on the stomach as it looked. The other had croquettes (spelt ‘crockets’ on the menu) made from chopped eggs mixed with cheese, herbs and a little bacon. This was served with a yoghurt sauce and also generous and tasty.
For my main course I shared a large platter of mixed vegetables snacks, some hot and some cold. One of my friends had a chicken shish kebab (shashlik) with rice, fried sliced potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers and the other a pork chop with bacon (upletenica) as well as the same salad etc. The vegetable platter included mushroom crockets and spinach and white cheese crockets but as I was replenished after my salad, I shared it around and dipped into the sliced potatoes and salad on my friends’ plates. We were much too full to contemplate any desserts.
The lighting was pleasantly subdued, with American music playing at listenable and not intrusive volume, but not a Bulgarian tune to be heard: a bit of a shame as it would have added to the atmosphere and given a more unique feel to the place. Service was relaxed and attentive without being overbearing. Our waiter came speedily to replace my knife when I dropped it on the floor and the same for my fork two minutes later. We were offered a doggy-bag to take some of those vast portions home, and the waiter even said we’d overtipped him. This brings me to the price, which was also very pleasing i.e. around £60 for three people, with two ample courses and a large can of beer each. A £10 tip on top was about right, we thought.
What the restaurant lacks, if anything, is customers. We were there for nearly two hours at peak dining time, and no one else came in for so much as a takeaway. Perhaps it’s the menu’s similarity to Turkish cuisine, already served by a large number of restaurants in the vicinity, that explains it. Why else this should be is a mystery. I can heartily recommend Bolyary.
Bolyary, 396 Green Lanes, Palmers Green N13 5PD, Tel:020 3560 6819 (www.bolyary.co.uk)
Opening times: Wednesday to Friday 17.00-23.00. Weekends 11.00-24.00.