We were staying on the Albanian Riviera for seven nights at the “Vila Kalcuni.”:https://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/accommodation/201197-review-vila-kalcuni As there was no in-house restaurant, the helpful receptionist recommended five places to try. On sussing them out, they were either quite a hike away or fancier than we wanted. They also had pushy staff trying to entice you in, when all you wanted to do was look at the menu. Bearing in mind, we were travelling for six weeks, we wanted simple straightforward food. Also, as Albanian portions were big, we’d got used to sharing a starter and main course to avoid excess baggage of the personal kind!
The nearest restaurant was “PIZZARIA MARIA MADALENA”:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pizzeria-Maria-Madalena/497764343640674, literally at the top of the slope which took us from hotel to street level. It looked small inside but had a large terrace with simple wooden tables and chairs. It wasn’t very busy possibly because, being early October, it was towards the end of the season. Service was very good, and we enjoyed a shared country salad to start with and a house diavolo pizza, with just the right amount of spiciness. With a half-litre of white wine and large bottle of sparkling water, the bill, without service was 1,550 Lek/£11.50. On a very wet night later in the week, we thought we’d avoid getting damp going into town, but unfortunately found it closed.
The second nearest was ONHEZMI where a menu board at street level indicated a restaurant down a flight of steep steps. The outdoor terrace was virtually empty, and it all looked a little soulless. After a few minutes an elderly lady came out with menus. On ordering a Greek salad and pasticcio, the latter was met by a shake of the head, so we opted for spaghetti bolognaise and tried to indicate we wanted to share both. We ordered a half litre of white wine and sparkling water. Although it was all written down, her English appeared non-existent, and as she walked away, Roy remarked it would be a miracle if it all came out as we wanted. However, service turned out to be very good. The salad was accompanied by five slices of complimentary lightly toasted bread and two plates were delivered, so we could share the pasta. We finished with coffee and raki and the bill came to 1,600 Lek/£11.85. There were only a couple of other tables filled during the night, although it sounded much more raucous upstairs. We also had to contend with a roaming barking dog and two loud little boys who appeared to belong to members of staff.
Later in the week, and having had a day of sightseeing, we called into the street level “ONHEZMI LOUNGE CAFE”:https://www.facebook.com/OnhezmiLounge/?rf=345533542192076. We had a couple of bottled beers in the absence of draught, a lemon soda drink and shared a late lunch of a club sandwich which unexpectedly, but delightfully, arrived with chips. The music was quite loud bearing in mind it was mid-afternoon, and it was easy to imagine it ramping up in the evening as it was full of young locals. The bill was 850 Lek/£6.30.
“NASTO,”:https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Fast-Food-Restaurant/Fastfood_Pizza-Nasto-1459959517656274/ on the promenade, was a busy but simple kebab place which also did take away from their open counter. We shared a green salad which was swiftly followed by Roy’s pork souvlaki in Arabic bread and for me, a chicken gyros souvlaki. This was a thick saucer sized flat bread, with small pieces of chicken, a dollop of tzatziki and a few chips, all rolled up in a paper bag cone – absolutely delicious. With half a litre of white wine and large sparkling water, it was another cheap night at 1,370 Lek/£10.15.
I enjoyed “NASTO”:https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Fast-Food-Restaurant/Fastfood_Pizza-Nasto-1459959517656274/ so much, we returned. This time it was relatively empty on arrival, but soon became busy when what appeared to be Albania FC Juniors arrived en masse, after football training. This time, we shared a Greek salad, so huge it must have contained a whole chopped cucumber. I’d enjoyed my gyros so much I opted for the same, but Roy fancied what he calls an elephant leg kebab. He wasn’t sure what it known as and ended up with a thick bun-less burger with a few chips artfully arranged around the plate. However, the flavours and tastes didn’t disappoint the second time around.
We ate at “BAR RESTAURANT PICERI PLAZHI I RI CACI”:https://www.facebook.com/restorantpiceriplazhiricacisarande/?rf=1668323836715524 and shared a reasonable moussaka and a Greek salad, served with complimentary bread rolls. The following night was wet and windy. and many restaurants were closed but this place had their plastic awnings in place. We ordered grilled vegetables to start (peppers, aubergine, tomatoes, courgettes and onion) and chicken and potato. We were asked if we wanted the chicken on the grill or casserole and we opted for the latter, although when it came it was grilled. However, Roy deboned it and although it was good, it was not as fabulous as the splendid potatoes, a type of ‘sauté’ which had either been cooked in lots of butter or fat but had not crisped. With wine and water, the bill was 1800 Lek/£13.30 – our most expensive in Saranda.
“EPIDAMN RESTAURANT”:https://hotelepidamn.com/en/home-2/ EPIDAMN RESTAURANT was an Italian, with turquoise chairs on the terrace and inside a similar colour scheme, but with modern wooden black furniture giving it a trendy feel. The menu was pizza, pasta and risotto and we chose four cheese gnocchi with chicken and mixed salad. We asked for a half litre of wine, but it appeared to only be served by the glass (200 Lek each) or bottle (expensive). As the two charming young men, spoke very little English, we settled on two glasses. Everything was beautifully served with branded glasses for the water and a condiment set with oil, balsamic vinegar, black pepper and sea salt mills. The salad was cherry tomatoes and a variety of leaves, but it was well dressed, and we were offered complimentary bread – six rolls served in a paper ‘sack’. The gnocchi wasn’t huge, but it was tasty and with the bread, was perfect. We had two excellent, large macchiato and Roy asked for a raki. Having found the right glass, it was poured from a plastic water bottle in the fridge, but it certainly didn’t taste like water. Our bill came to 1,780 Lek/£13.20.
We did not seek Michelin star food and certainly did not get it, but each place provided good quality, fair portions and delivered the Albanian trick of a blend of their own style mixed with the influences of both the neighbouring Corfu and not so distant Italy.