We stayed one night in Armenia’s second city, Gyumri and as our hotel didn’t have a functioning bar or restaurant, we explored nearby options.
We visited Café Sheeraz for a late lunch and as this was our first stop in the country, tried our first glass of Armenia white wine and Alexandropol beer, brewed in the city. With a pitta plate with hummus, sweet chilli sauce and a mint-yoghurt dip, our bill came to nearly £30. Having literally just exchanged a few pounds into Armenian dram which we’d hoped would last for the duration of our eight-night tour, we’d checked for a visa sign before sitting down. However, the machine wasn’t working and having handed over two 10,000 notes, they were tawdry in returning our change, probably hoping we’d forgotten or were unfamiliar with the currency. Needless to say, we decided not to return.
It was a gloriously sunny end to the day, and we struggled to find a bar with outdoor seating for an aperitif, but eventually found Alexandrovski through a large arch which led into a courtyard full of outdoor tables and chairs. We chose a couple of draft beers, Gyumri and the Alexandropol we’d tried earlier to try to tell the difference but failed. This time we’d checked we could pay by card before ordering and paid 14,180 dram or £8.50.
Our guide had mentioned a Gyumri institution, Ponchik Monchik, famous for their huge doughnuts and after checking they also sold savouries, we headed upstairs as it appeared quieter: there was also a large outdoor terrace, but it was beginning to get chilly. The décor was light and bright with striking turquoise pipes. We chose a lahmajoun, an Armenian style pizza, and a chicken salad with sweetcorn and mushrooms. Having ordered a bottle of dry white wine from a charming young waiter who spoke little English, we made fizzy and burping noises to ensure we got sparkling rather than still water which amused him enormously. Unfortunately, the wine was semi sweet and room temperature and having checked the bottle, realised we’d been served semi-sweet rather than dry, but we decided to bear with it and add the sparkling water. The lahmajoun was on a thin bread base and not huge, so we ordered a potato patty and a meat patty. Both looked absolutely huge when they arrived, but on picking them up, we found them full of air, like Turkish balloon bread. On the wall next to our table, people had written their names on the wallpaper, and I was just about to add ours using a biro, when the waiter produced a felt pen so ours wouldn’t get lost amongst the rest of the entries. We finished with a couple of G&Ts and the bill came to £23.30 which made a slightly unconventional but bargain dinner.