Perhaps it was seeing the movie Eat, Pray, Love that turned my taste buds irrevocably towards Italian food, or perhaps it was just the cold weather. Either way, short of boarding a plane to Rome and dining with Julia Roberts, we decided to aim for the second-best thing.
So we headed to the aptly named Pastorant, definitely one of Sofia's upmarket Italian restaurants.
Initial impressions are welcoming – little objets d'art decorate the mantelpiece in the first non-smoking lounge – old clocks, candles, quaint little pots, baskets and mirrors. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling, the walls are painted a warm olive and tables deliberately scratched to convey antiquity. The cloakroom, by the way, is also rather charming with its candle light and delightful scents.
Top marks also for total separation of smokers from non-smokers and a full and accurately transcribed English menu.
Feta-cheese bread rolls were quickly brought to the table, followed by our choice of excellent red wine: Frescobaldi Remole Toscana Rosso 2008 from Tuscany (28 leva). The waitress (also one of the co-owners) punctuated her otherwise excellent service with profuse apologies about an apparently irksome group in the smoking section, although we hadn't really noticed any problems.
My starter was baked goat's cheese with caramelised figs and walnuts (250g for 13.80 leva) sprinkled with mint leaves. My sweet tooth heartily approved. My wife's salad (350g for 8.80 leva) consisted of beetroot with green and red lettuce, rocket leaves, cubes of goat's cheese and honey and lemon vinaigrette. I could tell she found it delicious.
My wife's main course was fusilli al salmone (350g for 15.80 leva) with smoked salmon and asparagus in a creamy white wine. She liked it very much. My main was taglitelle con zucchine e gamberi (350g for 18.80 leva) consisting of prawns, zucchini, basil, cherry tomatoes in creamy cognac sauce. Pastorant prides itself on some of the best pasta in Sofia and I can't fault that description. It was very spicy with a kick to it and definitely superior to similar dishes we've had in town.
The sweets were a shade anti-climactic, although perhaps we chose the wrong ones. My wife had what was billed as a salami of chocolate (7.80 leva) with biscuits and dried fruits. It was good but slightly hard. I ordered chocolate mousse (7.80 leva) that was rich and sumptuous – once again I think it was sprinkled with mint – but neither matched the desserts we'd had a month ago at La Piccola Casa.
At a total cost of 103.30 leva for two (including mineral water for 2.50 leva), perhaps Pastorant is slightly on the expensive side. Or, alternatively, it's for a special occasion. Overall, however, highly recommended, especially for its entrees. Reservations, by the way, are essential, especially at weekends.
Overall rating: 5/6
Price: $$$$ ($ up to 12 leva a person for three courses; $$ 12 to 20 leva pp; $$$ 20 to 35 pp; $$$$ 35 and over pp)
16 Tsar Assen Str.
Tel: 02 / 981 44 82
Open: noon to 10.30pm
Credit cards: yes