Albania, June 2010
Tirana still has a very east-European feel to it, mainly due to its Stalinist architecture (very few old buildings remain) and Eighties fashions, but it’s developing rapidly. In fact, I only saw one horse and cart in the town centre. The bars along Deshmoret e 4 Shkurti (near the Hotel President) seem pretty lively if rather commercial.
There are lots of good restaurants in Tirana but most seem to only have Italian or international food as local people tend to want something different to what they get at home. I did manage to track down a couple of places selling traditional Albanian dishes though:
Era (Intermediate A), Ismail Qemali, (between Vaso Pasha and Sami Frasheri)
A very popular place with locals and foreigners alike. I gave the Italian selection a miss and went instead for Liver Fergese, tender chunks of tasty liver in a sauce of tomato, onion, spicy pepper, ground maize, cheese and curd garnished with two sticks of cornbread and a hot chilli (A) served in a sizzling skillet, along with chips (B) and a huge ‘village’ salad of tomato, lettuce, cucumber (B) and delicious olives and spring onions (A). (The fruit and veg is generally organic here due to the farmers being too poor to afford pesticides!) The draught Birra Tirana is also excellent (A). My bill came to a paltry 1500 lek. On another occasion, I was also brought here to lunch on some delicious korca meatballs (A), baked ‘white’ cheese (A) and another Village salad. The decor is trad but nothing special. Service is good.
Taverna Dajuka Paidhaqe (Intermediate B), down a dingy alley behind the Arber Hotel on Bardhok Biba (parallel to Zogu 1 Pare off Skanderberj Square ) You will see the signs down the side when you get to the hotel.
Paidhaqe are flame-grilled lamb chops. If I’d had more time I would have done as the locals do and go out to Sauke or another nearby village where the restaurants specialise in this typical weekend treat. However, this place was ok though despite the drab decor and a lack of atmosphere on a Tuesday night. I had a plate of about ten chops, a Greek salad, plate of chips, bruschetta (B) and a bottle of Merlot (C), which was drinkable but maybe go for the Syrah recommended in the menu instead. The highlight for me though was an excellent glass of homemade Muscat Raki (A), a kind of grappa. With a plate of complimentary sliced apple sprinkled with cinnamon, the bill came to 1615 lek which was very reasonable.
N.B. Despite the Bradt guide (the only recent guide for Albania in print) describing Tirana as a safe city, I didn’t see any women out around here after 11. Also, I was nearly mown down by a black merc limo when crossing on the green man. Watch your back!
Juvenilja Restaurant Parku i Madh, turn left at the end of Mother Theresa Square and keep bearing right, you will see a decrepit sign pointing the way past the football stadium.
Located in the ‘grand park’ this is a nice spot to sit outside with a cold beer (300 lek for 500ml), although it’s a bit of a trek from the hotel. You can eat pizza and chips (C) outside (despite what the Bradt guide says) or eat properly off the Italianate menu inside the strange castle-like main building. Didn’t try it though as I was only here for the beer after a hot days work.
Hotel President aka Xheko Imperial (Advanced B-), Carlsberg Restaurant, 4th floor, Deshmoret e 4 Shkurti (parallel to Mother Theresa Square).
Having 3000 lek to burn on my last night, I went to this place after coming back from the park on a recommendation from the director of the British Council in Athens who described it as ‘the best restaurant in Tirana’. It’s very posh but they didn’t bat an eyelid when I showed up in shorts and trainers. It’s a beautiful rooftop terrace with pristine all-white decor, candlelit tables around a central bar, gushing fountains and live music in English (highlights for me being Moondance, My Delilah). After a large plate of complimentary brushcetta with cherry tomatoes, white cheese (B-, they should have toasted the bread) I had Kritharaqe Me Mish Qinqji (orzo with lamb) which needed heavy salting to bring out any flavour (C). The house white was a medium dry Chardonnay for 1200 lek a litre (a bottle from the list would have blown my whole allowance). To finish Baklava with raspberry ice cream (B) and a 50ml of mani (mulberry) raki (A). Pleasant surroundings but I didn’t rate the food and wine for the money (2350 lek).
I wouldn’t particularly recommend visiting the food market as it was pretty grotty and disappointing, although there were a few nice stalls. The veg looked great though, all organic as the farmers are too poor to afford pesticides.
In June 2010 the exchange rate at the airport was 132.20 Albanian lek(e) to the Euro. At a moneychanger’s in town it was 136 to the euro, and 166 to the pound, so 2000 lek would be €15 and 2500 about £15. I was only here for 2 nights so I just changed €100 at the airport for my daily spends and paid for the hotel in euro. There was no €10 entry tax at the airport despite what my Bradt guide said. A taxi from the airport to the hotel costs 2000 lek.
There are two diplomat hotels fairly near each other. I stayed at the Diplomat 1 on Muhamet Gjollshet (erroneously called Unaza on the flawed Bradt map) which had nice rooms and a great breakfast spread, belying its three star status. There is free wi-fi in the rooms and the lobby. The electricity supply is 220v and you will be able to use the same two-pin adaptor you use in Spain or Italy. Power cuts happen frequently so a pocket torch might be an idea too.
The map in the Bradt guide is pretty useless, lots of roads missing or incorrectly named. The one I got from reception is better but it was still hard to find some places as the streets often have no sign and the buildings no numbers! I found people to be quite helpful though when asked.