In a school for mentally handicapped children the standards for academic achievement are lowered considerably. Basic tasks like reading and writing are not graded for the complexities and quality of their execution, rather praised for being exercised in any coherent fashion whatsoever. Achieving the simplest, most rudimentary level of competence is considered a worthwhile achievement.
The Belgrade restaurant kitchen can be judged in similar terms. Did you serve table bread that wasn’t rock hard and three days old? Bravo. Did you not over-salt every dish? Congratulations. Sometimes i eat out and if I avoid virulent, catastrophic diarrhea the following morning I genuinely consider the outing a success. This is the curse of ‘Belgrade Standards’.
Belgrade Standards is a term used by the tiny population of foodies, well traveled Serbs and International residents that reluctantly frequent the restaurant scene; it’s a catch phrase to excuse the lackluster performance of almost every restaurant in town. A typical conversation might go as follows:
Disillusioned Diner 1: Hey, did you hear about that new place (let’s call it, The Same old Shit, or the SOS)?
Disillusioned Diner 2: The SOS? Oh that place on who gives a fuck street? Yeah, I ate there last night! I totally didn’t have explosive, watery diarrhea this morning.
DD1: Me neither! Did you have the Caesar Salad, the steak, the risotto or the pasta?
DD2: I had the steak, and there was only one spoon of vegeta sprinkled all over it!
DD1: One spoon?! Wow, the SOS is ok, by Belgrade Standards.
DD2: Yeah, by Belgrade Standards. Let’s go get a McDonald’s.
Put another way, Belgrade Standards are double standards. The excuse is made that because this is Serbia, we are somehow allowed to get away with terrible food standards in our restaurants because things have been hard for us here… This is WRONG.
It continues to baffle me how you can go to any Baba’s house in this country and she will feed you the greatest meal of your life; enter any restaurant in Belgrade and instead of a dessert menu I’d rather order the gentleman’s courtesy of a pistol with a single loaded bullet to blow my brains out.
The food culture is incredibly strong in Serbia and the Balkans in general. The meat and produce in this country is superior to the Greeks, who are just down the road, and their economy is actually even worse than here. Serbia is a superior country to Greece in every SINGLE way (Okay, they have the Parthenon, but their women look like they walked out of the set of the Lord of the Rings), and if we still had the Dalmatian islands it’d be a joke to even compare them.
Joy of joys, hallelujah praise the Lord, the messiah has come, and it’s name is Homa.
Sometimes you wanna go… where everybody knows your name…? Sure, if you watch comedy central. Personally, sometimes I wanna go where they know how to FUCKING COOK. To challenge my palette, perhaps show me something new, execute a dish flawlessly, and impress with garnish that’s a part of the flavour makeup, not just haphazard decoration. I want to be entertained while I eat, the food be satisfying and playful, to source the best of local ingredients and exotic imported fare, and mix them with flair and delicacy.
Homa Fine Dining does ALL of this… Including the culinary equivalent of post-coitus cigarette. The venue is subdued and surprisingly unpretentious… It’s hard to find in a little side street in downtown Donji Dorćol… because if you’re quality your people come to you. Lighting is soft and tables small and intimate. There’s no Serbo-jostling for a hierarchical superior table position… All the tables offer their own positional advantages. The clientele are there to eat, are not hosed in cheap perfume and the dresses are appropriately un-clingy. There’s not a man-purse in sight and it’s busy without being packed. Table decorations are minimal and the waitresses like JAT airlines stewardesses in the 80’s… Not unnervingly smoking hot like in the 70’s and not hideously over the hill like in the 00’s.
You are treated with a homemade earthenware vial of humus and (praise Jesus) FRESH bread to smear it with. The wine list belies a practiced eye and is peppered with superb choices from Chile and a quality Malbec from Argentina, amongst other manageable and foody-oriented wines from Europe (let’s be honest, the only continent worth living on – 40 million Syrians agree).
Diving head first into as brief and sexless a description of the meal I devoured as possible, anybody who can prepare a gnocchi dish as delectably as Homa’s head chef deserves at least half of any suicide bombers heavenly virgins. Each bite sinks in between your teeth like a pillowy cloud of intense truffle infused, weighty umame perfection. They don’t cheat by drowning everything in truffle oil, rather slice Serbian truffles, and some of the best are to be found within our borders here, paper-thin and serve them raw, clean and crispy and toasted a trifle to release their natural oils. The same treatment was given to the champignons. The dressing is served table side, and poured fresh over the dish by the waitress. I haven’t seen this anywhere other than a Michelin starred establishment, and it’s clear what they’re aiming for.
An indulgent, gourmet version of a pohovan kačkavalj caused me eye-rolling delight. On the rich side, but reduced in serving size accordingly, fried and breaded cheesy rolls, soft and crispy and presented lovingly, they were inhaled. I noted that Homa does dishes with an exceedingly competent, daresay expert attention to the balance of textures.
Every dish has crispy laid against airy, oily and clean, light and zesty across creamy and rich. The contrasts are impressive.
Most Italians will dress a rich pasta with basil to offset the heavy cream, here basil would have overpowered some of the lighter elements and watercress was given in its place… I wanted to applaud.
Any squid fan (my fashion model dinner companion put aside her burgeoning anorexia to lay claim to being one) should fail to order the squid at Homa under penalty of death by firing squad. The aroma hits you in the face like one of Hilary’s fuming office printers hurled across a room at the Democratic headquarters on election night. This is a 5 star dish. The squid flesh is meaty, robust, savoury, crispy, perfectly seasoned and at the same time melts in the mouth. It’s elegantly dressed with creamy, fresh ink pasta sauce, which is clung and not swum in. Above the al dente, springy pasta is a solitary seaweed crisp: crackling and shattered with snap and pop it was another reminder of the attention to details that elevates a plate of food like a pair of platinum cuff-links elevates a flawless but plain suit. Homa warms the plates before serving… It’s like laying your underpants on the radiator before pulling them and feeling that healing warmth spread through your testicles. It just… brings a smile to your face.
I ordered the goat in full confidence. Goat is a dry meat; it requires some kind of outside fat source to make it palatable… Chef’s usually opt for bacon a la the old venison standby, here i was pleasantly surprised with a milky kajmak-esque reduction. Milk was the subtle hint of flavour that dressed this hearty plate. Slow cooked, generously sized yet offset with a garden pea-green compote that sliced through the richness like a racist joke at an NAACP college fundraiser.
Despite our heroic efforts, we could only share a dessert. It was ideal, citric, fruity sorbet and crunchy crunch something. It swept away everything that came before, and that wonderful debate between having an espresso or ordering a couple of hookers ensued on my way out.
Even the choons are good. The equivalent meal anywhere west of Berlin would cost about a grand, so dine away. Homa is Kobe Bryant playing basketball with a bunch of English high school badminton losers… So far and away above and beyond the rest of the competition it’s worthy of a permanent 9Gag meme.