There was an interesting point at the end of our free walking tour in Belgrade when we asked our guide if she could recommend somewhere for us to have lunch – somewhere not too expensive, but not a cheap takeaway place either. She asked us, “Mid-range for Australians, or mid-range for us locals?” Moments like that really highlight income disparity worldwide – we’d been raving about how cheap everything was in the Balkans for us as tourists on the Australian dollar, but hadn’t stopped to think too deeply about what that means for locals.
In the end our guide pointed us towards Manufaktura, a very cool and somewhat hipster cafe restaurant just down the street. It’s not unlike a Jones the Grocer in Sydney, where they not only serve meals in their cafe, but also offer a deli counter, bakery counter, and other house-made jarred jams and preserves elsewhere in the store. It’s definitely a mid-range for Australian tourists, and high-end for locals type of place though – you won’t find local uni students dining here, it’s mainly older working professionals.
The restaurant is divided into two spaces, one with high bar tables, and the other with lower seated tables. Unfortunately, neither of these are actually non-smoking areas – the waiter actually laughed when we asked him about non-smoking. Thankfully we managed to find a table in a corner of the restaurant near the front door which allowed for some regular fresh air to be circulated around our table.
We started with some drinks – a fresh orange juice and blueberry juice (from a bottle). The fresh orange juice was a particularly nice treat as something cool and refreshing without too much artificial sweetening (I’m looking at you blueberry juice!). I think we’re a bit spoiled in Australia with our range of juice bars – I find myself wishing I could just walk down the street anywhere in Eastern Europe and be able to find a juice bar and order a healthy green juice!
The restaurant sent out a complimentary starter for us – a few slices of house-cured ham and some herbed cottage cheese as well. We were wondering where they had the space to smoke this ham, and the waiter told us that they actually had a large basement kitchen the level below where they prepared all their smoked meats and cheeses. Whatever the setup, it’s working – the ham was absolutely amazing with just the right amount of streaky fat around the edges.
I got a bit excited when the house-baked Manufactura bread came out to the table because it came out in what looked like a Chinese bamboo steamer basket! Unfortunately it was actually just a sieve made out of a wooden ring and metal mesh. At least the bread itself was delicious, with quite a hard crust that cracked open to reveal the most delicious Turkish-style bread inside. An absolute treat with the cheese.
We shared a Sopska Salad, which is basically just a simple tomato and cucumber salad with the addition of a healthy amount of feta cheese on top. Unfortunately the feta wasn’t quite as nice as the one that we’d had at Tramway Cafe in Nis, and was a bit too crumbly and sour for my liking. There wasn’t as much of a creamy texture as there should have been.
One of the seasonal specialities was the Sarma, or sour cabbage rolls, available only on the winter menu. Having tried some home-made dolmas in Macedonia when we visited our new friend Angja’s family, these just didn’t quite measure up. While they were quite tasty, they just didn’t have that home-made touch which results in a bit more spices in the rice mix, or a bit more chilli in the oil.
K wanted to try some Cevapi, a local meat specialty made up of blended mince meat (beef, pork and chicken) shaped into little sausages. This was actually the first time we’d tried cevapi in the Balkans, and they were quite tasty though a little rubbery in texture. I felt like it was the type of meat that needed to be eaten in a mouthful with the fried potato and the yoghurt dip, to help balance the strong meaty smokiness of the meat.
I wanted seafood, so I ordered the Seafood Risotto – a mistake on my part in a landlocked country! There were a few small prawns and a few mussels scattered throughout but it was otherwise quite a plain risotto with an overwhelming use of tomato sauce over quality ingredients. I really should have ordered something like grilled fish instead – located on two rivers, Belgrade has better freshwater fish options than seafood options!
Manufaktura offers some decent local Balkan food, at a very reasonable price (if you’re an Australian tourist!). The main point is to know what to order to ensure you get a good meal – don’t make the same mistakes I did and order a seafood risotto! Pay particular attention to their seasonal menu, and try a larger range of their appetisers like the house-cured meats and cheeses.
Manufaktura is located at 13-15 Kralja Petra in Belgrade, Serbia.