On our first night in Varna, we decided to go to Acant Rouge, a restaurant that was recommended by our hotel, and which was within walking distance from where we were staying.
We found the building tucked away on a small side street, and were surprised to see that it was located in a historical building, with an explanation of the history posted on a sign outside.
The building was built in 1864 by Hadji Yanaki Flori, who was a prominent grain merchant. In 1867, Varna's first charity ball was held there. In July 1878, with the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire, the building became the headquarters for the Russian Army. From 1888-1898 it was a Girl's Secondary School, and in 1900 to 1910, it housed the first Machine School of the Navy. Over the next 80 years, the building was used as a boarding school for hearing-impaired children, a school for the visually impaired and a kindergarten. Today, there is a restaurant, and upstairs there are offices for rent.
We entered the restaurant, and were immediately impressed with its rich, but subtle decor. Inside are stone walls, with arches, and niches with tables. The crystal chandeliers over the tables cast pretty rainbows on the white tableclothes. After we were seated, the waitress came over to me and opened my napkin onto my lap (this was a service only for the ladies - Ellis wasn't treated to this special pampering!). We were brought our menus and ordered our dinner and wine.
When the waitress brought our wine, she did something that we've never seen before - after opening the bottle of Chardonnay, and sniffing the top, she poured a little bit of wine into a glass, turned around and tasted it, and then poured the wine for us, after she was satisfied that the wine was good. She left the top on a small plate on the table next to Ellis.
While we were waiting for our first course of Spinach Salad with Chicken Fillet, we were served warm bread with a home-made special cheese, which was very good. The salad arrived, and was every bit as good as it looked.
For our main course, we ordered the day's special - roast lamb fillet served on a puree of potatoes and mashed eggplant. The lamb was sliced in thin slices, and was done to perfection. One thing that surprised us, and is in contradiction to service in most Bulgarian restaurants - when our main course was served, it was brought out by 2 waiters, who came around to each of us, looked at each other, and put the plates in front of us at exactly the same moment - very professional!
For dessert, Ellis had chocolate cake with apples, while I had homemade ice cream from pears and pomegranates - excellent, and very refreshing!
This was certainly one of the best meals we've had in Bulgaria (actually, some of our best meals have been in Varna). And the big surprise was the fact that, despite the excellent food and the high level of service, the price was no higher than a nice meal in a regular restaurant.
We discovered afterwards, that Acant Rouge was selected by Premium Lifestyle Magazine as its "2010 Best Restaurant of the Year" - a prize we agree that they totally deserve.