RIGA - When I first heard that there was going to be a medieval-style restaurant in Riga, my initial reaction was to cynically roll my eyes and groan. I feared that Riga would go down the same cobblestone road as Tallinn and turn into a giant medieval theme park.
But a cynic always loves to be proven wrong, and Rozengrals turns out to be a very, very good place and 's so far at least 's the only medieval show in town.
Located on a quiet and picturesque Old Town back street, Rozengrals is one of the few themed restaurants in Riga that successfully manages to combine spectacle, food and atmosphere. The restaurant is simply astonishing to look at. Set in a vaulted stone cellar that was used in the 13th century by the city council, no expense has been spared in restoring it to its former minimalist glory.
The attention to detail is truly impressive. Some serious research went into the design of the place, from the roughly blown beer glasses to the doughy bread dipped in flax. The result is a unique experience that somehow manages to come off as authentic and cozy at the same time, an impressive feat when you consider that the medieval era was not exactly known for its coziness.
The menu also strives to be a kind of authentic medieval experience, serving up everything from rabbit to deer to all manner of root vegetables. For starters I had a peasant salad with bacon, goat cheese and croutons- but at 3.20 lats (4.7 euros) the name of the dish is somewhat ill conceived. The oven-baked pumpkin with aromatic herbs and mushrooms was especially delicious and is part of a good selection of vegetarian dishes on offer.
For the main course, my companion ordered perch stuffed with prunes. Although not exactly subtle, it was wholesome and hearty, which I imagine were the main criteria for most medieval grub. I ordered pork rolls served up in a spicy sauce which the menu informed me was the favorite dish of Ludwig the German, whoever he might have been. It was more like a leg of ham, in fact, and although the meat was perfectly cooked and extremely sumptuous, you would need a medieval appetite to get through it.
All of this was washed down with some Latvian red beer which was absolutely delicious. Light, flavorful and refreshing, this is the perfect antidote to the usual array of insipid Latvian beers on offer.
Above all else, for me the real attraction to Rozengrals 's and the reason why I will be certain to return there 's is the wonderfully tranquil atmosphere. The dim lighting is both soothing and intimate and the refined authentic medieval music is an inspiration more than an irritation, as is the case with so much piped-music.
The waitresses all seemed to have been employed straight from a catwalk rather than Latvia University's history faculty, but they sure know how to wear their head veils and headpieces with aplomb. The same goes for the men in tights.
Rozengrals will doubtless be a huge hit with tourists and locals alike. It's certainly the ideal place to get out of the mad tourist trap that Old Riga has become and, at least for an hour or two, enjoy a taste of ye goode olde times.
1 Rozena St., Riga
Tel: 722 4748
Open: noon 's midnight,