When visiting destinations, I usually have a general idea of what the focus of my visit will be. Whether it be history, architecture, nature, unusual landscapes or something else, there’s going to be something that draws my interest.
For my visit to Cluj, I knew it to be a major city of Transylvania and so expected that I would explore its cityscape and Transylvanian urban life. While I did explore these aspects of Cluj-Napoca, it didn’t feel like the streets, landmarks and urban life were its most interesting facets. What surprised and impressed me the most was the city’s restaurants and cafe culture, coming across some terrific establishments around the city.
With that said, the places that I dined and drank at were a considerably varied bunch. Here are four very different restaurants or cafes that went to eat in Cluj-Napoca and that I would happily recommend.
Le Petit Paris – Casual Dining
On my first night in Cluj, the streets were buzzing and heavily crowded due to a city-wide festival that just so happened to be going on during my stay. While it was fun to see the city so alive and watch the occasional music act, it did mean that basically every restaurant and bar was packed to the brim with people. Everywhere I looked was full in old town and it was more of the same as I made my way to Union Square.
I eventually found a small restaurant that was practically empty, Le Petit Paris, along the busy Bulevardul Eroilor. Checking now on Tripadvisor, it has very few reviews so it may be a fairly new restaurant. It had a relaxed atmosphere, with exposed brick walls and certainly a little parisian flair. The friendly staff spoke English and it took no time at all to order. Their menu had a broad variety of dishes, from local dishes to things like pasta and didn’t feel overly sophisticated, but not overly basic either.
Noticing that they had an extensive list of lemonades, I picked a forest fruits one that was delicious – fruity and the perfect level of sweet. For my main, I went with the fried pork neck with sides of cabbage and potato wedges. While a little hearty, all the flavours complimented each other and I would certainly have it again. The food arrived in a timely fashion and the staff were attentive, but not intrusive at all. All up, the meal cost 40 RON (including tip), which is about 8€ and a pretty fair price by Romanian standards.
Fragment – Refined Dining
As I was originally staying a little far from Cluj’s old town, I had a look for restaurants closer by. The restaurant Fragment caught my eye, with sterling reviews on Tripadvisor and a somewhat close location. Rather strangely, Fragment is part of the brand new Cluj Football Arena, not just in the complex but in the arena building itself. This seems like an unlikely location for a quality restaurant but there you go.
I made my way over and entered the sleek and spacious interior. While it was quiet at that point, by the time I left the restaurant was about half full but that had no impact on service or the ambience. While Fragment was a bit pricier than I usually would like, I had decided to treat myself. The extremely professional and attentive staff were always quickly available, but never hovering.
Always seeking vegetables when I eat out, I ordered the chicken breast stuffed with vegetables and saffron mashed potatoes. While the serving size was modest, the food was fantastic with quite possibly the creamiest mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. After just one taste I knew I was getting what I paid for value-wise. With my main, I was able to try another Romanian lemonade, this time a refreshing elderflower lemonade. To round out the experience, I went with the tiramisu for dessert as recommended by the waiter. He explained that the bottom layer was infused champagne and the top layer with limoncello. Best tiramisu I’ve ever had hands down!
While the total bill for the evening was 80 RON or 17€, considering the quality of the food, service and atmosphere, I know I would rarely find that kind of dining experience so cheap back home in Australia.
Bujole – Coffee with Intent
On my 3rd day in Cluj, I had a coffee craving hit me and so I decided to make my way to a cafe that I had seen with good reviews on Tripadvisor. As it was situated on Union Square, the large central square of Cluj, I was wary of getting my hopes up. I often find establishments situated on large squares to be overpriced, lacking in quality, or both. Luckily my suspicions were unwarranted as Bujole delivered with some quality coffee at an appropriate price, ie. more than I had paid elsewhere in Romania but justifiably so.
While there was outdoor seating, I chose to head inside to its modern, chic interior. A smartly dressed barista came over and handed over a menu with a wide selection of coffee and food. I was overly pleased to see Australian favourites the Long Black and the Flat White on the menu. When it came to order, I went with my usual back home in a long black having generally been stuck with espressos so far in Romania. The barista asked whether I would like Colombian or Kenyan beans which in my mind shows that they take coffee seriously. Having gone with the Colombian, he suggested I take it unsweetened but knowing my unrefined taste, I asked him to bring sugar anyway.
When the coffee came, I did first try it without sugar and while it had a bold flavour, I was still wanting the sugar. He proceeded to bring over a shot glass with raw sugar which I thought was kind of neat. In the end, it was a lovely cup of coffee, in a nice and surprisingly sophisticated cafe in the heart of Cluj.
Off the Wall – Craft Beer and Burgers
Being an avid beer drinker, I was intrigued when I read about Off the Wall, a bistro/restaurant in Cluj’s old town that specialised in Romanian craft beer. Started by a pair of Canadians who settled in Cluj and wanted to combine local produce with Canadian/global cuisine. For me, my visit to Off the Wall was all about the beer. Up until this point I had only found and tried one Romanian beer, Ursus, which I thought was good enough but was keen to see what else the local beer culture had to offer.
Sitting down, I was faced with a decent length beer menu. While the beers were quite expensive, I didn’t mind paying more to try them. In the end I settled with a Sikaru Wit, a pale ale from Bucharest to start before moving to the Cluj local Red Line amber ale later. Both beers were nice and flavourful, but I preferred the Red Line, being a fan of red ale personally. When I shared with the staff my vote in favour of it, he said he would pass it along to the brewer, as they have close personal ties with the craft breweries of Cluj. As is generally the case with food, trying local produce often gives you a more intimate feeling and connection than broad, national or international fare.
To round out my visit, I tried their Tayler-made Burger, named after one of the owners. The burger was a mouth-full and good typical pub food, with an interesting twist in tandoori dipping sauce for the fries. Overall, good food, new and interesting beers in a relaxed environment. Another great spot to eat in Cluj.
Have you been to Cluj Napoca? Where would you recommend to go out to eat in Cluj, and get a drink or coffee? Would love for you to share them below.
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