September 19 2009
“I haven’t lived in Belgrade since I came to London to study at Saint Martins 12 years ago, but I love to visit my family for weekends. It’s more stylish than you might expect – my English husband says it reminds him of Paris, though I’m not so sure. Yugoslavia was in an odd position under Tito in that we could get visas for the US and Russia, and everyone travelled. My mother brought back beautiful clothes from Paris and had items expertly made at home, plus little dresses for me – it all inspired me.
Belgrade is all about outside café life (even in winter, with heaters), food – we love eating and every neighbourhood has a fantastic market with fresh local fruit and vegetables – and family.
I’ll arrive early on Friday evening in time for a drink at home and then my parents often have tickets for the JDP, the Yugoslav Drama Theatre, which does good contemporary classics such as Brecht. Afterwards we’ll go for a late dinner at one of a series of excellent fish restaurants along the Danube. My favourite is Saran, one of the oldest, named after the delicious grilled river carp which is its speciality – though before that we would have rakija, the local apéritif, and a consommé with dumplings, which I love. Then lovely fresh salads and bread from a wood-fired oven, and maybe baklava for pudding. The waiters are very proper but there’s a lively little folk band which loosens up the atmosphere.
I don’t get up early, so on Saturday we have a late breakfast. My mother is a great cook – she makes kiflica pastries filled with soft cheese and eggs. There’s also dried meat rather like bresaola and my father’s wonderful apricot jam from our orchard.
I love seeing my niece and nephew, Lazar and Tamara, aged nine and five. I might take them for a walk to Gardos, one of my favourite parts of town. It’s ancient and cobbled with tiny dwellings like doll’s houses. It’s very romantic and reminds me of my childhood. We know secret little paths to get there, which makes it yet more magical. On the hill there’s a Victorian-era tower called Kula Sibinjanin Janka that has a wonderful view of the city, and we stop for a pear juice at the Galerija café there.
Nearby there’s the old Kalemegdan fort in a park, which has a small zoo that the children love. I prefer the Museum of Contemporary Art, a modernist building that has been rather let go and even has ivy growing around it – I love that slight melancholy. The paintings by Serbian artists from the mid-20th century remind me of my roots and my cultural inspiration. Then we might all have an ice cream and sit on the pedestrianised Knez Mihajlova, watching the world go by – a favourite Serbian sport.
Then it’s time to take the children home and meet friends, perhaps at Madera, a grill restaurant in a park, rather like a chic barbecue. At about 11pm we might go on to The Tube, a trendy new club that an architect friend designed and which plays cool, modern music. At about 2am we go to Black Panther [recently destroyed by fire, but the owner hopes to relaunch it], a club on a raft on the Danube with basic, live folk music – maybe just a couple of guys on accordion and spoons – but the clientele can be anything from fashion people to local politicians, and we all dance on the tables.
By the time we leave, the sun is up, so Sunday is another late start. We have a big family lunch with my brother and his kids. My favourite is a starter of mushroom and spinach roulade, a main course of marinated beef so tender it’s melting, lots of salad and a dessert my mother makes with about 20 fine layers of sponge, grilled walnuts and soft caramel.
Afterwards I just laze; reading under a tree or playing with the children until I decide to walk off lunch in the nearby Topcider park, which is big and quite wild. Then the fun is over: we pack and get an early night before the Monday morning flight back to London.”