Cancelled flights can sometimes be fortuitous. On my recent return from Vilnius to New York, the first leg of my journey, to Warsaw, was cancelled and I was stuck for another night in the Lithuanian capital. To be honest, I was thrilled. I got to spend one more night at the stylish Pacai hotel, which serves up a surprisingly good martini. And secondly, I was able to have dinner at somewhere on my list that I hadn’t found time to visit: Ertlio Namas, billed as serving “Lithuanian historic cuisine” and located in a 17th-century house once owned by a stonemason and carpenter in Vilnius’ Old Town.
I’m heartily glad I didn’t miss out on Ertlio Namas; my dinner was shockingly good. Like many restaurants in the Lithuanian capital, it is a tasting menu establishment, offering a choice between a two-hour, four-course dinner (for a very reasonable €30, and €20 for wine pairings) or a longer, three-hour meal with six courses (€40; wine pairings €30). I’m not usually one for the whole-hog tasting-menu thing, so we opted for the former. Head chef Tomas Rimydis’ cooking is inspired by the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; before launching his eatery, he spent time “studying recipes found in manors and monasteries” to create modern versions of food from the medieval, renaissance and baroque periods. Every single dish here is rooted in history, starting with the homemade beetroot bread served with ridiculously delicious hemp butter – a 16th-century recipe, according to the menu. It was followed by an 18th-century dish of sturgeon and eel terrine, a 16th-century parsnip soup made with beef broth that had been cooked for four days and a 19th-century pheasant breast with celery tart and cranberry sauce, and culminated with another 19th-century gem, chocolate mousse with beetroot sponge cake.
As each course was presented, our waiter would tell us a story that related to the history of its ingredients, including juicy titbits about how serving yellow-coloured food conveyed wealth, how game meats were considered the “food of warriors” and something about snail caviar, which, after a glass of wine with every course, eludes my memory. But I do remember secretly wishing I had one more day, just to come back and enjoy another dinner here.