Located at the very edge of the Banjica Forest, Kovač was once a humble blacksmith shop, which was transformed into a restaurant in order to provide travellers who pass that way towards Belgrade a meal and a rest. Through the years Kovač changed its ambience but never lost its traditional background, and now it's a popular destination for both locals and visitors alike, with traditional Serbian cuisine and acoustic music. We recently had a chance to sit down and chat with Ivan, their head chef.
How did you choose your profession?
When I was a child, I used to watch cooking shows all the time, and I was amazed by the skills with knives of professional chefs and the flames in pans, it seemed to me like a circus show! My job really is like that, a controlled chaos, as I like to call it. And that is exactly the thing that makes it so great, working under pressure, because that is when I can present all my skills, not just cooking, but organisation, decorative skills, working with people. You see, when you need to serve 200 guests at the same time, that is when the real thing starts, and all of them have to be satisfied with their meal and served in a timely fashion, each dish must be of the same high quality and we really do challenge ourselves constantly.
How do you keep up with new culinary trends, like vegan and gluten-free food?
There are some such dishes on our menu, but we mostly modify dishes on request in order to make them vegan, gluten- and dairy-free. We do our best to meet the needs of our guests, even though traditional Serbian cuisine is based on gluten and meat, so finding a balance between those things requires a lot of commitment. The fact that we have top quality ingredients does help, because we always know exactly what we serve to our guests. Serbian cuisine can be considered greasy, and people from abroad are not always used to food from these parts, which is why we are ready to meet the requests of our guests.
What makes Kovač unique?
Aside from traditional ambience, our ingredients are top-notch quality, organic and mostly homemade, we get fresh meat from Serbian mountains four times a week. All the food is prepared on the spot when it's ordered. Even winter stashes, picked vegetables, are homemade, prepared by our chefs in Kovač. But we also really take pride in our wines, we have a selection of more than 250 wines from all over the world.
What are the best dishes in Kovač?
I believe that all our guests should definitely try 'beef under the bell' (ispod sača), because not many restaurants offer it in Belgrade. Sač is a vintage stove in which food is cooked in its own juices and the steam it creates, so that all the flavours are preserved. It requires a cook specialised in sač, and we do have such a man. It is very hard to work with sač since natural materials can be very tricky, and the meals must be preordered, a day in advance, because it requires around three hours to prepare.
Anything else you'd recommend especially to foreign visitors?
We must not forget ćevapi, a dish that every tourist should try in Serbia. Podvarak, pickled cabbage that we also prepare in sač and add meat. But we have many dishes, even though we are a traditional restaurant, it is contemporary traditional, a rather weird mix, but we make it work by offering dishes for everyone's tastes. So at one table you can find various dishes, like pihtije, ham in horseradish sauce, fried liver with caramelised onions and many more.
Do you have regular guests?
Yes, a lot of them. There are a lot of people from public life that are our regular guests - sportsman, singers, politicians. But out of all those famous people that come to our restaurant, our absolute favourite is Eddy. Well, he is famous at our restaurant, at least. Eddy is a French bulldog that comes often with his owner, who orders two steaks, one for himself and one for Eddy, and he is a blast.
Where do you like to spend your free time?
Most of it I spend with my family and friends. I'm from Zemun, and that is where we try to make our little gatherings once a week, prepare some food, take a boat ride on the Danube. Or we just see each other at some events, like birthdays, Slava etc, basically we just find some excuse to have fun, eat some good food and enjoy the day.