The pavement cafe scene of Kosice at Republika Východu ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Košice: Republika Východu

We have been featuring a lot of cuisine-related articles on the site of late. But there is a pertinent reason for that: Slovakia has come on leaps and bounds in gastronomic terms these last two or three years, and keeping tabs on the rapidly-developing food scene is a bit like keeping tabs on wildly escalating share prices. But we do keep tabs, on Englishman in Slovakia. What seems incredible, looking back, is that it’s taken us so long to feature what could claim to be one of the restaurants that spearheaded the country’s pincer movement of stylish new dining possibilities (certainly as far as the east is concerned).

Ah yes. The east. Republika Východu means the “republic in the east” – a reference to Košice’s long-standing proud rivalry against, and independence from Bratislava, one the one hand. But there’s another way of interpreting that, at this coolly sophisticated bistro in the shadow of Dóm svätej Alžbety, the city’s hugely impressive cathedral: and that’s as a bastion of great, original, delicious food, served with utter professionalism.

Indeed it can seem, in a sense, that Republika Východu is the reason to come to Košice. Not only does it offer tables on the Hlavná ulica, the city’s wide, oval-shaped central square, but these tables virtually brush the cathedral walls. They do not simply offer the so-so coffee and uninspiring cakes  they could get away with, they offer the city’s best coffee (there are up a couple of other contenders to this coveted title admittedly), and an innovative menu throughout the day. Spilling out right into the main thoroughfare, Republika Východu also has great people watching. And the staff don’t seem to mind if you linger (which most punters seem to want to do).

Feta and avocado salad with sun-dried tomatoes ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Feta and avocado salad with sun-dried tomatoes ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

I had, on this occasion, an hour in Košice before taking a train further east. Friends in Bratislava with somewhat discerning tastebuds had already told me on several occasions that in terms of decent daytime food, this was the place to head in the city centre, so I was able to make a beeline straight there. Even so, time was fairly tight, but the waitresses that served me rendered the experience a delight, telling me their recommendations from the salad menu, hurrying the kitchen along because they were aware I was in a rush, and despite having twenty or more outside tables to attend, exchanging pleasantries along the way.

I opted for a feta and sun-dried tomato salad, presented on a bed of succulent grilled vegetables, but variations with proscuitto, caramelised nuts and – perhaps most interestingly – a fig and goat’s cheese salad were also on the menu for between 7 and 9 Euros. They make for really filling lunches, too: you won’t require anything further to munch on. Although the siri z vychodu (cheese from the east) with that Czechoslovak delight hermalin (a kind of white cheese with onion and pickles combined into it) as well as mozzarella and Parmesan, all drizzled in olive oil and dished up with sun-dried tomatoes and rocket  Some of the more radical desserts include a quinoa, buckwheat and yoghurt blend available with fruit compote and chocolate: part of an extensive ‘healthy grains’ menu.

I sat outside, but on a less clement day it’s equally pleasurable to hang out at inside. The spacious interior is vaulted, with bare stone walls, subtle lighting and a total mix of seating, from rough wooden tables to armchairs to perching stalls by the windows. There is something, in all this, demonstrating a concerted effort to give all comers an agreeable experience. But this bistro never lets you forget its overriding theme, which is stamped throughout – even down to the menus, which are written in Eastern dialect Slovak – that Republika Východu is proudly, defiantly unique.

 

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on Košice

Places to Go: Climbing Košice cathedral

Places to Go: Unsung charms and legends: insights into Košice city centre

Places to Go/Events & Festivals: Slovakia’s Famed Film Festival Arrives in Košice to Stay

Places to Stay: The city’s first ‘eco-hotel’

Places to Eat & Drink: Košice’s most imaginative breakfast stop

Getting Around: Košice’s flight connections

Getting Around: Quirky Košice city tours

Musings: The Definition of ‘Discussed’

 

MAP LINK: (coming straight from the railway station along Mlynská, you essentially hit the cathedral, hang a left and you’re there: absolutely unable to miss it).

OPENING: 8am-11pm Monday to Thursday, 8am to midnight Friday and Saturday, 8am to 10pm Sunday

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Early to mid-way through a sunny afternoon once the lunch rush is over and seats outside are easy to come by.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Republika Východu, why not continue RIGHT into the east proper with a visit 120km northeast to the Andy Warhol Museum at Medzilaborce

Trains: Regiojet – Too Good to be True?

Until recently, ZSSK, the state-owned Slovak train company, ran all train routes in Slovakia. This was not a wholly bad thing, because as monopolies go, this was a pretty fair one, with reasonable prices for train travel nationwide, and several notable efforts of recent years to step up quality (the introduction of smart new two-tier trains to run many routes, the introduction of wifi on the IC train routes between Bratislava and Košice). BUT.

But competition is always healthy, and competition has finally been provided by the expansion of Czech-owned Regiojet into Slovakia. Actually, RegioJet have been operating on Slovak turf since 2011 (when they began running the Bratislava to Komarno route). But it was their additional routes added in 2014 which captured people’s attention, because that was when they began operating some trains on the main railway route in Slovakia – from Bratislava through Poprad to Košice.

We recently caught up with one of Slovakia’s leading tour operators, Erik Ševčík of Adventoura, who lives in Poprad in the High Tatras and welcomes the new service.

“I have done the journey between Bratislava and Poprad Tatry several times now” says Erik. “It takes three and a half hours, which is the same as the IC Trains. Why do we welcome the RegioJet service? Well, the first big thing is the ticket price: as little as 9 Euros one-way for a 350km journey. This is for the most basic category, standard class (in 6-person compartments usually), but this is still very comfortable – and there is also relax class and business class for those who want something more. Second, even in standard class, you get mineral water or coffee for free, plus a complementary newspaper. Third, everyone likes free Wifi and RegioJet has that too. It’s just a pleasure to travel with them, and the state-run trains for the same journey cost around 13 Euros and don’t have these kind of services.”

The seats also deserve a mention: leather, reclining and with comfy arm rests, as well as small tables and plenty of leg room. They actually beat those on a great deal of airlines. Relax Class and Business Class get even more comfort (mainly the space per person, the comfort of the seats and the table space improve).

“In Slovakia we think they are doing a great job” says Erik “not just for Slovaks, but also for travellers.”

Your next trip east in Slovakia, it seems, could certainly be in more style… and for a cheaper price.