Jag visste det! Jag jävlat visste det! There were tells: first of all, the pizza menu seemed awfully familiar. I noticed a few Mexican-inspired pizzas that I haven't seen on any pizza menu in Riga before. I also found familiar types of kebabs: a kebab plate, a kebab roll and even a kebab pizza. Turning to the a' la carte menu, I jolted when I spotted a beef fillet dish with two sauces and oven-baked mashed potatoes, served on a piece of wooden plank. Could it really be... So, when the kebab roll turned out to not only be awesome, but also came with feferonis instead of these wretched little cucumbers you get everywhere else, I started chatting with the friendly waiter. Failing to conceal my admiration, I told him that I was really satisfied and that this food was something I would expect back home in Sweden. Barely did these words leave my lips before the door to the kitchen opened and two guys came out, smiling from head to toe: ”Tjena!” I felt like a shipwrecked person bobbing around the ocean in a barrel, finally spotting land...
”two guys came out, smiling from head to toe: 'Tjena!'”
As you might have guessed, it turned out that these wonderfully friendly people are Swedes who, after 10 years in various restaurants in Sweden, decided to cross the waters and open shop in Riga. No one could be happier than me, but before I tell you why, I should perhaps tell you about this restaurant which is the subject of this amorous introduction. It's called Fresko, and it's located on Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela 34. It's a rather intimate and classy restaurant which would accommodate around 20 people on a busy night. Not only did they have a good interior designer, making the place looking quite upscale, but they have also managed to find really good waiting staff, maintaining perfect balance between friendliness and professionalism.
As Fresko's sign will tell you, it's half restaurant, half pizzeria. And so far, I am personally most happy about the pizzeria part. I mentioned the Mexican pizzas, which I always look for when I go to a Swedish pizzeria. One of my all-time favorites is the Azteka (ham and/or ground beef, jalapeno, salsa and often a white sauce), and not only does Fresko have it on the menu, they make a bloody good version of it too. Served on the side is not only one, but three different sauces, so you can easily pimp the pizza to your liking. One notch above the Azteka, though, are the various kebab dishes. Forget the coprophagist's delights you will get at most other kebab joints in Riga. No, Fresko's kebab is what it's all about. In ascending order of brilliance, I wholly recommend the kebab plate, the fantastic kebab roll and finally the king of kebabs – the kebab pizza (code named Vera in the menu). The fresh vegetables, perfect kebab meat, the feferonis and the delish Fresko special sauce marry just perfectly. This pizza almost caused a happy accident in my pants, and I will not hesitate naming it the best in Riga. Oh, and did I mention how big these babies are? For the €7–10 they charge, you'll surely be full for 24 hours.
If pizza is not really your thing, I'm confident you will find solace in the à la carte menu (around €5–25). It's quite traditional, with various fish, meat and pasta dishes, along with soups, salads and desserts. While the menu might not be a culinary adventure, it's sure bound to satisfy. I really liked the Carbonara, which might not be totally adhering to the Italian grandma's recipe, but definitely holds its own ground. Less convincing, though, was the spaghetti Bolognese, which I found to be a tad too thin-tasting for my liking. However, this miniature disappointment was soon forgotten when I reached Fresko's pièce de résistance: the afore-mentioned beef fillet on a wooden plank (that's ”plankstek” to you Swedes out there). This dish consists of an expertly prepared beef steak with two different sauces, vegetables and oven-baked mashed potatoes. All you meat lovers will surely love this dish. If only my crappy photo would make it even half the justice it deserves...
”All you meat lovers will surely love this dish”
One last great thing about Fresko: their lunch offer must be one of the best value-for-money lunch offers in Riga. For a mere €7 you get a three-course lunch, and if you wish, you can settle for the two-course lunch at only €6. This is also a great opportunity to try their desserts, which are just as delicious as the rest of their food. This consistently high level of cooking is impressive, and I find that it's rare at restaurants to not find a weak link somewhere.
Oh, right, one more last thing: Fresko also does delivery, and judging by the constant flow of pizzas going out the door, this part of their business seems to be a staggering success.
If there is one downside to this restaurant, I would have to say it's the location. It's technically in the center of Riga, yes, but it's not really where strollers just happen to pass by. Especially foreigners on holiday, I doubt that they will ever find this restaurant. Also, it would be awesome to be able to dine outside, but if you've been on Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela during rush hour(s), you know that the last thing you want to do is have dinner on the pavement.
As I'm sure you understand by now, I find Fresko to be one of the more exciting newcomers on the Riga food scene in the past year. I often hear Swedish being spoken around the tables, so it's clear that word has gotten around the Swedish community. If there is any justice in the world, it should only be a matter of time before the rest of Riga discovers this great place.
Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela 34, no website