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Bibliotēka No.1

By Andra Kunstberga. 09.03.2013

Bibliotēka No.1

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Latvia’s nouvelle cuisine has a classy advocate in Bibliotēka No.1, a plush restaurant situated on the edge of Vērmanes Gardens close to Old Riga. If it’s not warm enough to sit outside on the terrace, the huge floor-to-ceiling windows give sweeping views of the park’s towering trees and landscaped paths.

The food is expertly prepared by a team led by Māris Jansons, an ambitious young chef who worked previously at Riga’s upscale restaurants Vincents and La Boheme. Library No.1 is the logical next step in his career, allowing him to demonstrate his flair for presenting traditional Latvian food in audacious yet delicate new ways.

It’s abundantly clear when entering that the restaurant’s owners have gone out of their way to create a unique setting. Minimalist furniture is laid out across an extensive, well-lit room centered by a bar, the overhead space filled by three types of giant lampshades. The tables and broad and the sofas are comfortable without being too deep. Neon colors subtly alternate from slits between the wooden paneling. In reference to the restaurant name, artistically arranged bookshelves hold books that no one reads.

Well-dressed waiters fuss about, taking their job seriously. They speak English, Italian and Russian as well as Latvian. Moneyed diners sit in groups discussing deals. The cocktail-lounge tries to be playful but comes across as forced. This is dining that takes itself seriously.

Bibliotēka No.1 is not a prohibitively expensive restaurant, partly because so many of the ingredients are local. The menu changes regularly according to what’s in season, so it may be misleading to outline items on the menu.

You may be lucky enough to order lamprey boiled in a teriyaki marinade, served with marinated celery root and egg yolk heated for an hour at precisely 64 degrees, giving it a unique honey-like texture. That’s a tough one to do at home.

You might also see on the menu the leg-of-lamb steak slow-roasted in meadow hay, served with spicy chick-peas and veal stock. The lamb is cooked sous vide – under vacuum – for four hours then seared in a pan before going back in the oven for a short time together with the hay. The scent is unrivaled. Bibliotēka No.1 succeeds in taking Latvian nouvelle cuisine one step further.


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