La Bohème: The Best of Contemporary Mediterranean Cuisine Brought to Tbilisi

Interview

Edgar Hyder grew up in Australia and spent much of his working career in Dubai. Residing now in Georgia, he is the co-founder of La Bohème, a multi-functional restaurant and lounge on Abashidze Street, in Tbilisi’s central Vake district. Offering Mediterranean cuisine with a touch of Italy, Greece, France and Lebanon, represented by acclaimed Italian chef Enzo Neri. In addition, La Bohème also boasts cocktails made by award-winning world class mixologist Igor Boriskin, guaranteed to make this one of the new “must go” to places in town. GEORGIA TODAY met with Edgar to find out what drew him to starting a business in Georgia and what his experiences were along the way.

How did you end up living in Tbilisi?

I grew up in Sydney, Australia, where we were very lucky to have amazing produce and seafood, with very little technique required to produce great food.

I came into the hospitality industry in a “Baptism by Fire” approach. My brother-in-law bought into a 10.000 square foot nightclub and shortly after I was tasked with running it. That’s when I was sure as to what I wanted to do with my life.

Soon after, we moved to Dubai where I was exposed to Hotel & Restaurant Development on a massive scale. After almost 10 years, and more than 20 projects, I feel blessed to have had a very successful career, having setup some multi-award winning concepts that are almost all still operating today.

What’s the story behind La Bohème restaurant?

We feel that La Bohème was born from a love story. My brother Eli came here in late 2016 to get married and fell in love with Georgia. What started out as a two-week wedding trip became a permanent scenario.

With such a diverse offering almost all year round, Georgia is becoming a primary holiday destination and slowly establishing itself as a serious player in the international tourism scene. This is what prompted us to develop a concept here. We feel that Georgia is still in its infant years and will keep growing from strength to strength.

From the business point of view, how prepared were you to run a restaurant in Tbilisi, where the dining and gastronomy scene is already booming?

The beauty of our business is that it can cross borders and cultures with little adjustment required. Having set up concepts in Australia, Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East, our management team has a wealth of international experience. One constant is that you must be respectful and sensitive to the local customs wherever you are. It’s also vital to seek advice from those who have local knowledge.

It’s a very exciting time on the culinary front here as the scene is growing rapidly with new and innovative concepts coming on the market on an almost weekly basis. With more on offer, the local consumer is quickly becoming more savvy and demanding.

What challenges have you encountered along the way?

The language barrier was probably our biggest initial obstacle. It affected us greatly in the beginning with the construction phase of the project and was the cause of much of our frustration. This became less and less of an issue as our team grew and we were lucky enough to have great people working alongside us.

From an operations point of view, we battle with availability and consistency of ingredients. As a restaurant, we live and die by how good our produce is and it’s very difficult to try and push the envelope and offer something unique and innovative if you’re constantly missing key and core ingredients.

Who do you consider the primary consumer segment of La Bohème?

We’re a Georgian-born concept and our primary target is and always will be well travelled Georgians. Their first love will always be Georgian cuisine but they understand and crave other cuisines. Our secondary market is the expat community living in Georgia. We like to think that we produce food and drinks on a level to which they are accustomed. We won’t really go after the tourist segment per se. We feel that it’s much more important to give the locals something that they can be proud of. The tourists will always seek out where it’s cool and where the locals go.

Tell us about the La Bohème menu

Growing up in Sydney, where the food culture is a melting pot of immigrant communities all coming together to form a very complex food scene, coupled with my Lebanese heritage, means we know Mediterranean food very well. The La Bohème menu is really the brainchild of our Executive Chef Enzo Neri. Hailing from Umbria, Italy, he has a very simple food philosophy where he lets the ingredients shine. He really is a master technician at extracting flavour. For him, it’s more than cooking; it’s a form of self expression.

The Mediterranean diet has long been proven to be one of the healthiest in the world with very little use of unsaturated fats. With a total of 21 countries, the cuisine is diverse and broad. We wanted to cook food that we grew up eating but put a fresh and modern twist on it.

We’ve been open only a few weeks and already more than 15 dishes have come on and off the menu. We pride ourselves on giving our guests the very best and freshest ingredients and when you’re dealing with a natural resource, it’s never perfect or uniform. You need to be ready and willing to constantly adapt and evolve. Our food is not fusion as we are not cross mixing flavours. We have a fresh and light approach with contemporary presentation. Which ever country a dish originates from, we try and transport you to that country with that dish. Whatever we do here is done with love and care.

Tell us about the famous La Bohème cocktails

Our cocktails are the handy work of our Master Elixir composer Igor Boriskin. A dear friend and an award-winning mixologist, he is a wealth of knowledge and experience in all things beverage.

Igor has created a very unique list of signature cocktails whereby he uses house made tinctures and infusions. Every cocktail combines at least two fresh fruits or vegetables.

With some new and interesting creations as well as our own playful take on the classics, such as our Bohemian Grove which is a variation on the classic Mojito with Tequila as the base spirit instead of traditional rum, it truly is a taste sensation.

What distinguishes La Bohème from other restaurants in Tbilisi?

At the risk of sounding cliche, we feel that our people are our biggest asset. Sure we have great food and drinks, but what sets us apart from the rest is our service. When recruiting our pre-opening team, we opted to go for attitude over experience.

It made things a little more difficult, whereby we held “classroom” type training for more than four weeks… and that has paid off massive dividends. Almost on a daily basis, we have new guests who take the time to point out how truly wonderful our team is.

Based on your experience and reflecting on it now, what would you do differently in the running of La Bohème?

I would probably be a little more patient with people, with the results, with my expectations. Sometimes, we fail to follow the advice we give to others. In hindsight, everything seems clearer and less complicated. If you look at the most successful and inspirational people in any industry, they are usually stubborn with the results, but flexible with the approach. If I could do it all again, I would be more flexible with our approach.

Do you think you’ve achieved what you initially planned?

Ask me again in three months! On a serious note, I feel that we’re well under way to achieving what we set out to. We wanted to do something unique and creative and that we ourselves could be proud of. Put La Bohème in any international food city or metropolis and I think it will stand against some of the best. The feedback has been extremely positive and we have been humbled with much of what our guests have told us. We are very proud of how far we’ve come and grown as a team.

What would you personally recommend from the La Bohème menu?

There are so many to choose from, it’s really very difficult. It’s like asking a parent to choose which child they love more. Each dish, depending on which country it represents, has been carefully developed.

My personal favourites are the Baba Ganoush with its smoky flavour. Enzo’s Caesar with Zaatar crusted chicken and parmesan crisps is truly a work of art. The beef short rib is a tender piece of meat that falls off the bone and is packed with flavour.

Our classic carbonara uses fresh eggs instead of cream as per the authentic recipe and is something very special for the true pasta connoisseur.

When it comes to the desserts, I really can’t choose as they are all so good. Most of our desserts don’t use any sugar and we try and use the natural sweetness of the ingredients to give a subtle and balanced flavour that won’t leave you feeling overwhelmed afterwards.

Any plans on expanding the restaurant in future?

We have some very ambitious plans for the future. Our next venture will be to open an Italian Trattoria with a Langosteria bar to capitalise on Enzo’s (and Georgians’) love affair with Italian cuisine.

The EDM underground scene is very advanced here and rivals any in the top cities around the world. What we feel is missing is also a good club that plays songs you can maybe sing along to. We hope to fill that gap in the near future.

Nino Gugunishvil

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