Walking away from the hustle and bustle of Slavija Square, just a few steps from the Deligradska Street, you’ll discover a cozy corner that is all about relaxation, hospitality, good music, great drinks and culinary delights. Don’t hesitate and walk through the entrance to what is known as one of the most renowned catering outlets in the world. Continue walking a little bit further, and your senses will thank you for the decision to go through the doors and the hallway of the building at number 4.
You’ll feel right at home, or, in other words, you have arrived to Kaste.
The brainchildren behind this restaurant and cocktail bar are two young, enterprising people – Giuliano and Tara – who are also the owners. The restaurant’s nature is reflected in its name – Kaste – which is a combination of the charm and atmosphere of conviviality in the city in which they have realized their dream. This is a place where Italian tradition of hospitality and good taste informs the décor and the menu selection. The word Kaste is derived from the local dialect used in Giuliano’s home town of Bari in Italy, and it means “at home”. Undoubtedly, the first letter in the restaurant’s name – K – also discreetly suggests the desire to identify with the fabric of Belgrade. We use the world discreetly because the restaurant is one of those speakeasy establishments that have captured the imagination of customers in other cities in the world – from Milan and London to Berlin. Its location, secluded and hidden from the view of the passers-by, has enabled Giuliano to transform an ordinary apartment not into a house, or a bar, or a pub but simply into Kaste.
Warm colors that cover the walls, cozy lights coming from vintage lamps, welcoming feeling of the past that envelops you through the memorabilia hanging on the walls, vintage photographs, plaques and objects from flea markets have found a clever placement here. Finding vintage, or rather restored, old, abandoned things in flea markets, or in the homes of grandparents, relatives and friends, is one of Guiliano’s passions which has found abode in Kaste. Giuliano brought his remarkable and evocative collection from Italy, and combined it with the objects he unearthed on gypsy markets around Serbia. He repainted and breathed new life into old wooden tables, restored an original fridge from the 1960s, and displayed family photos (including that of his grandmother’s brother who owned a bar in New York) and the photographs made by the famous Marvellini brothers. In spring, this charming exhibition, curated by Giuliano and Tara, will also be displayed in the garden which is adjoined to the restaurant.
The garden is, actually, one of the features that swayed the two owners to choose this apartment. The intention was to reshape this particular location while maintaining its intended use, to create a homely yet refined atmosphere, that is also welcoming, and to make people feel at home and at ease. They gained experience in making home food in Giuliano’s hometown of Bari which he left when he was twenty years old in search for a job up north, just like many of his countrymen.
A decade-long-life path helped him to gain extensive professional experience as a barman, having to work in different international locations and contexts, from Ibiza to Miami. He met and married Tara in Milan. Tara, whose mother is Serbian and father Lebanese, has never lived in Belgrade before, where her family lives now, and had spent her childhood between Lebanon and Greece, having studied in France and England. However, when Tara and Giuliano felt an urge to leave Milan, picking the Serbian capital as their new home proved to be the right choice. They had visited Belgrade together before, and have always appreciated its energy, lifestyle and brisk nightlife:
“I was very impressed with the prevailing atmosphere in the clubs, and in the streets, as well as with the kindness and friendliness of the people here which was something that I had not noticed in other places I had visited. I left Milan, which catering market was over-saturated, driven by the desire to start a project that would breathe life into my idea far from Italy. We were looking for a cheaper place, because in Milan, you are never happy with what you have regardless of how much you earn. We also knew that abroad it would be easier to achieve what we had in mind, both economically and in terms of paperwork. I had also inquired about this in Italy, but it was extremely difficult to make it happen because the costs are too high and the regulation regarding real estate adaptation is overly restrictive.
In London or Berlin, it is much easier to adapt the rules to suit your desires, and the same applies to Belgrade too. I was tempted to go to Berlin, where many of my friends had moved, but aside from its appearance, in my eyes Belgrade meant something new, a city in which I was destined to grow and where my future might lie. I like it because it reminds me of Berlin from ten years ago. If you had an idea, you were able to realize it. In Milan, I could no longer put up with the dissatisfaction and the whiny attitude that people have adopted. That’s something that I don’t see here. True, maybe you cannot compare the living standards in the two towns, but the people I have met so far in Belgrade have been positive, appreciative, wanting to have fun and spend a carefree evening as a nice ending to their day.
I really like the Serbian culture and the fact that a lot of time is spent with family and friends, something that you have in common with Italy, especially with the southern part of the country. Family is also one of the reasons why we chose Belgrade. Tara’s relatives live here. Although we have opted for a completely new thing, it still somehow felt as if we have returned home. And that feeling, when you have to face the commitment that comes with an investment and starting a new business, can provide valuable support” – Giuliano says.
The international work experience, the deep appreciation for one’s roots and tradition, the desire to discover new places, and the ability to bring everything “back home” while welcoming you as a part of a family is what Kaste is all about. This is also reflected in the restaurant’s menu. There are special sandwiches with meats and cheeses combined with fruit, honey and peculiar sauces (“We have sandwiches with ham, pears, and honey, or with dried beef, Parmesan and Fontina cheeses and oranges, or the ones with salmon, red wine cream and onion or cream cheese”, Giuliano says). Then there are more traditional dishes like potato pizza. All of the meals embody the idea of home cooking based on conviviality, cheerfulness and sophistication of appetizer culture, while referencing the Italian culinary culture and incorporating the prized local products.
Giuliano also has clear ideas on how to promote his idea of cooking: “I’m planning to spend the day doing tastings of, let’s say, homemade pasta. Although, I was born a barman, I have always worked in restaurants and have developed passion for cooking which I observed and studied for a long time, “stealing” a lot of recipes”.
Also, drawing on his experience as a barman, Giuliano has studied a wide range of cocktails made with fresh and selected products, while focusing on the major international classics thus enriching the traditional offer of cocktails in Belgrade which caters more to the drinking taste of the 1990s. In summer, Giuliano plans to reveal a special cocktail menu which will be a realization of his dream. In designing the menu, he listened to the suggestions of his friends who work in the industry, created the cocktails with them, and even named the cocktails after them. His basic cocktail-making philosophy is to abandon experimentation and instead offer something that you actually want because “the goodness lies in simplicity”. If you are not really a cocktail person, you can always opt for one of the selected wines from Kaste that come from the southern regions in Italy, or maybe go for a pint of Kabinet, a refined, tasty, local beer.
Secluded and far from prying eyes of passers-by, you won’t need a special password to enter Kaste. The only thing that you need to do is to pretend you are home and have fun.
This post is also available in: Italiano