The chef of the kitchen of this restaurant-bistro and the author of the idea – Martynas Praškevičius. He is one of the most appreciated chefs in Lithuania, who not only believes that you can learn everything in the kitchen by yourself, but has proved that to be true by his example. “I have never worked in a restaurant marked with Michelin stars or a very famous and luxurious restaurant,” he says. He just knew he was going to be a cook from long ago and focused all his attention, time and talent on this vocation.
First of all, he opened a legendary coffee shop, Stereo 45, on Jogailos Street together with his friend. Later on, he left abroad to gain experience, and having come back, he started working in the then-operating popular Asian restobar Briusly. Subsequently, together with Ali Gadžijev and Alfas Ivanauskas, experimented a lot and learnt in their joint culinary project Virtuvės Mitų Griovėjai (Exposers of the Kitchen Myths), however, finally each of them chose his own path and started personal projects. The first project of Martynas (together with partner Martynas Šlikas) was Stebuklai, and the second one – Džiaugsmas which has been opened this year.
This is a no-frills restaurant which focuses on Lithuanian products and sharing tastes around the table. For that purpose, a part of the dishes on a plate are specially cut and served in order to facilitate sharing, and sometimes Martynas even encourages eating with the hands. Here, simplicity is a very important part of the idea, therefore, it was not the purpose of the chef to have a “fine dining” place. The chef is much happier when visitors appreciate the quality of dishes and, especially, well-selected ingredients.
Here, everything starts with a quality ingredient which has been grown organically, and this ingredient is king. Therefore, in this restaurant, M. Praškevičius focuses on search for reliable suppliers, and when the product reaches the kitchen, it easily becomes joy on a plate for visitors of the restaurant. In fact, while creating the menu of Džiaugsmas, Martynas plays with unexpected combinations and the tastes created out of them. Perhaps it was that which fascinated diners from the very first day the restaurant was opened.
INGREDIENTS AND THE MENU.
When Martynas used to buy vegetables for Stebuklai at the Tymas marketplace, he made friends with farmers trading there. He found such farms the produce of which was very attractive to him, however, Stebuklai does not need so many Lithuanian products – the menu of Stebuklai is different. So he continued to observe and make friends in order to find the most honest growers of vegetables and potherbs as well as farmers who raise their cattle and chicken with love, taking good care of them.
According to Martynas, he can at once recognise a chicken, for instance, which was honestly raised for 90 days and was plucked by hand. The taste and even smell of such chicken, when roasted, is absolutely different. He even jokingly says that, at Džiaugsmas, people have a possibility to taste chicken which were raised happy. The same goes for other products.
The meat which comes to the restaurant is matured and cured on the spot, bacon is salted and vegetables are pickled and marinated. Here, there are all conditions to do that. After all, these are small but very important features which M. Praškevičius wants to highlight most in this restaurant.
However, according to the chef, Džiaugsmas is not a forest restaurant. He is not a lover of ground elders, dandelions and similar herbs growing in meadows or forests, and he does not walk around picking them. All ingredients come to the restaurant from farms.
Certainly, oil, salt, coffee, chocolate and certain spices are imported. Even though Martynas is very stubborn and uses only fresh products of the current season from local farms, he understands that to follow this idea 100% in Lithuania is simply impossible.
To put it briefly, the menu of Džiaugsmas is very narrow and changes often depending on the situation behind the window. The menu has three parts: starters eaten with the hands, dishes (main course and second course) and desserts. All of that is perfectly supplemented with natural wine.
At this place, natural wines are assorted alongside the dishes from local micro-seasonal ingredients. This is a novelty and a new experience for many visitors, however, Martynas used to taste such wines while travelling abroad and discovered the character of natural wines in Copenhagen. The taste of natural wine reminds of apple juice, cider and sometimes even vinegar. Producers of such wine do not use any fertilisers on grapes and they little interfere with wine fermentation processes.
This building has a long history, however, its brightest highlight is the fact that Joseph Brodsky, a Russian poet and a Nobel Prize winner, used to stay here. In Vilnius, he would visit his friends from Lithuania and, while here, he wrote a few pieces. Thus, there is even a plaque in memory of the poet on this building. While close to the plaque, a bit lower, there are modest letters on the wall: d ž i a u g s m a s.
Once you come in, you first of all notice quite a dark interior and a head of the Neanderthal man. It is as if a symbol here. He is the first man who ate organic food. Another bright detail of the interior – a mixer for bread which has been given the name scarecrow by the restaurant’s team. It is hard not to notice a fresco Winds created by artist Žilvinas Ladzbergas, which integrates very naturally with the dark interior.
Džiaugsmas is located on three floors and has cosy closed rooms. Dark floor is also very noticeable and, according the restaurant’s team, such a floor has a deeper link with nature – the darker the earth, the healthier it is. The restaurant’s interior has been created by the architects’ studio Wall.