Our new regular column “The Expat Lifestyle” sees us out and about meeting expat business owners who have chosen to make a life in Georgia. We’ll be finding out about their lifestyle, hobbies, culture, likes and dislikes about Georgia, and how this life compares with that abroad. For our first interview, GEORGIA TODAY sat down with entrepreneur Phillip Abramishvili, owner of Malongo Brasseria and the fish market Oyster Bar, to discuss his lifestyle changes since moving here, as well as his insight on French cuisine, which he interestingly claims is not so dissimilar to Georgian cuisine.
“We import fresh products from France, such as oysters, fish, cape, poultry and so on. We also have two restaurants today: Oyster Bar Seafood & More, where you can try the best French oysters and seafood, and Malongo Brasserie, where we offer breakfasts, lunches and dinners in a French home-family style,” he tells us. “We also host many events here, such as jazz dinners, DJ brunches, and children’s cooking classes. Children learn how to cook croissants, cookies, bread and other interesting things with our chef. At the same time, parents can relax and enjoy our dishes and European wine.
“I’ve been importing fresh products from France to Georgia for three years now. My import and restaurant partners are French. We’re trying to increase the culture of consumption of oysters and seafood in Georgia, and to show the real culinary culture of the European Union. We always try to adapt European cuisine to local tastes and create combinations with local products.”
What is your relationship with Tbilisi?
I’m Georgian, but my whole life I’ve lived abroad. My father is from Sokhumi. Four years ago, I moved my whole family to Tbilisi and I’m very happy living here. I love the people, I love the city and the weather, it’s all great.
What is your favorite region in Georgia?
I love all regions in Georgia, but, to be honest, Batumi is not at the top of my list. I can go there from time to time for a day or two, but I always find myself eager to get back to Tbilisi. My father always taught me that, back in the day, Georgians would rather go to Sokhumi than Batumi, as it has always been more of a port city. I do agree that Batumi is a beautiful city now, but still, there is not enough movement for my taste.
What sort of restaurants do you like in Tbilisi?
I like simplicity, good food and good wine. I like it when there is a variety of cheese, but, unfortunately, that’s not so common in many restaurants in Tbilisi. You can always tell when a chef makes something with passion, because they go for the best possible ingredients. I like artistic takes on Georgian cuisine.
Do you have a region-specific dish that you like?
I like khashlama, I like ostri, I like kharcho, I like elarji. I like all Georgian dishes because I’m Georgian; it’s in my blood, I love it!
Being so familiar with French cuisine, tell us some similarities and differences between it and Georgian dishes.
When we opened this restaurant and started creating French family dishes, we realized a lot of them were very close to Georgian cuisine. When you eat ratatouille and close your eyes, you can taste khashlama. The only difference is that French cuisine is softened. The choice of seafood is lacking in Georgia, unfortunately. There’s not a variety of fish in the Black Sea because it’s too warm. I would say the main difference is in the sauces: While Georgian is always on the spicier-sourer side, French is sweet-soft.
What do you do when you’re not cooking up delicious dishes?
I like to work and I like to traveI. I go to the mountains, I go to historical places to find out more about them and feel a connection to them. I really love visiting different countries, and Europe is my favorite, because I absolutely adore small cities, though I’m also keen on big cities like Barcelona. I also like talking to people from those countries and seeing things from their perspective.
Your kids are attending school here. How would you rate Georgian education?
There are different kinds of schools in Georgia. My kids are in public school, but I’m considering transferring them to a private school, because from time to time you have conflicts in relationships. I do believe the Georgian government intends to work hard to make all the schools better, and in two or three years it may be so.
What do you mean by “conflicts”?
I finished school years ago, I don’t want to go through it again, I’m not supposed to do a teacher’s job in my free time. School shouldn’t give parents the work to do when most of us are already struggling to find free time. Plus, I don’t want to be the one controlling my kids behavior in school. I think the teacher is supposed to have enough authority that my involvement isn’t needed. “Why didn’t your kids do their homework?” Oh well, I don’t know, you tell me!
Do your kids take part in any extracurricular activities?
One of my children is taking horse riding classes, another is into basketball and is part of a team in Rustavi- he tried it once there and after that refused to do it anywhere else! My third child is always chopping and changing – trying out swimming, martial arts, something else. But children are children, and I don’t want to push them into anything. I’d rather let them try out whatever they are interested in and hopefully at some point they’ll find their true passion. In a way, I’m a democratic, chill father: “Your life is your life, I give you everything I can, but I will never push you into anything.”
How do you like to spend your free time in Tbilisi?
To be honest, I don’t have a lot of free time because of my work. I have four kids, and I’ll say that in Georgia, there aren’t a lot of places I can go with them. That’s the main problem for me: When I want to go somewhere with my kids, I find I don’t have much choice beyond the cinema or something. Europe has a lot of places where kids can play while adults enjoy their free time or play with them. This was the main reason we started organizing masterclasses for children, so their parents can drink, eat and have a good time while their kids are playing and learning.
When I need “me” time, I also like fishing, and sometimes I like to go for a swim or head up into the mountains to think about life.