Landed in London
A well known restaurant for Russian food aficionados, Mari Vanna originated in the Motherland (two branches in Moscow and St Petersburg) and has quickly expanded its family tree over to New York. All restaurants are modeled after a theme of a mythical woman (called Mari Vanna) inviting guests over at her house and cooking for them. (“Cooking”, I can vouch, is not a euphemism for something else). Accordingly, the restaurant is home-like and so is the food. There is a twist to the London one. Mari Vanna hasn’t just arrived on the English soil but in Knightsbridge, precisely next to the world’s most expensive apartment complex. The “house” exudes that glamourous vibe. Potted plants led way to a handsome hallway with garden decors. The dining room was immaculate but casual with hefty chandeliers cascading over dinner tables; meticulously embroidered doily accompanied vintage porcelains; framed memorabilia adorned walls and antique shelves were graced with colourful jars of pickles. The Front of House were youthful Russians eager to answer questions. The music.. oh THE music! ..was (as the night progressed) fine tuned into Russian techno (imagine youths gatecrashing a Knightsbridge residence)…
A very good home meal
(It was during Mari Vanna’s soft opening that I went and) the restaurant attracted nearly all Russian clienteles. The menu – in its signature brown paper format tied by a string – featured a handful of familiar Russian dishes and some more unique offerings. No sturgeon caviar in sight, nor a whole baked sturgeon which was prominent in the Moscow menu. The selection of rye bread – plain, seeded, herb-ed – was well made. I also loved my Salad Olivier – just carefully dressed with creamy mayo and beautifully composed of identically diced beef tongue. The texture – carrot, potato, peas and pickles – came alive in my mouth. Proper comfort food. Borsch did not win me over as much. It was nicely made focusing on a light touch of shredded cabbage with a hint of beetroot and vinegar. I am personally besotted to borsch with beetroot-y, beefy gusto (and only Shinok in Moscow and Bob Bob Ricard in London are my faves). The best way to order mains is by ordering a few to share as each dish is not of an exaggerated size. I had Siberian Pelmini (beef + pork), Cabbage Vareniki (photo below), Beef Stroganoff, and Buckwheat (photo below). The pelmini and the vareniki were humbly presented. The casing of both were thin and nicely textured allowing the taste of the filling to come through. That said, the cabbage was unexciting. The beef stripes in the Stroganoff was cooked to tenderness. The sauce in which they were simmered were onion infused and without mushrooms (from what I have heard the mushrooms are un-Russian addition). Buckwheat was cooked grains and sprinkled with parsley. Similar to brown rice. Perfectly squeaky and al-dente, it mediated well with the rich Stroganoff.
I was disappointed with the dessert menu as Mari Vanna London does not offer a spectacular list of Russian jam (totally loved them in Moscow!) so I settled for (what can’t really be called) the second best: Honey Cake!! The one at Mari Vanna (both Moscow and London) was the best I’d ever tasted. This featured thin layers of sponge cake laced with sugared sour cream. After the prep, the cake would be left to rest so the sponge soaked up the sugary acidity and was served with drizzled honey and chewy honeycomb bites. Pure heaven. The fluffy sponge was given a smooth touch from the whipped sour cream. Dimensions of sweetness, cream and acidity. Cherry Vareniki – steamed vareniki with cherry and cherry syrup – served with sour cream couldn’t beat this. I found the filling too sour.
I like Mari Vanna London very much. In fact, I like it a lot more than the one in Moscow. The cooking and the ambiance here was spot on, fun and authentic. The meal (I was not sure if this was the price for soft opening so please check) was sensibly priced (especially for its location). We paid £65 between two (including two orange juice), with the most expensive dish’s being priced at £14.40.
Ay (after a relatively good review from me) there is a catch. Russian cuisine, generally, is not the most sophisticated or exciting. Authenticity also dictates that a few dishes might taste a little one-or-two-dimensional. It also exploits only a limited range of ingredients, and accordingly, it might not be to everybody’s taste..
.. but for me I bloody can’t have enough of it!!
GO FOR: Home cooked Russian food with glam.
Tel. 020 7225 3122, 020 31595390