All posts filed under “Russia

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Shinok, Moscow

We decided to take a detour to Shinok because we wanted to take the piss out of it. This, we heard, was a “fake” farm restaurant where you could pet animals.

Not clear enough?

While it’s not extraordinary that Russians do love theming their restaurant, they – the restaurateurs behind Cafe Pushkin and Turandot – have gone extra miles in simulating a typical Ukrainian peasant farmhouse. We arrived at this dungeon-like tower, walked up the stairs to a dimly lit dining room which looked positively medieval (Do Ukrainians still live in the Middle Ages, who knows?), and there were windows, many of them, and a wall seemingly made of mud enclosing this little farm. The sun gleamed through the barely polished glass. I looked out. There was an old lady in a dress – unbeknownst to contemporary fashionistas – knitting hiding herself from the sun ray in a little thatched terrace. Around her I saw a chicken pecking for corn, a peacock perching on the wooden gate and a cow – yes A COW!!! – mooing and wagging its tail perhaps unhappily at its negligent tender. I was thrilled.. all the animals (and the only human being) seemed undisturbed by us the diners.

On a second glance.. ermmm was that really sun light? No. Were they really trees and wood? No. The “natural” farm-like surrounding was thoroughly – how shall I put it? – PLASTIC!!??!! The animals were real and cohabitating with these fakeries… my comment ended here as this staring peacock did not like me making judgments on her “home”…

The food..

Despite Shinok’s ludicrously gimmicky peasantry, our meal there turned out rustic-fantastic. My other bib’s eyes jumped right into the dish billed as “Finest Selection of Lard” while I settled for a less spectacular Herrings in Fur Coat. The lard turned out a lavish orchestra of cured pork, bacon and fat. Served with a garnish of herbs, chilli, garlic, rye bread and piquant mustard. My clothed herring was sensational and the best of its kind. The pungent pickled flavours of the herring swam through layers of velvety sweet mayo and beetroot. The yolky cream on top smelled as fresh as a (real) farm yard. We also had a Borsch to share. Intensely beefy stock with a universe of rustic trimmings – beans, beetroot, etc. It’s also the BEST borsch both of us had ever eaten. And we ordered a dish called “Vareniki” which were traditional dumplings stuffed with beef and baked in cheese. Looked meh but tasted gorgeous.

For mains.. there was this Chicken Kiev. Whole chicken breast remade to appear a gigantic drumstick as big as a 5-year-old’s arm (in case you misread this I never eat a toddler). Lightest ever batter and when I cut it was like a dam of liquid butter had been broken. The pork meatballs were also good. Came with mildly acidic tomato sauce and sauteed wild mushrooms and nestled in silky mash. It lacked the wow factor the other dishes had though.

And.. the dessert of what-I-didn’t-take-note-what-it’s-called (perhaps Caviar Girl can help?). Basically it was a paper-thin pancake deep filled with ground poppy seed and drizzled with what I made out to be condensed milk. A pleasantly gummy skin with a lot of grainy nuttiness inside. We liked it but couldn’t finish. My other bib also ordered a sorbet..

The meal concluded with the bill that as we recalled wasn’t shocking (considering how much we had ordered). Around £80. Food-wise, there was no bad dish and many bordered on being paired down but sensational. I love Shinok. It’s gimmicky – the setting, the waiter’s costume, everything – but it paid off so well at the end of the meal. Interestingly I seem to have made an acquaintace with a colourful bird who looked bemused at what I was eating. I love Shinok and if I return to Moscow it will also be the place I go back to. On leaving I tried to wave at the old peasant lady who had moved on to tending the cow but she did not take note of me and us. Into her character? Maybe just in a universe of her own…

PS The restaurant next to Shinok called Manon looked quite mental, too. But there is no farm animal there so we’ll give it a miss.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “10 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “9 out of 10″.

SHINOK

1905 Goda Ulitsa 2/1905 Года ул., 2
Moscow
Russia
123100

Tel. +7495 651 8101

www.shinok.ru

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Varvary: San Pellegrino’s Best of Russia?

While my trust in San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants has recently wavered, it would still be out of my character that when in Moscow I would miss out on Anatoly Komm’s Varvary which, according to that list, is ranked no.48 and the only restaurant from Russia to make it in the 50 cut.

Guess I could say it’s “Russia’s best restaurant?”…

Who’s Komm? He is now Russia’s most celebrated chef and owns five restaurants in his homeland and abroad. Interestingly, the “chef” studied geophysics and kicked off his career in computer business. He, then, turned into fashion, travelling the globe accordingly. Despite a successful career, Komm somehow ended up in the kitchen in 2001 and, yes, 10 years later, he is S-listed. As for his style of cooking, Komm is a Russian advocate of molecular gastronomy.

Like most San Pellegrino restaurants, Varvary serves up gastronomy that isn’t cheap. Dishes are individually priced but the most sensible way to sample Komm’s cuisine is by undertaking the 11-course tasting menu costing 8500 rubles (roughly £190) sans drinks. Shockingly you can also opt for a meal tailored to your liking by the chef and paired with the world’s most sumptuous wines at 40000 rubles (£885) per person. We, of course, opted for the cheap(er) option… .

The price alone will make you start thinking how luxurious this damned restaurant will look. No. You are wrong. Varvary is situated on the top floor of a restaurant complex. If you look for a sign that says “Varvary” or “San Pellegrino”, you won’t find it. Instead, you’ll eye up for… a “Chicago Prime Steakhouse”. And there you go, tucked in the right wing of the “Steakhouse” building, Russia’s top gastronomic spot.

I walked past this dimly lit alley with its walled adorned with framed, ghostly white laces. Kinky? Then the lift transported me up to the top floor and opened to a heavily patterned, stuffy dining room, red and black contrast. Kinda 60-Minute-Makeover look but posher. Fortunately, I was led via a spiral staircase to this relaxed, nearly-contemporary-looking roof terrace. The view was as stunning as it got on a cloudy day. I somehow fell in love and relieved it didn’t boast a Turandot setting.

There wasn’t a long break before the dishes began to arrive. We took time admiring the beautifully engraved cutlery… they don’t seem to do this in the UK, no?

Tagged as canapes of “Original Russian Flavours” (1) these were Broccoli Cream with Cod Liver, Herring Mousse with Sorrel, Beetroot, and Sea Buckthorn with Cottage Cheese. My favourite was the delectably salty herring mousse on blini but the beetroot was the most interesting. Agar-like and not significantly sweet in itself, the chopped beetroot came with a sugary crystal that boosted its flavours. The sea buckthorn (in cup) was the heaviest thanks to the cheese.

Baked Oyster (2) A warm and creamy way of eating an oyster. Here the big one was gratinated in parmesan and chive sauce and served with lime foam and leaf. Ideally you’d throw it all in your mouth in one go. The cheesy sweetness was balanced by sharp but refreshing acidity and natural bitterness of the lime components.

“Spring Lawn” or Borsch with Foie Gras (3) Komm’s signature dish. Bite-sized pieces of caramelised foie lay on beds of shredded duck meat. There was this frozen “boule surpris” of chive and sour cream. Hot, menacingly red borsch to pour over. Oh, and before I had this, the waiter handed me a full shot of ice cold vodka to cleanse my palate. Komm’s reinterpretation of the Russian tradition is magnificently intensely flavoured. The glossy soup had this intensity of an acre of  harvested beetroots. The melting ball of sour cream fused the velvety thickness with the surreally liquid state of the soup, while the candied foie brought about luxurious meatiness. Truly sensational. Best foie gras in my life.. !!!

Ice-Cream “Gazpacho” with Lobster Bisque (4) the low-light of the meal. Okay gazpacho ice cream with peppery aftertaste. Let down by the pointless pouring of hot, bland and rather insipid bisque over. The dish became a pool of awkward lukewarmness. Period.

Soup with Langoustines and Squid Essence (5) Gargantuan raw and cooked langoustine tails garnished with buttery roe cream and seaweed. Smoky-licious squid consomme to be poured over and minimally poaching the raw tail. All worked. Accomplishedly smoky flavours, but .. yes “but”… half way through the meal I got a little bored with soupy dishes.

Dumpling with Kamchatka Crab (6) So pretty (but more soup-y sauce WTF?). A little dumpling with a thumb-sized king crab (one of Russia’s best ingredients) in this silky courgette sauce and toppled with jewellery-like salmon roe. The tour de force ingredient came as this snow of sour cream. Chilling, chilling. But surprisingly I did not find it numb my palate. I could still taste the al dente crab filled dumpling very clearly and the sauce of modest buttery sweetness. As much a revelation as the foie gras ^_^

Silver Cod with Peas and Beans (7) Again one of the most breathtaking presentations. Stunning cod water-bathed to perfection. Odd and bland combination as I could barely taste the beans or the watery herb infused sauce.

Potato with Dill and Red Caviar (8) This looked rather like a mushroom with salmon roe on top. Weird.. don’t get me wrong.. I bloody loved it. Texture perfect. Highest quality of roe provided bubbles of fishy saltiness to the mashed potato ball which when cut burst out this pungent truffled cream. The pool of dill jus was not at all aggressive but soothing. One of the best..

Veal on the Bone with Pepper Sauce (9) A sort of spectacle was attempted. Veal on the bone to be sliced at my table. The red meat aroma reactivated my saliva bud. Sadly the pepper sauce turned out (again) soupy and accompanied by pepper jelly. Clear and unmistakably pepper-y, it turned the dish into a rocky relationship. Deep fried mushroom-filled cigars were crispy and lovely though.

“All About Honey” (10) I paused… do I eat the flower or no? do I? I took a petal and .. spat.

Guess not.

The rest was heavenly. Honey of many kinds – sticky comb, freezing sorbet, spongy cake, and honey cylinder! There was this acidic sharpness from dehydrated strawberry crumbles to hack through this multi-dimensionally sweet dish, too. I <3 it. This was followed by the petit Four of strawberry jam pot, chocolate pot and potato truffle. All very decent.

End of meal.

Varvary was interesting. Komm’s molecular take on Russian cuisine is not all the way scientific. One of his feet is firmly set in the tradition. Dishes receive a molecular makeup rather than a chromosomal makeover. Dishes are unique but never alienating in a way that many molecular restaurants are. Komm is a gastronomic pioneer and truly deserving his spot on the San Pellegrino list. Though I couldn’t say I thoroughly enjoyed all the dishes and had issues with the soup-y-ness, ones that worked were truly fireworks. And reflecting on my experience now I feel I could do with a return to Varvary.

Oh and in case you wonder about the drinks? We only got still water.. (not quite rich enough to afford wine there!!).

The bill was presented to me in a lacquered case.. and well it’s acceptably (not heartbreakingly) pricy.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8.5 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.

VARVARY

8A Strastnoy Boulevard/ Страстной бул., 8А
Moscow
Russia
107031

Tel. + 7495 229 2800

www.anatolykomm.ru

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Mari Vanna, Moscow

Mari Vanna is a house restaurant.

Sounds unique and enticing?

..

But there is a catch. Mari Vanna is also a successful, ever-growing restaurant empire. There is one in Moscow, two others in St Petersburg and New York, and, well, another one will soon be opened in London (Knightsbridge precisely and walkable from Dinner by Heston Blumenthal!). Unlike the London location, the MV one in Moscow was hard to find. On some small, residential street. Look for many buzzers that don’t work. A small rusty key and an equally small sign that says Mari Vanna. I would always miss this.

Inside it was homely (if you defined your home with a bicycle racked above your front door). Old books on shelves. A house cat roaming the dining rooms, guarding jars of cookies!! She was the star of the evening as many tourists like us snapped shots of her striking a pose and making “I couldn’t care less for your presence” kinda face. A great set-up, in short, that London folk would find it hard to differentiate this from a quirky, in-house supper club. A generous bowl of naliskini – traditional poppy-seed bread – awaited me at the table. Young girls in maid uniform – don’t over-imagine!! – tended your needs. They were, however, not the best maids on earth and left us to figure out (by the end of the meal) that dishes at MV should be ordered to share rather than eaten individually as courses.

The cuisine on offer is traditionally Russian. Ravioli of Baked Beet with Goat Cream (1) and Cold Kvass Soup (2) were acceptable. Thinly sliced beetroots sandwiching generous piping of velvety herb-infused cream did not have the most appetising ruby red colour. It was not the boldest in flavour combination and left us wanting more. The beetroot sauce was, however, rich and tasty. The kvass soup was served lukewarm instead of chilled, hence the loss of refreshing element. Minute cubes of cucumber, radishes and ham were drowned. Just drowned.

The mains – Beef Straganoff (3) and Whole Roasted Baby Sterlet (4) – were nearly awesome. Tender stripes of beef. The straganoff sauce was intense, verging on being a little too salty when eaten by itself. Somebody could have recommended us a portion of rice to go with. Belligerent portion for the baby sterlet. Landed at table as whole fish but immediately skinned and filleted by the waitress, a process which took so long our Straganoff cooled down. While the dill, basil and tomato stuffing did add some aroma to the perfectly cooked fish, the dish could do with a little more salt. Still, this sterlet was far more superior in quality and taste than a more expensive version at Cafe Pushkin.

The desserts – Honey Cake (5) and Cherry Pelmini (6) – were ace. Moist, with honey sweet dimension, the honey cake was everything it should be. The little pelmini with cherry syrup fillings, arriving hot with creme fraiche and cherry syrup, had this delectable bite. The juice was bursting as I bite into it.

To me, the meal was lacklustre at the start but picked up its pace relatively nicely. Mari Vanna is a truly decent restaurant serving comforting cooking. It’s also quite worth the money. My most expensive dish was the sterlet which cost 1200 rubles, others just around 500-700. There were a lot of up-and-downs in the service. Mysterious disappearances of waitresses, etc. which killed the mood and disrupted the meal.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “6 out of 10″.

MARI VANNA

Spiridonyevsky Per 10 /Спиридоньевский пер., д. 10А
Moscow 123104
Russia

Tel. +8 495 6506500

www.marivanna.ru

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Uzbekistan Restaurant, Moscow

Not very often that I was greeted on arrival at a restaurant by a squeamishly bellowing noise of what-I-hoped-an-animal-not-human-being. A chicken to be martyred for my culinary quest perhaps? A walk through a summer garden of this multi-terrain restaurant Uzbekistan by Arkady Novikov helped demystify the origin of the noise..

..no fat duck, no obese hen..

Just, JUST(!) a caged peacock strategically positioned next to the massive oven. I hoped it was not on the menu.

The menu here was mainly Uzbekistani but there were also Arabic and Chinese sections. This time I skipped the sub-nationality cuisines and focused on what the restaurant boast best, the cuisine of the Uzbeks!

What is Uzbekistani food like?

Good question.. I’d say it is not so much Russian but a bit more similar to Kazakhstani.

Didn’t help clarifying anything, did I?

Simple dishes. Quite light. No heavy sauce or creamy mayo. You can stereotype the cuisine evoking such dishes as Shashlik (grilled kebak-like specialties), Kazy (horse sausages) and Lagman (meat-filled dumplings). I wanted to have the horse sausage to compare with the version my other bib bought back home from Kazakhstan (photo here) but they ran out. Ended up with Roll “Uzbekistan” (1) and Red Caviar (2) to start. The roll was made of cold lamb. Layers of fat, meet and spiced nutty, offal-y mince. Strong lamb scent but not adequately spiced. Astoundingly lacking in salt. The red caviar – AKA salmon roe – arrived very feverishly orange as if Malaya garnet. It was, very interestingly, served with cold piped butter. I was instructed to “eat it together” and I managed to throw in some freshly baked bread in my mouth at the same time.

So..

Red caviar + butter = ACE!!

The mould of bread was benignly crusty, miraculously spongy and oozed unforgettably savoury sesame aroma. Also ace!!!

There was an intermediate soup course called Shurpa that my waiter insisted I had. It was a clear veggie broth – predominantly carroty – with chunks of lamb. Perfectly executed and so clear that I could see my own reflection in it. Sadly the taste was like a mild vegetable stock. No intensity from lamb. When I was about to lose interest, my waiter led a chef in my direction. He came with a pot of Pilaff so big it could fit in two plump peacocks. The rice had perfectly absorbed the oil in which it was cooked. Very shiny. The aroma of lamb perfumed my table as the chef stirred in and spooned me a portion. Fresh salad garnish on the side – tomatoes, onions, cucumber and utterly mellow roasted garlic bulbs!! The sight and the scent excited me. Without knowing, I did fall in love with the theatricality of the serving.

Back to the anti-theatricality of eating. The Pilaff was actually very tasty. The rice was perfectly cooked and oiled and very aromatically balanced. I spotted fennel seeds and cloves but there was more dimension to it. Mini carrot batons were also cooked just right. Tender cubes of lamb. The side salad worked to cleanse my greased tongue and injected acidity and onion heat. I couldn’t stop eating the dish. Period.

By the time I mopped up the plate I realised I had no room for desserts and therefore have to sum up my meal here. Uzbekistan is a bloody good restaurant. Relaxing surrounding in such a central location. Dishes were hearty, authentically well thought out and relatively nicely balanced. They captivated me. That said, Uzbekistani cuisine in general could taste too niche for many. Its undisguised simplicity can be tasted as lack of effort, whereas its subtlety was misread as underseasoned. Given this restaurant’s authenticity, there will be people who can relate to and fall in love with the dishes or who just don’t get it. I could see my other bib loving it and my mum damning it!

.. never mind. I could picture her enthralled by a caged peacock.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “7.5 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.

UZBEKISTAN

Neglinnaya Ulitsa 29/14 / Неглинная ул., 29/14
Moscow 103051
Russia

Tel. +495 623 2469

www.uzbek-rest.ru

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Turandot, Moscow

Walking past that grand Italian marbled courtyard and brushing my lowly fingers against the towering Poseidon..

Greeted by waiters in Mozartian wig and costume befitting the household of Louis XVI (before peasants stormed his Verseilles of course). I have heard if I popped in for dinner I could expect to be serenaded by a troops of violinists & music would lead me to the dining room.

The dining hall was magnanimous. Many alleys where kingly customers make their swift and exclusive entrance. Boroque in its architecture. Crafted laurels spiralling Corinthian pillars. The ceiling and the antiques were there to marvel all visitors. The chandelier was proper vintage 18th century imported from France. Sun glared in from their few windows to create this golden ray of light..

For all this royal glories… Turandot is ..

..

…how shall I put it?

..

A CHINESE RESTAURANT…

And I should add this is also a false historical creation. A mega multi-million project by the Cafe Pushkin people. The kitchen was overseen by Hakkasan big daddy Alan Yau. Opulence is not only in the decor and the costume (which Turandot website has a full description of) but also on the extensive menu. The gastronomic focus is in the Orient. Chinese, Japanese.. but you can also have French and the desserts are crafted by Emmanuel Ryon “the world’s best pastry chef” from Confectionery Pushkin just next door.

The illusion of grandeur ended there. Food was – despite its 20% off lunch bill – not worth a trip, and though my waiter was courteous and attentive, it took what felt a lifetime of Marie Antoinette to get dishes flying from the kitchen. Half way through my meal.. there came a BIG group of bellowing Chinese tourists. They did what Asian tourists do.. drowning this demurely lit venue with flash lights.

Let’s get on with the dishes. I went for bits of everything. French starter of Crab Green Tea Jelly & Smoked Caviar (1). Gentle acidity from the smear of tomato puree on top of fresh, but painfully cold, crab meat. Not much flavour contrast apart from crab and tomatoes. Tea jelly and caviar were too minute to make impact. Great variation of texture, though, from dehydrated asparagus, deep-fried lotus roots to crispy onion rings. The sushi of Duck with Mango & Crab Salad (2) was actually the most delicious! That the crab + mayo mix killed the natural crabby sweetness a fair bit and the rice did not quite hold its shape were forgivable, for overall the mayo, the foie gras cream at bottom of plate, and the duck were well infused and delectably velvety. The “fruity” acidity came in form of sweet pickled ginger, a departure of taste from the authentic Japanese version.

The medley of dim sum – I expected some quality as Turandot was once overseen by Yau – called Assorted “100 Colours” (3) had all the colours. Yellow, black, green, pink!

Blime me. I had a pink dumpling!!!

*cough*

*sarcasm*

*clear throat*

Sadly half of them tasted just like Har Gua. Great elasticity from the casing but the filling made me crave for Yauatcha. It arrived with carelessly sliced batons of ginger in soy vinegar, which in all fairness did not look like a knifing attempt from a fine dining restaurant..

I also had high hopes for desserts because I really love Confectionery Pushkin. Alas.. my hopes were paid off in this Honey Cake Ice Cream and (if my memory didn’t fail me) Cardamom Pannacotta (4). Spongy and with the right balance of honey sweetness. The home made ice cream layer did not offset the honey but injected joyful indulgence. The presence of pannacotta was not actually required in this dish. More of a space filler.

The food.. my verdict! Was not inedible but the price made it so. I am not usually penny pinching whilst on holiday but Turandot is a waste of money if you travel from London where you could possibly get similar food at lower price. The Russo-Japanese roll, however, was quite good and the cake was an embodiment of inventive deliciousness. That said, as a whole experience, you can just pop in for their toilet (which you may if you snack at Confectionery Pushkin)

And guess what? Turandot toilet bowls are made of fine ceramic, with cute little tampon bins with hand-painted flowers..

Enough said,

My head rating says, “6 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “5 out of 10″.

TURANDOT

Tverskoy Boulevard 26/5  /Тверской бульвар, д. 26/5
Moscow
Russia

Tel. +8 495 7390 011

www.turandotpalace.ru

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Confectionery Pushkin, Moscow

Two so-so meals at Cafe Pushkin could already have shattered my expectation of the Pushkin’s and we could have given Confectionery Pushkin (just next door to the restaurant a miss). NOPE. This did not happen. I had Pushkin cakes half a year back in Paris, at a small Cafe Pouchkine – very annoyingly Francocentric spelling I know – at Printemps and everything was bloody damned tasty. Better than Pierre Herme for me, really.

And why?

Because of this guy.. Emmanuel Ryon.. the head patisserie chef at Confectionery Pushkin, the man behind all the eccentric, Mozartian cake creations. He is undoubtedly French. And he also undoubtedly won the World Confectionery Championship in 1999 enabling him to claim the title of world’s best pastry chef. He is also among very few Frenchies to win the most prestigious Best Professional of France. Patriotic winning which I don’t quite get. … ahem .. surely he’s great. Period.

Confectionery Pushkin is, like Cafe Pushkin, located in one of those false historical buildings on Tverskoy Boulevard. Verseille-looking decor. Opened from 11am till midnight. Laduree-like menu of sandwiches, salad and a prominent array of chocolate, macarons and bizarre-looking cakes. There were some Champagnes too.. we opted out.

We settled with two softies. The green one was tagged as “Exotic Celery” and the other was an apricot milkshake. The milkshake was a smooth delight. Gentle note of apricot. The “Celery” was very “exotic” for it hardly contained the stereotypically conceived foulness of celery at all. Instead, ’twas an ingenious mix of apple and cucumber. Refreshing and it slipped down my throat as quickly as my money slipped away from my wallet. I went back for this drink the day after – that’s the extent of how seriously good it was.

Cakes?

A rose-shaped, white chocolate cake with yogurt mousse and pistachio cream. Sweet, almost gummy white chocolate petals. Nice layers of things creating this gulf of appetising yogurty-ness. Very memorable but I think the rather spectacular look misled me to assume the flavour would be as complex as the look. The rum baba was a far more superior treat. Arrived in a filo pastry cup dusted with icing sugar. Cut to reveal a layer of fluffy arearated chantilly cream. Fragrance of spices. A joyful touch of rum. Actually this was one of the lightest and nicest babas I’ve ever tried – the other bib only gave me half spoon – and can be a contender to Ducasse’s traditional awesomeness.

We loved it.

I do think Emmanuel Ryon is talented – not innovatively so but inventively talented – and Confectionery Pushkin is for us the destination in Moscow. I wouldn’t particularly say it’s world’s best, though.

But if you couldn’t be arsed to fly there for cakes, just go to the one in Paris. More expensive but will surely cost less than a return flight to Russia X

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “9 out of 10″.

CONFECTIONERY PUSHKIN

Tverskoy Boulevard, 26A/ Тверской бульвар, д. 26А
Moscow
Russia

Tel. +7495 604 4280

www.sweetpushkin.ru