All posts filed under “Russian

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41° Experience, Barcelona

41° Experience

There is so much brilliance I can recall about this meal, but I have decided not to put all into writing. Lazy blogger, no. Necessity, yes. The “elements of surprise” are crucial, according to FAQ. When it was first launched, 41° Experience (or 41 Grados) by El Bulli-famed Ferran and Albert Adria was meant to be just a cocktail bar for the annexed Tickets. But it has morphed.. into a 16-seat, tasting-menu-only restaurant, most recently alleged as one of the most difficult to get reservations in the world.

Briefly. There is no reservation line. The booking is made via their website and partially requires payment. There are some drinks included in the €200-per-head tasting menu. You can order a separate alcoholic pairing at €45. Blah. Blah. The venue is a decent-sized bar space, dimmed and dark. There were more FOHs than diners. Above me was a nebula of eclectic images – a kind of modern pop art featuring disparate cultural items around the world – being played in slow motion. And soothing trance-like music..

Not so briefly. The fun at 41° Experience kicked off with a stubbornly square, neatly crafted “41°” ice cube which chilled a smoky liquid substance. Along came a jar containing drops of green olive, preserved in oil. Just your typical jar of olive – but the molecularised EL BULLI style. The liquid olive essence was entrapped in a gelatinous skin. Fragile, it rolled for an escape on the tongue and burst into a taste of what would have been like if I stuffed my mouth with 10 olives in one go. I have never made enough effort to be at El Bulli and I am – or was – never convinced by molecular gastronomy. BUT. That was some alchemy that I highly recommend.

Through my first 3-4 courses, I departed from Barcelona – the 41° latitude as the name of the restaurant portends- wandered through Italy, France, Russia, Asia and many more. Ferran and Albert Adria not only know so much about cuisines but also cultures, wherein lies humourous anecdotes and stereotypes. All these are re-interpreted into all the 41 dishes served at 41° Experience. Some were more successful than others. Some got me to physically interact and/or contemplate intellectually; others made me LAUGH OUT LOUD. (Something about France, of course. And Rene Redzepi might be on the menu). That said, as the concept of the menu relies very heavily on the elements of surprise, of not knowing what comes next and which country where you will end up, it is best not to do so much telling (or display any sharp and clear images). The cooking was exquisite but a complement to the concept. SO.. if you are a global character, know a lot about cuisines and cultures, you will be having a very good time at 41° Experience. If you are averse to internationalism, there is a high risk that you might not get the “jokes”, which are the best part of the meal.

Life-changing? No. But this meal reversed my eagerness in life and I felt happy, giggly.. as if I became a child again :-D

 

(Sorry. Can’t help not telling you of my most favourite dish – a re-constructed Peruvian “causa”. A thick slice of super fresh and firm yellowtail/hamachi marinated in lime, chilli and garlic was served nigiri-style on a velvety ball of spiced-infused mashed potatoes. The dish paid homage to the Japanese influences in Peruvian culinary tradition and taste-wise it was a bomb of citric umami).

PS Don’t hate me for doing this >_<

 

 

RATING: 5/5

41° EXPERIENCE

Avinguda Paral-lel, 164
08015, Barcelona
Spain

www.41grados.es


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Mari Vanna: Come Dine with The Russians in Knightsbridge

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.
RATING: 4/5

MARI VANNA

116 Knightsbridge
Wellington Court
London
SW1X 7PJ

Tel. 020 7225 3122, 020 31595390

www.marivanna.co.uk

Mari Vanna on Urbanspoon

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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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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