A feast fit for a Muscovite: Dining in the Russian capital

Moscow's eateries used to be famed for their watery soups. These days they serve sushi. Where can you eat some authentic Russian fare? Ask long-time Russophile Robin Buss

The best way, if you can manage it, is to get invited to a Russian home. The Russians love to entertain and have a positively oriental notion of hospitality. On our last visit, we went to dinner with our friends Nadia and Nikolai. We arrived to find Nikolai cooking pancakes in the kitchen; and sat down to a first course of blini and red caviar, smoked salmon, prawns, cold meat and the pickled mushrooms that Nadia had collected in "her village", where they have their dacha. This was followed by wild boar, then goose, then a torte (a Viennese-style confection smothered in cream), and finally ice cream and tea.

Meanwhile, the three of us who were drinking got through two half-litre bottles of vodka, a cranberry-flavoured spirit and a lot of fruit juice. Nadia, who served us this delicious but potentially life-threatening feast of calories, is a consultant cardiologist.

This is not everyday fare: it is the sort of meal with which Russians like to celebrate, and for which, in Soviet times, they went to restaurants on rare occasions such as weddings and graduations. The rest of the time, most Soviet citizens ate at least one meal a day at a works canteen - not the same as a restaurant and certainly not the basis for a restaurant culture.

Perestroika brought the first McDonald's to Pushkin Square: Muscovites queued for hours to get a Big Mac and fries. After that came chains of Russian fast food, such as Russkoe Bistro and Rostiks. If you want good as well as inexpensive Russian fare, the MuMu chain offers self-service with rustic décor, where you queue for dishes course by course: salads, mains, soups, shashlik and desserts. There is an English menu - though some of the items need deciphering: what, for example, are "duck's trotters"?

One step up is the "business lunch", a set meal for 200-500 roubles (£4-£10) available in many establishments where an evening meal would cost 10 times as much. In the centre of Moscow there is a good light business lunch to be had at Mesto Vstrechi, at Maly Gnezdnikovsky Pereulok 9, with soup or salad and a main course. At Ekspeditsiya, Pevchevsky Pereulok 8, they serve "authentic recipes ... all basic food products from the Arctic region". It offers caribou and muksun (Siberian salmon) and has a Siberian sauna and an Arctic rescue helicopter in the dining room.

The helicopter supplies ambience, an important element for Russians in eating out. (The reason for the success of McDonald's was the opportunity it gave to get a feel of the West.) The post-Soviet years saw a rush of themed restaurants named after comedy films and the novels of George Orwell, or cashing in on nostalgia for Soviet and pre-Soviet times.

The king of the Moscow restaurant scene is Arkady Novikov, who, allegedly after failing to get a job at McDonald's, borrowed enough money to open his own place. He ended up with 90 restaurants, including the chain Yolki-Palki and such exotic venues as the Vogue Café, Biskvit (designed to look like a 19th-century gentleman's club) and Sirena, a fish restaurant with an aquarium under its glass floor. Apart from Yolki-Palki, most seem to cater for thosewho like to be seen to be rich.

Typical of such places (though not in the Novikov empire) are the three restaurants at Ulitsa 1905 Goda 2: Shinok, Shato (Château) and Le Diuk (Le Duc). The first specialises in Ukrainian cuisine, but you are more likely to remember the farmyard in the middle of the room; diners can look through the windows at cows, chickens and goats, and the woman in Ukrainian peasant costume who feeds them and sweeps up.

Shato offers French cuisine in surroundings meant to suggest gracious living in old Aquitaine. Next door, Le Diuk is also French, and the visitors' book boasts the signature of Mikhail Gorbachev and other celebrities. The château motif is taken still further: the décor is somewhere between medieval dungeon and Gothic crypt.

Such fantasies are not everyone's idea of fun, nor would they do much for your bank account, your health or your waistline. By contrast, coffee shops such as Donna Klara, Malaya Bronnaya 21/13, and Delifrance, inside the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Triumfalnaya Ploshchad, offer small snacks and cakes. One of the best is Kafe Gotti, Ulitsa Tverskaya 24, where young women watch passers-by or meet friends to chat over a coffee, a light lunch or supper, and probably a cigarette. After the extravagant make-believe that goes with eating elsewhere in Moscow, this place offers a welcome return to normality.

Intourist (0870-112 1232; intouristuk.com) offers three-night breaks in Moscow from £790 per person. The price includes return flights, transfers, three nights' b&b at the three-star Hotel Cosmos and a visa, which is subject to a minimum of 10 working days' processing time.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower