What do you think of when you think of Russian food? I used to think about tasteless over-cooked meats, limp cabbage, and endless boiled potatoes. No doubt that the stereotype is still true in some restaurants in some parts of the country, but the cultural centre of St Petersburg and the political capital of Moscow certainly have a lot more to offer than that.
We went for a ‘traditional’ Russian meal at Restaurant Russian in Afimall – and I put traditional in quotation marks because I acknowledge that a meal at a restaurant located within a shopping centre can only be traditional to a certain degree! Still, the restaurant features old Russian ladies making bread in the front window, and it’s popular with the locals as the busiest restaurant in the shopping centre, so they must be doing something right.
After checking out of our hotel in Moscow on our last day, we left our luggage with the concierge before crossing the road to Afimall for lunch at Restaurant Russian. They offer a couple of options as their set lunch during the week:
- Salad + Soup + Drink = 290 Rubles ($5.60 AUD)
- Salad/Soup + Main Dish + Drink = 350 Rubles ($6.70 AUD)
- Salad + Soup + Main Dish + Drink = 410 Rubles ($7.90 AUD)
We opted for the last option of course! What I particularly liked about the set lunch menu is that there’s a bit of variety – you get to choose between three salads, four soups, five mains, and half a dozen drinks. We both chose a fruit juice (more like a cordial!) for our drinks – blackberry for K and blackcurrant for me. They were much of a muchness really!
K chose the Vinegret salad, a mainstay in many Russian restaurants including cafeterias! This was a much fancier version than the ones we’d had in cafeterias though, served in a dark rye cracker basket. The rye basket was definitely the highlight for me – you can get a crunchy sour-ish salad anywhere, but a dark rye cracker with a strong flavour not unlike German pumpernickel bread is harder to find!
I had the Olivier salad, another mainstay Russian salad which we’d been having everywhere. Like the vinagret salad though, this had been fancied-up with the addition of half a quails egg and some caviar on top. It was also the first time that I’d had the salad with chunks of mortadella inside, instead of a purely vegetarian salad. I know a lot of people view mortadella as a cheap meat because it’s so processed, but this actually works in its favour in this salad because of the amount of dressing used – it just provides a nice contrast to the crunchier carrots and cucumbers.
The ‘pie’ served with K’s Ukrainian Borscht was more like a soft Japanese milk bun than the baked flaky pastry pie we were expecting, but this worked out well as it really helped to soak up the flavours of the hearty borscht much more readily. The borscht actually wasn’t quite as intense in colour as I’d expected it to be, and I think this has a lot to do with the ratio of onions to beetroot used. I also have to say that I preferred the taste of the soup without the sour cream more (hearty, simple, plain home-cooking), so I wish they had served the sour cream on the side for the diner to add as they preferred.
This goes for the Green Cabbage Soup as well – again, I thought that there was enough flavour in the soup (helped by the liberal amount of sorrel used) to not warrant the addition of a dollop of sour cream. This shows my own prejudices though – I’m used to Chinese-style clear, clean, thin broths that don’t rely on thickening the soup with starch or cream. At least this soup helped me to lay aside any prejudices I’d had about Russian cabbage soup being tasteless!
Pork and apple is a timeless combinartion, so I opted for a Baked Apple Stuffed Pork with Stewed Cabbage. The stewed cabbage tasted like a German sauerkraut so in combination with the pork, this dish was very Germanic in style! The pork itself was a little bit dry, but with the runny cheese baked on top and the juicy apple slices baked inside, each bite was still a delight.
K ordered the Beef Stroganoff, which should really more accurately be known as the Beef Stroganov. Our tour guide in St Petersburg told us the story of how this dish was invented for a member of the noble Stroganov family who was a real foodie, but unfortunately had lost all his teeth in his old age. His chef came up with this way of stewing beef until it was tender and serving it with a creamy sauce to tantalise elderly tastebuds. Praise be to this Stroganov patriach, because this was a delicious dish filled with tender chunks of beef that fell apart easily, and a rich creamy sauce that was tempered by small bites of sour pickled cucumbers. The mashed potatoes were sinfully buttery as well.
I can’t pretend to be an expert in Russian cuisine – ten days in a country does not make you an expert! Still, I can say this with confidence – Restaurant Russian offers a tasty and genuine Russian dining experience in Moscow for a ridiculously reasonable price. $7.90 for three courses is amazing value, and if you visit Moscow, it’s well worth having lunch at Restaurant Russian before spending the afternoon doing a bit of retail therapy through Afimall.
Restaurant Russian is located in Afimall at 2 Presnenskaya emb. in Moscow.