Review: Stolle, St Petersburg Russia

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that during our stay in St Petersburg, we hardly ventured outside of a 2km radius of our incredibly centrally-located apartment, a mere five minutes from the Hermitage Museum and two minutes from the main thoroughfare Nevsky Prospekt. To be fair, there was so much to see and do (and eat!) close to home that we hardly needed to go much further than our doorstep.

One of the restaurants that we dropped into after a heavy snowstorm was Stolle. Though it’s technically a ‘chain’ restaurant with multiple branches throughout the city, our free walking tour guide suggested it as a fantastic place to go to try authentic Russian pies. A recommendation for a good pie always gets me excited, so to Stolle for lunch!

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We went to the Stolle branch on Nevsky Prospekt on a cold and wet wintry day in St Petersburg, where we experienced our first real snowstorm. Since then we’ve experienced the soft feathery snowfall that makes you feel like you’re in a winter wonderland – but this was no magical wonderland, it was a torrential downpour of cold wet snow that trickles down your neck! I was in dire need of a warm, cosy cafe to help me dry off, and Stolle was the perfect place to go.

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The system at Stolle is simple – you can either eat in, or order your pie to go at the counter. It seems to be a popular choice for feeding large groups as well, as I saw a number of people walking out with large boxes filled with enough slices of pie to feed a dozen people or more.

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While they have other items available on the menu for eat-in diners including other Russian specialities such as borscht soup, we decided to stick with what was recommended by our guide – their large varieties of pies. We started off with three half-serves of savoury pies. You can order in either half or full serves, depending how hungry you’re feeling. A full serve with a half serve of dessert pie is just right for lunch for one person!

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We started with a half serve of the Salmon Pie for 130 Rubles, or around $2.50 AUD. I was extremely surprised when I had my first mouthful of Russian pie – I didn’t expect a sweet, almost bread-like doughy pastry that managed to caramelise on top with a sweet glaze. It almost reminded me in taste, though not texture, of the Asian Breadtop-esque bread. A sweet surprise, as it goes well with both savoury fillings like the salmon, and sweet pies as well.

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The second pie was a Green Onion and Egg Pie (70 Rubles, or $1.40 AUD) – a mistaken order on my part as I peered at all the pies at the counter, as I’d been hoping for a more common combination like spinach and ricotta. For that reason I was a little disappointed in the onion and egg combination as it didn’t have much flavour to it, deriving most of its flavour from the pastry itself.

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The third savoury pie we ordered was the Kulyebyaka with Meat (90 Rubles to $1.80 AUD), filled with a surprisingly dry and gristly mince mix, very unlike the gravy-filled meat pies you become used to as an Aussie. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a nice pie as the mince was well-spiced however as it was quite dry, it was quite difficult to eat with a knife and fork as the mince mix just fell out all over the plate.

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We sat for a while after we had our first three slices of pie, trying to decide if we wanted more or not. Gluttony soon won out, and we chose one more savoury pie – a Cabbage Pie With Egg (50 Rubles, or $1 AUD). Interestingly the cabbage and the egg weren’t integrated in the mix and was layered inside instead. It could have been very plain pie, but it worked surprisingly well with the fresh, flavourful dill.

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You can’t go into a pie shop and not order a dessert pie. I had a half serve of the Apple Pie (50 Rubles, $1 AUD). As deliciously cinnamony as the apple mix was (though the base was a bit too crispy and well-cooked), I found myself wishing for something more….a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on the side maybe? It’s not a very Russian thing to wish for unfortunately, and I think the staff would have frowned at me if I’d requested it!

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K opted for a slice of the Blackberry Pie (75 Rubles, $1.50 AUD), which is a seasonal offering. At other times of the year, they’ll offer a strawberry pie, or perhaps a lingonberry pie. The blackberry mix tasted extremely sweet, as though they’d added a lot of sugar to counteract the natural tartness of the blackberries. It made the filling taste like blackberry jam – not a bad thing!

Russian pies are interestingly and certainly not like the Aussie meat pie – instead they’re baked in large rectangular or square pie tins, and slices are cut out of them on request. The fillings are a lot more interesting than meat and gravy or chicken and vegetable, and there’s a lot of variety to choose from. There are over a dozen at Stolle including an interesting rabbit pie or a herring pie. There’s something for everyone at Stolle…and don’t forget to finish your meal with a slice of dessert pie!

Stolle is located at 11 Nevsky Prospect in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Review: Glenorie Markets and Glenorie Bakery, Glenorie

I can’t remember who it was who first told me about Glenorie Bakery, or if I read about it in an article. Somehow though, I had in my mind that I had to visit Glenorie Bakery up north to try their award-winning pies. So when my friend Sarojini suggested a catchup, I invited her and her mother-in-law (visiting from India) to go to the Glenorie Markets and Glenorie Bakery with me.

I love a good local market, and Glenorie’s monthly markets have a bit of everything, from local farmers and beekeepers, to old grannies making jams and preserves, younger folk making desserts and organic treats to alpaca farmers selling balls of alpaca wool. The mix of traders really reflects the local area – Glenorie’s a slightly alternative, organic, salt-of-the-earth type of a community. I bought a bag of produce from the organic growers stall, some interesting fudge (musk and salted caramel!) from another stall, and some home-made jam as well. Nothing quite like supporting the local community and small growers!

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Given that the market is only small, it wasn’t long until we’d completed our shopping and made our way across the road to the Glenorie Bakery. Apparently the bakery has recently undergone a refurbishment, and I have to say it’s looking spectacular. The baked goods counters take up almost half the store, and the other half is a mishmash of intimate tables for two, long communal tables seating up to 16, and tall wooden barrels and stools for those looking to dine quickly. It really caters for all their clientele, from families stopping in for a bite on their way from Sydney to Wisemans Ferry, to local couples stopping in for a coffee, to groups like ours happy to share the communal table with others.

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The baked goods are what catch your eye first though. There’s two large long glass cabinets – one with sweets, and another with savoury treats like quiches. There’s a separate heated cabinet for their famous pies, and even some freezers in case you want to buy some frozen pies to take home for dinner later in the week. The choice is almost too overwhelming – how do you choose between thirty different little individual desserts, and almost two dozen different pies?

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We decided to order some hot drinks to enjoy over a leisurely chat before we bought any baked goods. Sitting down at one of the communal tables, we sit, chat, and watch as the crowd slowly changes as the large family breakfast crowd thins out and couples and individuals wander in for a leisurely morning of reading the paper over their breakfast.

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I ordered a hot chocolate to enjoy, a wonderfully rich and creamy dark hot chocolate that wasn’t too milky – just the way I like it. It wasn’t too sweet either, and was the perfect antidote to the cold, rainy and dreary day outside.

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As we were heading from the bakery to our friend Helen’s house so that Sarojini could meet Helen’s new baby, we bought a few pies, pastries and sweet treats to take with us for lunch. I deliberately over-ordered, knowing that K would want to enjoy whatever leftovers we had!

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With three of their classic meat pies, three vegetarian pies, two sausage rolls, a chicken and vegetables pie, a lamb and rosemary pie, and a beef and mushroom pie, I definitely got a variety! I got to sample a bit of each one over the next few days when I took the leftovers home, and I have to say that they were all pretty fabulous even when reheated. The vegetarian pie was actually surprisingly my pick of the lot as there was a great mix of vegetables, all subtly spiced with cumin, paprika and other herbs and spices.

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Given that I have more of a sweet tooth than most people, I also ordered a few small sweets to share. Their mini berry cheesecake was to die for, but my favourite dessert was actually the lamington which was extremely light on the palate and not too sweet. Unfortunately, Glenorie Bakery’s cronuts were a little disappointing – on the smaller side, and not quite crispy enough.

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I find it really hard to resist buying loaves of delicious crusty sourdough bread especially when its seeded and grained like this loaf from Glenorie Bakery. This loaf was immensely crusty, to the point where it almost hurts you to eat it as the hard edges almost cut up the inside of your mouth. Despite that, I’d definitely buy this loaf again – the flavours were amazing, and it works well either fresh, toasted, or dipped in some piping hot soup!

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Needless to say, the sourdough bread is just delicious with the home-made melon and lemon jam I bought from the elderly jam-maker at the markets that very morning. A perfect afternoon tea treat!

Even though I live in the Northern Suburbs, Glenorie is still a bit too far to venture on a regular basis no matter how delicious their pies and pastries. If you’re driving up to the Hawkesbury River for a day trip though, I highly recommend stopping in at Glenorie Bakery for a few delicious baked treats to take with you for your lunch that day…and try to time it so that you get to stop in at the Glenorie Markets as well, on the fourth Sunday of every month!

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Review: Greenwood Hotel, North Sydney

In the past year, I really haven’t visited any pubs or bars. Part of that is the fact that I haven’t had an alcoholic drink for well over a year now – putting myself in situations where alcohol plays a large part in creating the atmosphere hasn’t exactly been top on my list of priorities!

There’s a new class of pub on the rise though, where food is as central a focus as the drinks on offer. The Greenwood Hotel in North Sydney is one of those, and I was pleased to be invited to sample their menu recently.

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The Greenwood has recently been renovated, and it’s looking absolutely beautiful. With wide open courtyard spaces where you can enjoy the bright lights and sounds of the North Sydney metropolis, and a series of more intimate bars and lounges, it offers a variety of different spaces. We sat in the Northern Courtyard for our meal, but I’d like to go back and spend an evening having a few mocktails on their Chesterfield-style couches in the cocktail lounge.

Note – not all spaces are open every night! Friday and Saturday are obviously their busiest nights where every bar and lounge is open, but on the Monday night we visited, there was just one of the bars and both courtyards open. Another bar area had been rented out for a private function.

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If I was still on the sauce, I would have chosen a drink off their cocktail menu that included one of their house-infused spirits. The berry-infused vodka looked interesting, not to mention the apple-pie-infused bourbon and the chipotle tequila! Liam, the General Manager at the Greenwood Hotel was telling me about how they were inspired by past experiments flavouring vodka with candy – if candy, why not other flavours too? Sheer genius.

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Liam was also kind enough to offer some guidance in the menu, pointing us towards his personal favourites on the menu. But first we started with a few drinks – a simple Coke for me, and an interesting American craft beer, Anchor Steam Beer, for K.

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I love a bit of symmetry! Two mains, and two share plates – more than ample for two diners, and enough for three people if you’re not feeling too peckish.

Greenwood Wagyu Burger with bacon, jack cheese, tomato relish, lettuce, tomato, chipotle aioli and fries, $17
Greenwood Wagyu Burger with bacon, jack cheese, tomato relish, lettuce, tomato, chipotle aioli and fries, $17

The Greenwood Wagyu Burger is Liam’s personal favourite, and I can understand why! It’s an old-school kind of a burger – thick juicy char-grilled patty with top grade beef, crispy streaky bacon, melted cheese, fresh lettuce, and a sauce with a bit of a subtle kick. If you like good-quality, hearty, classic burgers, this is the meal for you. I was a big fan of the fries as well – the chefs had been very liberal with the salt shaker which I always love.

Lamb Shank Pie with mustard mash, crushed peas and gravy, $24
Lamb Shank Pie with mustard mash, crushed peas and gravy, $24

The Lamb Shank Pie is apparently one of the most popular mains on the Greenwood’s menu, and I can understand why. The crispy pancetta on top is just the start of a delicious dish – creamy crushed peas and mash, a strong gravy, crisp buttery pastry, and rich lamb. I personally think the lamb mixture could have been cooked slightly longer so that the meat was a little more tender, but I do tend to prefer lamb that’s on the verge of falling apart, whereas I know others prefer lamb with a bit more body to it.

Barramundi and Chorizo Skewers with smoked paprika aioli, $10
Barramundi and Chorizo Skewers with smoked paprika aioli, $10

I loved the entree of the Barramundi and Chorizo Skewer – the chorizo was wonderfully grilled and smokey with an amazing spicy kick. The barramundi was fantastic as well – perfectly cooked so that it was still tender. but with a nice flakiness to the flesh as well. Both went superbly with the paprike aioli.

Field Mushroom and Pinenut Arancini with gremolata and aioli, $10
Field Mushroom and Pinenut Arancini with gremolata and aioli, $10

The Mushroom and Pinenut Arancini entree share plate was quite good as well – with a good crispy exterior, and soft and creamy arancini insides. Very subtly flavoured, so it makes for a good sharing option as it will suit most palates.

I really loved the food options at the Greenwood, from the traditional pub fare like burgers and pies, to more interesting share plate options like the chorizo and barramundi skewer. The quieter Monday night atmosphere really suited the more romantic date night out for K and I, but I can see how a busier and rowdier Friday night would make the Greenwood a fantastic location for drinks and a longer night out with friends.

Note: Gourmanda visited The Greenwood as a guest of Sweaty Betty PR. All photos and words are her own.

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