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Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Moskva (Russia)

In a city where the Metro stations (underground, subway, tube) look like this, Moscow is definitely not a city to be taken lightly. 

With over 11 million people being served by an extensive transit network (4 international airports, 9 rail terminals, 189 Metro stations) it is also no surprise that at least 5 million people opt to driving a car instead. Never mind the crazy traffic jams or the lack of parking, owning a car has always been considered prestige! And why not? This goes with everything that Moscow represents: beauty, glamour, extravagance, MONEY, and a general over the top approach to the simple things. Moscow is not a place that does "middle ground" well. It is a city where "rich" is taken to a different level, starting with its vast history and now extending over time to its lifestyle and notorious nightlife. Yes, do not be surprised if some of the Moscow super clubs look a tad like the metro stations (Yes, think chandeliers and fountains). Of course all this comes with a price tag, if you can afford it. It is really a place which needs to be seen to be believed. Don't travel here on a budget if you want to sample the greater things in life.

Food here can really be hit and miss, and of course I can be a little bias as caviar on toast for breakfast would win me over any day (fact). But eating out in restaurants can really break your bank, and it will not always necessarily be worth it. Moscow is truly a city that never sleeps, as a lot of its establishments operate on a 24hr basis. Going out for dinner would normally mean booking a table anywhere between 8-11pm. Below is a very small snippet of what Moscow has to offer.

Mari Vanna 
Спиридоньевский переулок, д. 10а ,Телефон: +7 (495) 650-650-0
Spiridonevsky Per 10a, Moscow, Russia Tel: +7 (495) 650-650-0  

What a little gem. Situated in one of the more prestigious neighbourhoods in Moscow, Mari Vanna lies behind an interesting looking door adorned with buzzers or what look like an array of ornate locks.  The restaurant is set up to give you a genuine feeling as if you are a guest in someones home, with an abundance of book shelves, knick-nacks, cookie jars and crystal on the tables etc. The hostesses are lovely, and very welcoming, and so are their pets (a chihuahua called Shurik, and a cat called Venia, I think there is also a fish) All very adorable, and stay well away from the tables (although I did try to call Shurik but with no avail, he seemed way more excited about the front door)

The service, I have to say is superb (by Moscow standards), I would compare this internationally. The menus are both in English and in Russian, and we went for a selection of first courses going for: Vinaigrette (390RUR - £8.50) Blini with red caviar (500RUR - £11), Semi-salted salmon on warm toast with cream (450RUR - £10) and Beef Holodietz (dish served cold) (370RUR - £8)
You should not really serve sour cream with caviar as it dilutes the flavour, and generally doesn't go. This is not how we would eat it at home. It is either sour cream OR caviar. The rich (buttery) flavour of the blinis goes well with the saltiness and richness of the caviar and the two really compliment each other (similar to semi-salted salmon). Sour cream is not necessary, but  possibly an 'easier' introduction to caviar for foreigners. The caviar was of good quality, and in general this is a good dish to try for a true taste of 'Russia' (but try without the sour cream). 

Semi-salted salmon goes very well with dark rye bread (black bread), and in this case it was paired with a thick butter/cream cheese mixed with dill. Presented on a plate to 'make your own', so what you see in the picture is after we put it all together. Divine! This is a must to add to the table, I think the flavours speak for themselves.

If you want to try a Russian salad that does not contain half a tub of mayonnaise, go for the Vinaigrette. It is primarily made from potatoes, beetroot, pickles, onions, carrots and peas, dressed with olive oil, seasoned with salt. This is one of my favourites, and one of the healthier salads on the menu. Mari Vanna did it well.

In general a great start to the meal (very nostalgic for me). Paired with a French bottle of white wine (2300RUR - £50) and cranberry vodka distilled on premises (1400RUR  - £30for 500ml). Note: wine in Moscow restaurants is generally pricey, so be prepared to be paying at least £40 for a bottle (though it would not necessarily be worth that. The bottles that are worth that much, are priced at even higher prices). Our lovely hosts always made sure our glasses were full of vodka and wine. Nazdaroviya!

Presented for second time ready to eat
Baked Sturgeon
Most of the main dishes ranged from 400-1000 RUR. I went for a whole baked species of Sturgeon (Sterlet) (1200RUR - £26). I was advised that a side is not necessary as the fish is quite filling (and rightly so!). The fish came out whole. (A garnish of some sort would've been nice to soften the appearance of the beastly looking thing on the plate!). Luckily, it was taken away quickly to be prepared and came back looking succulent. The fresh water fish was succulent, meaty and not over cooked. Fish is a staple part  of the country's diet, and I was very satisfied.

The food here is reflective of Russian home-style, 'everyday' cooking: nothing fancy, but very tasty.

I was a little disappointed in the desserts however, and found that my baked apple (180RUR) with honey and walnuts (an easy tasty dish), was slightly undercooked i.e. it was still crunchy. Other orders of Birds Milk (type of souffle-like custard/cream covered in chocolate) (250RUR), and Eclairs (100RUR), on the menu were equally disappointing. The Banana cake (250RUR), was however moist and tasty. 
 We also got to try the biscuits from the array of jars arranged on the book shelves. A nice end to the cosy evening. 

Overall the food was simple, tasty and reflected to some extent the home cooked meals from when I was growing up. Of course, this is not gourmet dining, and each Russian Grandmother has her own personal touch to the traditional Borscht recipe, which becomes a favourite for her family. If you don't have a Russian Grandmother to cook these dishes for you, then Mari Vanna is a good start.
The bill came in at c£62 per head, mainly due to the alcohol (and not a lot of it). I would definitely recommend this in the future to any friends travelling through Moscow.
Mari Vanna has a website, and a restaurant in St.Petersberg and New York.

City Space Bar (Swissôtel Krasnye Holmy)
Космодамианская наб., д. 52, стр., 6, Moscow, Russia 115054 Tel: +7(495) 787-98-00
Kosmodamianskaya Naberezhnaya, 52 (metro: Paveletskaya)
Situated on the top floor of the Swiss Hotel (you cant miss it in the skyline), this panoramic bar (360 degree views) is sleek, sophisticated and glamorous. I have been to City Space a few times, and the view together with the atmosphere really emulates 'Moscow'. Although I have never eaten here (there is a food menu), the cocktails are divine! Of course, cocktail prices start at 750RUR (£16), which is to be expected. 

It's best to book a table if you are coming after 10pm, but from experience not always necessary. Note however: if you have a group of over five people, the usual practise is to take down a deposit for the table. This can be over 20,000RUR (£400), but it goes towards your tab.
The service here is impeccable, and always done with a smile, you really feel like you are welcome: a warm change to the hustle and bustle of the Moscow streets. 

Each table is brought a selection of cashew nuts, wasabi beans and green and black olives to nibble on while you wait for your order. The general atmopshere is relaxed (but not the dress code), and there is usually a DJ spinning some Lounge music.

It is well worth to come up here for a drink (or two, you really won't be able to resist), take in the stunning views of Moscow city, and really feel like a million bucks.

These pictures do not do City Space justice, so please have a look at the hotel website here , and the bar & lounge website here.

GUM Department Store
Inside GUM
Pronounced "Goom", and the acronym for 'main department store', GUM doesn't need an address it faces directly onto the Red Square. The building is glorious, and probably the most famous department store in Russia (was once the biggest in Europe). The store is now home to designer label boutiques, so why, do I hear you ask, am I talking about it? Because situated on the top floor of this magnificent mall, to the right, is an 'oxymoron' cafe/restaurant where you can get a three course lunch for a mere 300-500RUR (£6-£12).

The set-up is a serve yourself/order at the counter. With a tray in hand, you go through the line selecting salads and other cold foods from the refrigerated cabinets, and place your order with the ladies behind the counter for hot food displayed in bain maries.

The cuisine is Russian food prepared in bulk i.e. generally too much oil/butter and mayonnaise, but this type of food can really thrive on that.

For lunch I had:

  • Salad: "Herring under fur coat" (Seledka pod shuboy), basically layered salad made with salted herring covered with layers of grated boiled vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beet root) chopped onions and mayonnaise. This is tasty, and one of my favourites for a naughty salad. The array of salads here is great, and plenty to choose from if you don't like mayonnaise
  • Soup: "Shi" , a soup made from meat, a mix of sauerkraut and fresh cabbage, carrot, potatoes tomato and onion. Served with sour cream. This is one of the traditional Russian soups. On selection was also Borscht and some others
  • Main: Buckwheat served with beef rissoles. For the hot food the selection was endless, there was steamed salmon, white fish, grilled vegetables, chicken rissoles, chicken fillets, chicken kiev, rice, sauerkraut, beef, fried potatoes etc
My lunch came to under £400 (£9). My non-Russian friends also enjoyed the food. Sure, it may be diner-style food, but its cheap ('cheap' is a swear word in GUM), right in the middle of Moscow, and in one of the most beautifully architectural and historical buildings of its time (1893).

Planeta Sushi (Planet Sushi)

At some point by 2008, Moscow became obsessed with Japanese food, mainly all things sushi. This saw the opening of a number of 'fast food' chain (eat-in) sushi restaurants, as well as high-end establishments around the city. Sushi/sashimi/rolls became a staple food item in most bar/club food menus. And this is still the case in 2011.

Planeta Sushi is one of these establishments (Over 50 branches), and we visited the one near Paveletskaya metro station (almost opposite the Swiss Hotel). Check out their website for more locations and menu etc here.

Japanese food is one of my favourites, and I have to say my love for sushi grew stronger while I lived in Moscow. 

Starting with a warm/moist towelette presented to you upon sitting down at your table, a good option to start would be a pot of green or jasmine tea. (There are also alcoholic/non alcoholic cocktails or juices)

Soups, starting with traditional Japanese Miso range from 95RUR (£2) to some Thai favourites such as Laksa at 235RUR (£5) (Note: I am pretty sure the addition of Thai flavours on the menu was added since I left in 2008)

Chukka Salad
Salads start from 215RUR (£4.60), being the Chukka, served with a lovely peanut dressing (Possibly slightly creamy, but this is an adaption).

Sushi is abundant, with choice of sashimi, Nigiri Gunkan and sushi, Maki rolls, sushi sets, and even hot rolls. Served individually for some, and rolls come in 4 or 8 pieces, there is a good selection to choose from. Sushi is fresh and tasty and ticks all the boxes. Cream cheese is a favourite addition to rolls in general, however paired with wasabi and soy sauce it's a delightful taste bomb.
"Makifornia Shick" :California Maki and Philadelphia Shick

Planeta Sushi is perfect for a quick lunch.

Gostinitsa Ukraina (Hotel Ukrain), now the Radisson Hotel
Гостиница «Украина» Москва
Кутузовский проспект, 2/1 стр. 1, тel: +7 (495) 221 55 55

Radisson Hotel (former Hotel Ukraina)

The Radisson hotel (formerly known, and still referred to as Hotel Ukraina) is one of the seven skyscrapers built by Stalin from 1947-53, nicknamed in English "Seven Sisters". Renovated in 2010, is still boasts the original interior architecture from its era. With room rates at a minimum of £350 per night, it is lavish!

Situated on the 29th floor is the Italian restaurant/eatery 'Buono', which was opened by 'Ginza Project' (A restaurant empire also behind Mari Vanna).
Window seats

This restaurant, has breathtaking views and sky high prices. 

Our intention (apart from vising one of the most prominent buildings in Moscow's skyline) was not dinner but to have a drink and enjoy the view.

We were well positioned to enjoy the view, being seated directly by the window on a bar-style table with high stools.The decor is cosy, with white wash wooden furniture and window frames, hard wood floors and Italian-style pillars.

The staff were smiley, attentive and helpful, which is exactly what you want them to be while you are pretending that 1400RUR (£30) for a selection of Italian cheeses and three glasses of red wine at 590RUR (£13) each is only pocket money.
Italian cheese platter

It might be cheaper to fly to Italy than to enjoy the classical Italian dishes from the menu. But like I said earlier, Moscow is all about extravagance. 

We got what we came for: Views, good cheese, architecture and the feeling of royalty (not necessarily in that order).

You can then stroll across the road to the boat cruise ticket office right outside the hotel, and take a scenic boat ride up the Moskva river for no more than £8. Highly recommended.

View from our seat (White House on the left)

Other Tips

With Moscow having one of the most expensive hotel rates in the world, it is hard for the concerned and unknowing traveller to get value for their money. In general I would avoid Hostels in Moscow by any means, as these are in no way close to any 'European standards', and are usually student houses or otherwise known as "Obshezhitiya" (Shared living). If looking for a hotel, aim at around £50p.p/per night and you should be OK (Generally).

The best and most value for money option for a group of travellers is to get a self-catered apartment (in any city - this has proven to be the best way to travel). 

My first port of call before any trip is "Home Away". They are the best portal for privately rented apartments around the world (From my experience). Using Home Away, I came across a company specializing in Executive Serviced apartments in Moscow "Moscow Suites".

Newly renovated and with modern decor, these apartments are in the perfect location in Moscow! Our place was just off Noviy Arbat. 

Campbell, the managing director of Moscow Suites, provides quality service, including free airport pick up. His devotion to this business is shown, not only through the standard of the apartments, but also him being the first point of contact for any queries you may have (at any time!!). Being an expat himself, and fluent in Russian, Campbell really knows the city for what it is, and would be more than happy to give you advise on dining out, going out (being an expert in this, knowing all the "places to be" from a local perspective, and also from being part owner of a club called Garage), and anything else Moscow has to offer.

This is probably a breath of fresh air within the Moscow tourist accommodation industry as the apartments are also available for short term rental. Truly recommend this, and at a great rate which won't break the bank (In Moscow standards).

Enjoy your trip!!


  1. Interesting information. Moscow looks beautifull and the food looks fantastic! Thank you!

  2. Eftychia, thank you for your comment :)
    you are very welcome! are you thinking of visiting?