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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Nikitas - the best Russian in town?

Nikita's on Urbanspoon
Nikita's, a Russian restaurant situated on Ifield Rd in Chelsea, is possibly the oldest such restaurant in London. Ifield Road, quite an affluent looking suburban street, has had its fair share of restaurants and residents, such as Tony Blaire in 1975. But Nikita's, for over 40 years has stood its ground, and proven popular with the cream of the Chelsea crowd, and hosted parties for the likes of Elton John, Richard Gere and The Beatles. It goes without saying that Nikita's reputation for entertaining may well be deserved!
On a Tuesday night, however, the restaurant was empty. Nevertheless, Russian music is playing through the speakers, the candles are lit, and the dining room, situated in the basement is oozing warmth and Imperial Russia. Ok, so maybe not 'Imperial' as such, but definitely what is perceived as "typical Russia" with deep red colours, and Khokloma painting on the walls. (This type of paining is usually found on wood handicraft, and is known for its vivid flower patters, red and gold colours over a black background, making things look glamorous). The atmosphere was there, it seems to live and breathe within the walls.

Keta Caviar served with Blini £14.50
The food is a mix of Russian inspired, traditional home cooking, including caviar, borscht, and many other dishes which I had grown up loving. 

One thing about the menu of most Russian restaurants in London, is that they lack creativity and are almost afraid to show, or maybe try, the true Russian colours of culinary delights. There is more to Russian cuisine apart from caviar, borscht, pelmeni and stuffed peppers! 

Nevertheless, the Blini and caviar were lovely (even though they were Oladiya, Blini are more like crepe size, but that's being too technical), if not slightly over priced (considering that you would be able to get a whole can of red caviar for £10). The blini were wonderfully moist and fluffy.
Borsch £4.50
The borscht, made to the chefs Ukranian family recipe , I could've had seconds, or as a meal on its own. It was well seasoned, ample vegetables, and the beetroot gave a wonderful sweet after taste. Spot on.
Ostrie Kolbaski (Spicy sausage) £6.25
Also good was the spicy sausage for the starter, with a wonderful hint of dill in the sauce. There were other starters which I would have liked to try (such as the cured fish platter), but the whole 'one stomach' per person places a limit on the food intake.
Govjazhij farsh s komponentami (Tatar steak) £14.95
The Steak Tatar, you may not consider to be Russian, but on Nikita's menu it's a "traditional dish which they are famed for". It was, after all, a favourite dish of the famous ballerina Anna Pavlova.

In this case, one can argue that although the origins of steak Tatar are loaded with myth, the big part of the story involves the Russians dating back to the 1200's. When a Mongolian emperor invaded Moscow (Mongolians/Tatar's now make the largest part of the ethnic population of Russia at 3,38%), the Russians adopted a ground meat dish which the Mongolians brought with them,  and gave it the name Steak Tartar ('Tatar' being the Russian name used for Mongolians). So very long story short, what ever you want to believe, history would certainly suggest that having Steak Tatar on Nikita's menu is 'justified'.

Prepared and marinated in the kitchen, and spiced to your specifications, the Tartare is more ground than the French version. The flavour is strong with capers and onions, and the chili kicks in on every bite. Certainly filling and satisfying. The only thing I would suggest is to lose the shop bought toasted bread.

Overall, Nikita's, with it's friendly, mostly Russian staff, proved to be a treat, and made me feel at home. Not to mention, with over 40 different vodkas on the menu, some of which are infused on premises, I can't wait to have my next Russian inspired party there!

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