Posted on Thursday, 26th September 2013
After the W Hotel St Petersburg I moved onto The Grand Hotel Europe St Petersburg where I stayed one night. It’s a grand dame of a hotel if there ever was one and houses the famous Caviar Bar Restaurant. Palatial and luxurious, it’s long been recognised as one of the best hotels in the world with a string of awards to its name. The Grand Hotel Europe is steeped in history and dates back to 1875, and in the 100 plus years of its existence it has hosted a long list of royalty, Heads of State and other A-list celebrities the likes of which have included Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Bill Clinton, Elton John and Sir Paul McCartney.
Apart from its superior and deluxe rooms and one bedroom and executive suites, the hotel also boasts 10 special historically themed suites, each of which were designed around famous personalities, places and institutions dear to St Petersburg’s heart. Take the Pavarotti Suite – this was where Pavarotti stayed during his farewell tour and houses the baby grand piano that he practiced on while on tour in St Petersburg. There is also the Faberge Suite, named after the renowned jeweler and features furniture encrusted with precious stones.
During my stay at the Grand Hotel Europe I was fortunate enough to be upgraded to one of these historical suites, The Romanov Suite, so named as it was dedicated to the last Imperial Russian dynasty. Members of the Romanov family were regular visitors to The Grand Hotel Europe, and the last emperor, Nicholas II, held many diplomatic receptions here. Decedents of the Romanov Family were personally involved in the creation of the suite, and the copies of the private family photos that now hang in the suite were donated for use by the Romanov decedents themselves.
The Romanov Suite was beautiful. The décor lavishly combined rich, antique furnishings with contemporary, luxury comforts, and the high ceiling added to its palatial feel. There was also an enormous Italian marbled bathroom that represented the height of grandeur. Each of the historical suites came with a dedicated butler and included many services, one of which was the preparation of your choice of bath. Nice.
But luxuries aside, the service at the hotel was also sublime. The moment I walked into the Grand Hotel Europe I was immediately removed of all luggage and personally escorted to the check-in desk (a short 5 metre walk) by the most charming and effusive bellboy. It would be easy to think that given the hotel’s history and elite clientele that the service might be stuffy, but this was not the case. Professional and scrupulously attentive, the staff also exuded a caring charm that made you feel that little bit special.
There are five restaurants in the hotel, one of which is the famous fine dining L’Europe restaurant that serves Russian haute cuisine in an art nouveau setting. This is also where the buffet breakfast service is held, during which time a pianist plays away on a baby grand so that you may enjoy your breakfast in style.
Caviar Bar is another, and it is situated on the first floor of the hotel at the top of an elegant marble staircase. Caviar is the star of the show and it’s the only caviar restaurant of its kind in St Petersburg. It also boasts a vodka sommelier to help you with the restaurant’s 50 different types of vodkas, another one of a kind for the city. The 19th Century neoclassical interior of the restaurant with its crystal decorations, antique mirrors and marbled walls and floors makes it the kind of restaurant you go to for special occasions, for that ultimate classic Russian fine dining experience.
For our amuse bouche, we started with a meat jelly set with beef bouillon and carrots and a horseradish cream. It was decidedly tasty with a rich beef flavour, and the horseradish complemented the beef well for a very traditionally Russian way to start our meal.
As caviar is the star of the show, a caviar trolley is available to diners from which they can select a variety of caviar in different portion sizes. From the a la carte menu, the ‘Imperial cocktail’ selection consisted of 5g of beluga, oscietra and salmon caviar, each of which were served on blinis with sour cream and accompanied by premium vodka tasting shots of Beluga, Tsarskaya Gold and Russian Standard Platinum (2,850 RUB – about £54.80). The blinis were really well made and were light and fluffy. As for the caviar, what can I say, they were all delicious, and the vodka shots chased the caviar down nicely.
A hot smoked sturgeon (1,050 RUB – about £20) bewitched with its smooth finish and gentle hints of smokiness. It came with some marinated beetroot that was lovely and sweet, and a nice and zingy horseradish ice cream, the coldness of which worked well with the fish.
“Egg in Egg” is one of the signature dishes of The Caviar Bar and consisted of three eggshells filled with truffle-infused scrambled eggs, each of which were topped with 5g of beluga, oscietra and salmon caviar (2,700 RUB – about £52). The scrambled eggs were light as a feather and very enjoyable although the taste of truffle was hard to detect. That said there was something incredibly decadent and indulgent about eating scrambled eggs in this way.
Steamed Russian Kamchatka crab Romanov style with champagne sauce and salmon caviar (2,850 RUB – about £55) was divine. Kamchatka crab is a favourite of the locals and it was easy to understand why as it was beautifully sweet. There was a generous amount of crabmeat, perfectly cooked and succulent, and the creamy champagne sauce was airy and light and gave this dish an elevated elegance. The salmon caviar was a nice touch and provided the dish with a hit of saltiness.
Another signature dish at the Caviar Bar is the beef stroganoff, cooked to Baroness stroganoff’s original recipe. But the restaurant also serves an interesting take on this Russian classic with a wagyu beef version (2,000 RUB – about £38.50). The wagyu beef was delicious and tender, if a little fatty from the untrimmed excess fat. Rather then being slow cooked, it had been cooked medium rare to maintain both its texture and its flavour. The sauce was also wonderful with an intense creamy flavour, and the base of mashed potatoes was yummy and appetising.
Kulitch (traditional Russian muffin) with hazelnuts and chocolate, and served with a black currant liqueur sauce (450 RUB – about £8.70) was rustic and satisfying. It resembled a spongy muffin, kept moist by the liqueur sauce and presented an interesting taste of something traditionally Russian.
A dream meal completed a dream stay at the Grand Hotel Europe. I couldn’t think of anywhere better to experience classic Russian haute cuisine in style than the Caviar Bar. It wasn’t a complex menu and there weren’t any molecular thrills. But what the restaurant did, it did with pizzazz. The dishes with caviar were obviously more expensive, but there were also some very reasonably priced a la carte options starting from 500 RUB (about £10), but most mains hovered at around the 1,200 RUB mark (about £23). There was also a 6-course tasting menu for 4,500 RUB (about £87).
Also worth mentioning are the chocolates at The Grand Hotel Europe. They are all made in house and can be purchased at the hotel’s Café Mezzanine. Sold in keepsake boxes with nostalgic images of old St Petersburg, the chocolates were simply to-die-for. Even the fruity filled chocolates were a dream to eat and expertly made. I polished off half a box in one day. So even if you aren’t going to stay at the Grand Hotel Europe it’s worth wandering into the hotel to try some of their choccies.
Food rating: 4/5
Service rating: 4.5/5
Price range: 1,350 to 6,000 RUB (about £27 to £118) for three courses, excludes drinks and service.