Posted on Thursday, 19th September 2013
There are not enough superlatives to describe the beauty of St Petersburg. The Neva River runs through the heart of the city, and this and the city’s many canals add to it’s picturesque nature. St Petersburg’s architecture is decidedly European, a legacy from the time of Peter the Great and his love affair of all things European, and this is one of the reasons why The Palace Square overlooking the world-class Hermitage Museum must surely rate as one of the most spectacular squares in the worlds. It might not be as famous as The Red Square in Moscow, but it certainly holds its own in terms of grandeur and wow-factor.
St Petersburg also lays claim to a collection of world-class art with the famous Hermitage being the second largest museum in the world after the Louvre in Paris. And what is also attractive about St Petersburg is that it is a tourist-friendly city. Contrary to Moscow where I travelled to a few months ago, signs are labelled in both Cyrillic and in the Latin alphabet, and there are tourism offices positioned throughout the city that make the travel experience far easier.
During my 5 days in St Petersburg, I mixed up my hotel stays between the budget and the high end, one of which was at The THe with locations around the world. The one in London is located right near Leicester Square.
The W St Peterburg’s sleek décor represents the height of luxury with its cutting edge design. Step inside, and the funky designer rooms are each furnished with the hotel’s own signature ‘W’ beds. The location, right next to St Issac’s Cathedral, is also perfectly placed for the lavish sights of the city such as the Winter Palace and St Petersburg’s main thoroughfare Nevsky Prospect. There’s also the rooftop miXup terrace with DJ beats and views overlooking the cathedral, and miX restaurant which has won a string of awards including Conde Nast Traveller Russia Reader’s Choice Award 2012 for Best Hotel Restaurant and Time Out St Petersburg’s Best Gastronomic Award for 2012.
miX is a restaurant inspired by the three Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse, and accordingly the menu reflects a contemporary French approach. Furthermore some of the dishes on the miX menu have been drawn from his various Michelin starred restaurants around the world including his famous Chocolate Louis XV dessert. The current head chef, Stephane Gortina, was a protégé of Alain Ducasse. The menu is located on the ground floor of the hotel and has a contemporary, urban feel.
The meal kicked off with an interesting choice for an amuse bouche – a super yummy croque-monsieur with deliciously soft bread that had been perfectly toasted. Breads came out next and consisted of brown, white and Russian black bread. Unfortunately the breads were dry as they had not been freshly cut.
The poached lobster in a Niçoise salad starter (1,800 RUB – about £34.60) was unfortunately bland and not the freshest. The dressing was also a touch on the sharp side and I would have preferred the salad to be less cold. A nice mixture of olives, anchovies, quail’s egg, peppers, radishes, beans and some lovely cooked tuna made up the rest of the salad. This was pricey for a not-so-great salad.
But the delicate crustacean broth (950 RUB – about £18.30) with vegetable minestrone and crushed basil produced a concoction of flavours. Surprisingly it was served chilled, but the cold effect worked as this seemed to accentuate the deliciousness of the shellfish flavour. The centrepiece was the swirl of lovely, sweet pieces of Russian Kamchatka crab that is much loved by the locals. Underlining the broth was a great tomato flavour with aromatic basil running through it and perfectly diced pieces of celery, onion and carrot. It was a wonderful tasting soup, but the broth could have been passed further for a cleaner, clearer finish.
Steamed duck foie gras (950 RUB – about £18.30) was firm in texture and tasty with a lovely drizzle of foie gras jus on top. The steaming produced a smooth velvety finish even if there was no browning on the flesh. Accompanying the foie gras was a sweet and sour cherry condiment that was well judged for sweetness and acidity. Toasted Parisian brioche was also served with the foie gras but it was a touch dry.
Taken from one of Alain Ducasse’s Michelin-starred signature dishes, a turbot fillet main (1,950 RUB – about £37.50) was nicely cooked and pleasant tasting. The accompaniments of sundried tomatoes were intense with flavour, the onions were soft and sweet, and the mushrooms were pert and fresh. Completing the dish was a tasty, well-executed jus made from the fish bones. Only the confit tomatoes were a little bland. It was a well-rounded plate of food – a nice dish.
An excellent dessert of raspberry shortbread (400 RUB – about £7.70) satisfied on every level with its well-rounded balance of sweetness and acidity and wonderful contrasting textures. The delicious base of salted shortbread was layered with white chocolate ganache, rows of fresh raspberries each piped with raspberry coulis, and a layer of white chocolate and a sliver of edible silver. On the side was the lemon tvorog (cottage cheese) that proved to be a wonderful accompaniment to the raspberries and a wonderfully zingy way to bring the dessert together.
Bellini iced cup (300 RUB – about £5.80) was a clever concoction of grenadine syrup, poached peach, peach jelly and almond crumble. An icy cold proseco granite completed the bellini effect by injecting a touch of alcohol into this cleverly created dessert that tasted like an edible peach bellini.
This was a well-executed meal that showed off strong technical knowhow. The desserts were fabulous and a fantastic crustacean broth demonstrated touches of the outstanding. But there were a few little niggles such as the not-so-great lobster salad and bread. It wasn’t quite a Michelin standard meal even if the menu was Michelin-inspired. Nevertheless miX proved to be a very strong gastronomic experience. Furthermore, the service was charming and warm, being more on the casual rather than the formal side. However it wasn’t quite as seamless as one might have expected from a 5-star hotel.
The prices for some of the dishes were high but surprisingly the excellent desserts were very reasonable priced, and there was also a more affordable six-course discovery tasting menu for 2,600 RUB (about £50). Russia doesn’t have a strong history of fine dining even if a number of fine dining restaurants have started to spring up in recent years in Moscow and St Petersburg. This is in part because the concept of fine dining isn’t as defined in the Russian culture. But it’s also because high-end ingredients aren’t usually readily available in Russia and need to be imported. As such the prices will reflect this state of affairs.
Food Rating: 4/5
Service Rating: 3.5/5
Prices: 1,700 RUB to 4,150 RUB (about £33 to £80) for three courses, excludes drinks and service.