48 Hours in Moscow

Posted on Tuesday, 11th June 2013

At first glance, Moscow does not come across as the prettiest of cities. And the momentary confusion that grabs you as you first walk into the metro feels a little overwhelming as there are no English signs. But as you learn to navigate yourself and chip away at the language barriers, you soon discover that Moscow is not without its charms. The more you dig, the more you realise that there is more than meets the eye. There is an incredible depth of history behind this grand old city – inside the Kremlin walls is a treasure trove of riches and the fine art offerings in its museums are world class. And St Basil’s Cathedral – well it’s hard to capture the sense of awe that you feel when you first lay eyes on its colourful grandeur.

Saint Basil's Cathedral

Saint Basil’s Cathedral

Friends of mine who went to Moscow 20 years ago told me that back in those dark communist times one had to wait about ten hours to get served at McDonald’s. Now the restaurant choices are plentiful and varied, Japanese restaurants are en vogue and some critically acclaimed chefs such as the likes of Pierre Gagnaire have set up shop in Moscow with his restaurant Les Menus at the Lotte Hotel.

So I was on a mission to do some eating of my own, and the first restaurant on the agenda was Expedition, a restaurant that is unique for its sense of adventure and its use of native Russian products. Also popular in Russia are cuisines from the ex-Soviet states so Georgian cuisine at Saperavi Café was up next. Finally Restaurant 57 rounded up the list for a spot of Soviet self-service eating which proved to be surprisingly good.

Expedition Restaurant

Expedition Restaurant

EXPEDITION (EXPEDICIA)

The idea behind Expedition came about when an expedition to Siberia by the restaurant’s owner resulted in his party getting lost some 300km from the nearest settlement. The search and rescue helicopter did not come for many days, and he decided then that if his party were ever to be rescued he would build a restaurant in Moscow embodying all foods authentically native to the North of Russia as homage to the group’s test of survival. Hence Expedition was borne, and to mark this particular journey, a helicopter that had been gifted to Expedition forms part of the restaurant’s décor.

The helicopter

The helicopter

As we were in Russia, there seemed no better way to start our meal than with a shot of vodka. Expedition serve a variety of light berry vodka tinctures and I tried the cranberry which was deliciously sweet and well judged for its alcoholic content (310RUB – about £6).

Cranberry vodka

Cranberry vodka

Expedition’s specialty dish is their “Stroganina” of seafood (5300RUB – £106), a Russian Artic specialty of thin slices of freshly frozen seafood. This dish is unique because when the fish is fished out of the Artic waters through small holes bored through the ice they snap freeze as they make contact with the air. This is because the air temperature is usually much colder than the water temperature, typically reaching about -25c. And because the winter months in Siberia are long it is possible to have stroganina for much of the year. Here we tried muksun (a Siberian whitefish), nelma (an Artic whitefish), red salmon, sea scallops and a Yakut salad of lightly-salted nelma and fresh onions, all served on an ice block.

There is a slightly icy effect on the tongue when you first make contact with the fish, but this quickly melts away to reveal soft, sweet flesh, best described as super fresh, fatty, frozen sashimi. The plate is served with a variety of sauces including soya with smoked fish bones and berries with mustard. This dish is simple, but it is also special because it is so unique, and the price reflects the rarity of the fish and the effort required to fish and fly the produce in from Siberia. Expedition source their fish from Lake Baikal in Siberia which is especially known for the purity of their water.

“Stroganina” of seafood

“Stroganina” of seafood

“Stroganina” can also come in a meat version and we tried frozen reindeer meat (1100RUB – about £22) with lightly-pickled onions, coarse salt and sliced horseradish. The meat was tasty and tender and it worked really well with the horseradish.

A plate of “olukte” (2700RUB – about £54) again contained an assortment of Russian specialties including smoked venison, deer heart rolls, young horse meat from Oimyakon in an onion brine, wild duck rolls, tongue of reindeer with horseradish, hazel hen, and reindeer liver pate with cowberries. The reindeer tongue and reindeer liver pate were quite intense in flavour, but the rest of the cuts were all delicious and tender. Simply prepared, the fresh juiciness of the meat was allowed to sing. I particularly adored the young horse and it was very sweet and meltingly soft.

Olukte

Olukte

An assortment of lightly salted (not frozen) raw fish of muksun, nelma and salmon (1100RUB – £22) was fresh and sweet, and not particularly salty. The dish came with boiled potatoes that were nutty and delicious.

Lightly salted fish

Lightly salted fish

A mixed mushroom dish with ceps, milk mushrooms and salted saffron milk-caps (1980RUB – £39.50) proved to be quite a salty dish. This had been cooked to a traditional recipe and the intention of this dish was that it be served salty so it was hard to fault it from a technical point of view. That said it wasn’t to my taste although there was no doubting the freshness and the natural sweet flavours of the mushrooms.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Stronger vodka tinctures (310RUB – about £6) can also be had, one of which was from horseradish and which went especially well with the stroganina. Surprisingly, this was not too sharp in taste and very delicious. For something softer, naturally infused berry drinks (eg, sea-buckthorn, cowberry, cranberry) were also available (200RUB – about £4). These were prepared by gently boiling the berries at a low temperature so as to preserve the goodness of the berries.

For dessert, we tried a variety of very unique jams made using native Russian products. Jamofklopovka (800RUB – about £16) made with red Sakhalin berries native to Sakhalin Island (Russia’s largest Island) was distinctively tasty with an earthy, robust sweetness.

Other interesting flavours included a sweet confiture of pine cone (490RUB – about £9.80) that was resoundingly fresh and pine-like, a cloudberry jam (850RUB – about £17), and one of my favourites – a red whortleberry jam with pine nuts (360RUB – about £7) as it had a slightly nutty texture. To balance the sweetness of the jams we had a taiga tea (1590RUB – £32) made with 17 different types of native herbs that was wonderfully refreshing.

Jams & tea

Jams & tea

Expedition is the kind of restaurant you come to for a very Siberian/Russian experience that cannot be had anywhere else, to taste the produce that are particularly distinctive to this part of the world. It’s all very well done. The Russians seem to love Expedition too and notable figureheads such as Putin have been known to visit as can be seen below in this photo of him eating at Expedition posted on the restaurant’s downstairs wall.

Photo of a photo of Putin at Expedition

Photo of a photo of Putin at Expedition

Another aspect that makes dining at Expedition unique is that live performers singing native Russian songs are on hand every evening. I didn’t understand the lyrics to the songs, but the singers’ love of Russia was easy to hear in the sound of their voices and that made the music very enjoyable regardless of the language. It was also clear to see that the locals dining at Expedition loved the songs too as they were singing along at the top of their voices.

Note: There is a menu in English and some members of staff speak English.


Summary Information:

Food rating: 4/5
Prices: Expensive

Website: http://expedicia.ru/

SAPERAVI CAFE

Saperavi Café is a Modern Georgian restaurant that prides itself on the fact that most of their produce is imported from Georgia. Named Best Georgian restaurant in Moscow by Time Out in 2012, its menu is a veritable feast for the eyes with a varied and long selection. Everything sounded delicious with a great use of nuts and Georgian cheeses. The entrance is deceptively tacky with its huge neon sign, but inside is a modern cosy restaurant that is comfortable and well laid out.

Saperavi Café

Saperavi Café

As an aperitif, the homemade lemonade with ‘in-season’ medlar, sorrel and kiwi (250RUB – about £5) was a refreshing choice. Served sparkling, it was deliciously spritely, and the use of the fruit gave the drink a wonderful freshness.

A starter of kharcho soup (290RUB – £5.80) with tender beef, rice and some wonderfully fresh herbs and spices including parsley and saffron was divine. The soup stock was a sweet, well flavoured tomato base and had been faultlessly prepared.

Kharcho soup

Kharcho soup

A main of lamb gupta, lamb and eggplant meatballs, with a salad of carrots, spinach, eggs, nuts and yoghurt (470RUB – about £9.40) was glorious, some of the best that I had ever tasted. The meatballs were amazingly tasty and moist, and the lightness of the salad was seasonal and helped to lift the dish.

Lamb meatballs

Lamb meatballs

The tomatoes and aubergine in a side of baked vegetable pyramid (190RUB – about £3.80) were nicely cooked and well seasoned. It came sandwiched with some melted Georgian sulguni cheese which is similar to mozzarella in that it is a little stringy and a touch salty. The cheese worked really well with the vegetable stack although the bottom layers of cheese hadn’t been melted properly.

Vegetable pyramid

Vegetable pyramid

For dessert, a walnut cake roll (250RUB – about £5) resembling a brioche like dough rolled with a sweet walnut puree proved moist. It came with some sweet grated lemon which was a little bitter from the lemon rind, and a honey and medlar jam that worked well with the cake.

Walnut cake roll

Walnut cake roll

The food at Saperavi Café was truly delicious. The cooking was well executed with a delicate touch, the ingredients were fresh and there was an earthy sense of provenance to the restaurant’s approach that made the food all the more endearing. And best of all, the prices at Saperavi Café were very reasonable. A three-course meal with a side and a drink came to about £30. Bargain.

Note: There is a menu in English and there was an English speaking waiter during the night of my visit.

Summary Information:

Food rating: 4/5
Prices: Bargain

Website: http://saperavicafe.ru/

RESTAURANT 57

Restaurant 57 is located on the third floor of the famous Gum Department Store (that is really a shopping mall) on Red Square, a conclave of high-end designer shops that smacks of money. As a self-service “Soviet-style” canteen, such a location feels slightly out of place, but the long queues (Soviet-style) attest to its popularity with the locals. Specialising in Russian food, all the dishes are pre-prepared and easy to order (even if you don’t speak Russian) as you simply pick what you want from the displays. Temptingly, the desserts are placed at the very front of the selection which makes them very hard to resist.

Restaurant 57

Restaurant 57

You can eat very well and very cheap at Restaurant 57. Ukrainian borscht (70RUB – about £1.40) was fabulous – sweet and rich with flavour and well judged for acidity. Classic smoked salmon with cream cheese (160RUB – £3.20) was fresh and came with salmon roe and egg.

For my main, meat balls (120RUB – about £2.40) proved to be reasonably good, but were not as electrifying as those that I had at Saperavi Café. There were a selection of sides to go with the main course protein choices of meat or fish such as mash potatoes, etc. But for something lighter I went for a red bell pepper baked with vegetables (95RUB – about £1.90) which was well cooked, nicely seasoned and really delicious.

A classic Soviet cake with “pigeon milk” (90RUB – about £1.80) consisted of a sponge-like base topped with a set meringue and coated with a thin, even layer of chocolate. This dessert was impressive for both the technique shown (for a canteen dessert no less!) and its yummy, airy taste.

My lunch came to less than £11, an incredible bargain for this amount and quality of food. It was really delicious and it was easy to understand why Restaurant 57 is so popular with the locals.

My four course lunch

My four course lunch

Summary Information:

Food rating: 4/5
Prices: Cheap

Address: Gum Department Store, 3rd foor, 3rd line, Red Square
Open 10:00 – 22:00.

Leave a Comment

6 Responses to “48 Hours in Moscow”

  1. Kavey Says...

    I too visited Moscow in the days when buying a meal at McDs was still a novelty (and engendered a queue) and supermarkets had more bare shelves than full ones.

    I’d love to go back and experience the revolution of development that I’ve read about since then…

  2. A Girl Has to Eat Says...

    Hi Kavey,
    You really must go! I loved Moscow although everyone raves about St Petersburg so I must visit there too. I really enjoyed all the food that I ate in Moscow. Couldn’t fault it.

    Anyway, I would have found it fascinating to have been able to see Moscow 20 years ago and compare it to now.

  3. Christine Says...

    Thanks for the tips! I’ll be heading there in August so looking forward to checking out some of your suggestions.

  4. A Girl Has to Eat Says...

    Hi Christine
    Thanks for the comment!
    I hope you have a great time in Moscow.

  5. Katrina @ The Gastronomical Me Says...

    so pleased you enjoyed your time in Moscow (and that my tips were helpful:), in particular Saperavi – did you get a chance to meet the owners? a lovely couple. and definitely recommend Gayane, the Armenian restaurant.

  6. A Girl Has to Eat Says...

    Hi Katrina,
    Great tips thanks. I wanted to go to Gayane but didn’t have enough time. Next trip…

    No didn’t get to meet the owners unfortunately.

    Once again, thanks.