Judging by the guest list on Mari Vanna’s UK website, the London outpost of this extraordinary Russian restaurant ‘chain’ is as much a destination as the branches in New York, LA and Washington DC (St Petersburg and Moscow boast the Russian originals). A trip here is certainly memorable.
It’s impossible not to gasp at the mirrors and chandeliers, the shelves overflowing with dolls, porcelain, books and knick-knacks, the tapestries both hanging and adorning the tables. During our lunchtime meal, the place was chock-a-block with Russian-speaking diners. The booking procedure may seem Soviet-strict, but the welcome is warm, and service – by beautiful Russian staff – polite and attentive.
It’s the food, however, that might hasten a second visit. You can dine like a peasant or a tsar, but the simplest, relatively affordable options are a delight. From the breads, including coriander-scented rye, via traditional thirst-quenchers such as kvass (like a rye-bread root beer) or birch juice to pirozhki – don’t miss the sea bass version – and lactic-fermented pickles, there wasn’t a discordant note.
Tender beef stroganoff had just the right degree of paprika warmth, and sweet cherry dumplings paired with a shot of cherry-infused vodka proved an ideal end to a memorable meal.