As the war in Ukraine rages on, the conflict is drifting from the forefront of most Londoners’ minds. But it’s a real and ever-present reality for more than 100,000 refugees who’ve made their home in the UK. Now, new bistro Mriya aims to provide culinary and emotional sustenance for these homesick Ukrainians, as well as keeping their struggles on the agenda. ‘People around the world are getting tired of hearing about the war in the Ukraine, so we want to raise awareness through food, and through culture,’ says Olga Tsybytovska, who runs Mriya with her celebrity chef husband Yurii Kovryzhenko. Their restaurant is entirely staffed by fellow refugees, including lawyers, business owners, teachers and students.
The restaurant’s name Mriya translates as ‘dream’ – which reflects its proprietors’ dreams of victory for Ukraine. From a site on Chelsea’s Brompton Road, Mriya serves up chicken kyiv and Kovryzhenko’s signature, Michelin Guide-praised borscht, alongside less familiar dishes like pampushky (Ukrainian garlic buns). Our Ukrainian guests say finally they’ve found the food from their childhoods,’ says Tsybytovska, ‘while British guests are exploring new tastes. Borscht, herring pâté and oxtail are our top-sellers.’
Mriya also boasts a formidable collection of vodkas, and a dedicated refrigeration room for making the fermented fruits and vegetables that are so central to Ukrainian dishes. ‘We hope to make our guests fall in love with Ukrainian cuisine,’ says Tsybytovska. ‘Ukraine has such reach and diversity in its cuisine but it remains underestimated. When people try it they say they haven’t had anything like it.’
It’s not just the food that offers an insight into Ukrainian culture. Mriya is decorated with paintings by Ukrainian artists, and full of salvaged furniture both vintage and modern: ‘We have a chair by one of Ukraine’s most famous furniture designers, next to an old wooden cupboard from Lviv,’ says Tsybytovska.
The care its owners have taken over the decor shows that this is more than just a restaurant: it’s a home. And that’s something Tsybytovska confirms. For her, the restaurant brings something intangible: ‘It’s a feeling of security, of identity. Each of us who moved here recently can feel lost, but this is a place of hope. It brings a sense of belonging, which is a very powerful feeling.’
Mriya, 275 Old Brompton Rd, SW5 9JA. Open for lunch and dinner Tue-Sun.