Russian street food hasn’t made much of an impact on the London scene, so the prospect of a Soho basement bar offering just that alongside infused vodka shots had me aflutter. In reality, Zima Bar is serving sharing plates and pickles and there’s not much street to it at all. But it’s still an edgy den – all blue tiles and rustic wooden benches – under the steer of Russian superstar chef Alexei Zimin, who founded Russia’s foremost food mag, Eda, and Moscow’s restaurant and cookery school, Ragout.
His star credibility has brought a buzz through the door, and Russian princesses with megawatt wristwatches posed around with caviar and jugs of vodka on our visit. Rightly so, the vodka collection is great, with a huge variety of brands to put hairs on your chest backed up by six in-house infusions at £3.50 a pop (£32 by the 250ml jug). A horseradish version felt like a bloody mary minus the tomato while the sea buckthorn, a berry native to Russia, was intensely sweet-sour (in a good way).
Dishes included a melt-in-the-mouth short rib stroganoff with buttery crushed potatoes (£8.50) and a bowl of borscht (beetroot soup, £5) with a tart mushroom cream floating on the surface, and flecks of pork belly sinking to the bottom. Skill can’t be faulted in these warming – not to mention affordable – dishes. The pickle platter wasn’t much to write home to Mother Russia about, though, with grapes and cherry tomatoes taking on a hefty sourness.
Leaving as sour a note was the cynical offer of a complimentary coffee if we were to give the restaurant a ‘like’ on Facebook. Surely Zimin is way better than that? He certainly looks the part doling out shots from behind the bar. Keep cool, Alexei, you’re onto a winner.