St Petersburg, a City Tasting Tour
There is a reason why, when walking around St Petersburg, you might feel like you’re in Venice. The city was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, who commissioned some of the great Italian architects of the era to build his new seat of power. Imposing baroque palaces and striking neo-classical edifices line every broad avenue and winding waterway, but while St Petersburg might feel like a slice of Europe, it retains a distinctly Russian flavour. The home of the Hermitage museum, the Mariinsky ballet, Dostoevsky and Gogol today plays host to a thriving culinary scene - from cool kitchens and gourmet shops, to multicoloured markets and food museums.
Some of Russia’s trendiest new restaurants can be found in St Petersburg. Think pared-down interiors, bright and airy spaces and plenty of bo-ho attitude. But while there’s a whole lot of style behind some of these eateries, there’s no less substance. Zoom Cafe (22 Gorokhovaya Ulitsa) is a welcoming little retreat packed with books, art and wholesome Russian and European food, including some excellent vegetarian options. Another veggie haunt popular with a young, cool crowd is Rada & K (36 Gorokhovaya Ulitsa; Tel 385 1226), a canteen-style cafe, which screams its eco credentials with its funky lime-green interior. Clean Plates Society (13 Gorokhovaya Ulitsa) keeps it simple with affordable and uncomplicated fare - from borscht to burgers - in a laid-back environment. Meanwhile, for those who like literary as well as culinary stimulation, PirO.G.I (40 Fontanka Embankment) is part bookshop, part cafe, part bar - what’s not to like?
In a city that’s famous for its many museums, it’s perhaps inevitable that some of them are dedicated to food and drink. The Russian Vodka Museum (4 Konnogvardeysky Boulevard) will teach you all about the history and traditions of the staple spirit, how it’s distilled and what snacks or “zakuski” to pair it with, before letting you loose among its 200 varieties of vodka for a tasting. Soak up the drink at the St Petersburg Museum of Bread (73 Ligovsky), where you’ll see a reconstruction of a traditional bakery and learn how bread became a lifeline during the siege of Leningrad. If you’re feeling thirsty again, wet your whistle at the Beer Brewing Museum (11 Ulitsa Stenana Razina) at the historic Stepan Razin brewery, which has been churning out “liquid bread” (as the Russians called it) since 1795. Should you be peckish after that, dive into the Chocolate Museum (17 Nezsky Prospekt). Strictly speaking, it’s more of a gourmet shop than a museum, but with all this great chocolate on display (including chocolate Lenin busts), who really cares?
SHOP TILL YOU POP
There’s nothing like a Russian market to work the senses, and St Petersburg is blessed with some of the most atmospheric. Sennaya Ploschad is the original location of the city’s old Haymarket, a frenetic warren of stalls populated by cut-throats and drunks, captured by Dostoevsky in the novel Crime and Punishment. Even today it’s an edgy place, but don’t let that put you off exploring the market, which is stacked with meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, and noisy with the cries of traders from former Soviet republics. There’s a similar scene at the indoor Maltevsky Market (52 Ulitsa Nekrasova) where traders offer free samples of everything from flowery honey to pickled vegetables to kickstart the haggling process. At the opposite end of the scale, the Kupetz Eliseevs Food Hall (Eliseyev Emporium, Nevsky Prospekt) and tea room offers gourmet delicacies at eye-popping prices. There’s beluga caviar and smoked salmon, Russian champagne and delicate French macarons, yet the early 20th century art nouveau building itself - all statues and stucco ceilings - is as impressive to behold as the food.