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The largest metropolis in Europe, Moscow is experiencing a food and restaurant revolution. In just over 20 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian capital has shrugged off memories of scarcity and shortages, and is busy building an exuberant restaurant scene to cater for the myriad tastes of its huge and diverse population. It may be playing catch-up compared to other major cities, but with its creative restaurant conversions, nostalgic Soviet-style canteens, vivid marketplaces and farm-to-fork pioneers, there’s never been a better time to dine in Moscow.
The rise of Moscow’s restaurant scene is helping many of the city’s neglected old buildings find a new purpose. The ‘restauration’ craze has turned crumbling edifices in danger of demolition into vibrant dining spaces catering to all tastes and budgets. Shekhtel (18 Tverskoy Boulevard) is set in a restored late-19th century mansion designed by the renowned architect and artist Fyodor Shekhtel for Pyotr Smirnov (of vodka fame). Today it boasts grand themed dining rooms reflecting various styles, from classical Greek to Russian Art Nouveau, and a varied menu of modern European, pan-Asian and classical Russian dishes.
For something a little more casual,Art Clumba (Artplay Design Centre,) is a contemporary cafe concept occupying a former engineering works in what is today a major art and design cluster. Another contemporary arts hub isWinzavod (4 Syromyatnichesky Lane, Kurskaya metro), a converted wine factory. It hosts Tsurtsum Cafe, an energetic yet suitably pared-down dining space owned by film director Marina Tsurtsumiya, and Hitrye Ludi (Tricky People), an eccentric yet homely concept with healthy international food, a great bar and regular art exhibitions.
BACK TO THE PAST
Moscow has seen a nostalgic revival of Soviet-style canteen restaurants or stolovayas, where guests serve themselves to old-school dishes that hark back to an era of simplicity. Stolovaya No. 57, in the posh GUM department store overlooking Red Square, offers affordable dishes inspired by the Book of Healthy and Tasty Food, compiled by Stalin’s Ministry of Food. Alongside old favourites like borscht and meatballs, you’ll find traditional salads such as ‘herring under the fur coat’ made with pickled fish, potatoes and lots of beetroot. Meanwhile, the Arkady Novikov owned Kamchatka continues the theme in a retro beer-hall setting packed with Soviet-era kitsch. The beer is local and affordable, and the food - from grilled sausages to red salmon caviar sandwiches - is wholesome, hearty and evocative of bygone years.
MARKETS & SHOPS
Go on a shopping spree in Moscow’s markets and gourmet shops. Danilovsky Rynok (near Tulskaya metro) is where to see the raw materials of Russian cuisine in all their glory. The bustling marketplace has indoor and outdoor areas piled with fresh vegetables, whole suckling pigs and racks of smoked fish, as well as pickles, cheeses, herbs and spices. So striking are the displays, the market was recently used as the backdrop to a fashion show, with models sashaying down the catwalk to music from the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra.
Go upmarket at Yeliseyevsky’s (14 Tverskaya ulitsa; Tverskaya or Pushkinskaya metro). Occupying a restored 19th century mansion, this gourmet food hall presents fine ingredients in a fine setting. Browse beneath crystal chandeliers and sculpted ceilings for caviar, cured meats and every conceivable variety of vodka.
BACK TO BASICS
“Support your local farmer!” is the mantra at LavkaLavka (near Kurskaya metro), a progressive cafe and farming collective which aims to promote seasonal, organic ingredients and the local farms that grow them.
Hidden among the converted factory buildings of the Arma complex, the tiny restaurant has a big plan - to get more Russians eating more healthy, locally-grown food, and to stimulate the regions that produce it. The farm-to-fork concept offers a menu of simple yet wholesome fare, as well as a wide range of organic produce, from fresh meat and vegetables, to pickles and marmalades. Boris Akimov is the man behind the initiative, but it’s farmers such as Sergey Balaev (goat dairy produce) and Andrey Kurbatov (supplier of smoked goose) who take a starring role.
For a tailor-made tasting tour of Moscow, look no further than the team at It’s Sooo Russian a cultural collective set up by a group of young Moscow-dwellers dedicated to offering visitors a hassle-free and enlightening experience in the capital. Culinary itineraries might involve all of the above, plus one or two pleasant surprises, but always a friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide.