Baklazhan: oriental cuisine in St. Petersburg

Interior of Baklazhan
Atmosphere: A member of the high-end restaurant entourage owned by the Ginza project group, Baklazhan merges tradition with contemporary flare as it is reliably serving authentic Georgian and Uzbekh cuisine in a fancy modern setting. Located in a luxurious shopping mall (Galeria Shopping Center), Baklazhan follows the trend of some the very good restaurants with practically solving parking and other issues related to an independent existence. Do not judge book from its cover though. It is not commercial and the service is friendly and professional. Its colourful design features from the former Soviet countries are uplifted by modern and comfortable soft chairs, funky lights and glass jars displayed in see-through shelves. It is a family friendly restaurant with a children corner (there is even a living turtle) and menu specially prepared for the little ones.
Baklazhan - vegetarian pkhali with flat bread qutabs
Food: Oriental cuisine prepared in a tandoor, brazier or a grill that will bring the southern style of the former Soviet cuisines to your plate. The food is so varied that one might get lost in the abundant selection. Dishes such as Eggplant medallions, sautéed, baked with Suluguni cheese, fried with nuts, stuffed with chicken liver or Eggplant in rolls stuffed with homemade cottage cheese offer flexibility and many are delicious.
Try typical Georgian vegetable and mayonnaise based Pkhali salads served as small buns and ideally eaten with the deliciously soft and chewy flat bread qutabs. There are pictures of the food on the menu, which is very helpful for anyone not familiar with these cuisines. Many of the dishes look too good to be missed so it might be challenging to choose. The friendly English-speaking staff is very helpful though and ready to advise you according to your taste preferences.
Picture menu tempting the taste buds
The meat-lovers are going to feel like in a gastronomic heaven with the breath of the meat dishes on the menu. From kebabs, skewers and grilled meat to boiled and tandoor oven baked lamb, chicken, beef or even a goat, one can broadly savour being a carnivore.
Cuisine: Georgian, Uzbekh.
Visit: May 2013
Price: Medium high.
Drinks: Try one of the typical black teas with pieces of real fruit as a part of the brew. They are already sweetened but you can add up with a tempting selection of sugar candies served with it. It is no fake here, as you pick strawberries and other fresh fruits from your teapot, you might be reminded of a spanish sangria yet, strangely enough for Russia, there is no alcohol in it. Good wine selection offering some of the aromatic Georgian wines from indigenous grapes will please the “vinoholics“.
Address: 4th floor, Galleria shopping mall, Ligovsky prospect, 30A, St Petersburg, Russia.
Contact: Tel: + 7 (812) 677 73 72
Opening hours: Daily from 10am until last client.

Mansarda: modern dining with a historic vista in St Petersburg

View of St. Isaac church from Mansarda
Atmosphere: Contemporary urban setting with a spectacular view of the St Isaac’s cathedral golden cupola create fresh atmosphere and modern vibe. The restaurant is located on the top of a modern office building, therefore there is glass everywhere. Built by PiuArch (+ARCH) studio famous for their collaboration with Dolce&Gabanna fashion brand, it is a trendy place to dine at. The fashionable open kitchen concept separated just by a glass wall lets curious diners to peak on the chef’s working room. The service is professional and most of them speak English very well.
Modern interior of Mansarda
Food: Tiny modern portions on larger plates in which Italian, Japanese and Mediterranean cuisines blend. As a part of the Ginza project restaurant group owning most of the good restaurants in town, Mansarda attracts with an international fare that is attractively presented. The freshest ingredients such as seafood and vegetables are the core of the dining concept. Everything from the delicious Salmon tartare to grilled fish and lobster pasta is prepared in a light fashion for modern diners.
Salmon tartare at Mansarda
The salmon tartare is served with healthful rye bread, mango shavings and thick sweet balsamic vineigarette. The fish is of a superb quality and the bread was slightly toasted fitting perfectly with the oily fish. I only had a lunch there so did not try many deities, but from what we had we were markedly impressed. The desserts looked tempting, yet we were saving some space for a sweet treat after our dinner, so we resisted (very unsual for me, so I must thank my friend for supporting me).
Cuisine: Modern international
Visit: May 2013
Price: Very high (fancy place in St Petersburg located in the building of Gazprom offices is naturally expensive).
Drinks: A good selection of wines by the glass and pricey European wines feature on the list. From France, through Italy and Germany you will find a good selection of mostly European top wines. During a lunchtime on a hot day we felt like a crisp and fresh white wine so we went for a half-bottle of Pinot Grigio from one of my favourite producers of this Italian white wine Livio Felluga. Served cool in the right temperature and maintained in an ice bucket, it was the best think we could dream about on a summer temperature stricken city like that.
Address:  3 Pochtamtskaya st., St Petersburg, Russia.
Contact: Tel: +7 (812) 946 43 03
Opening hours: Mon- Sun: 12pm – 1am

Palkin: savouring gastronomic history of St Petersburg

Palkin bar
Atmosphere: As you climb the grandiose stairs into a second floor, you will be welcomed by an elegant classic bar and pompous dining rooms where a pianist plays on an old piano. Your mindset will be virtually transferred into an aristocratic fine dining establishment bringing you back to the 19th century. The age of Franco – Russian mutual cultural and gastronomic exchange is imprinted not just on the menu, but also on the restaurant’s antique decorations. It is grand, elegant and the service is very attentive. Still after 220 years Palkin remains as luxurious as ever.
Shchi Russian cabbage soup
Food: Foie gras, truffles and beef mingle with game, smoked Sterlet Sturgeon fish and other gastronomic delicacies suggesting an upper-class dining experience. You can also go traditional and try a Shchi, which is an old Russian style sauerkraut soup, long baked in the oven with a puff pastry top. On the top of that the soup is served in a truly Russian style with a shot of powerful Rye Malt Vodka Polugar. It is really an enjoyable and interesting soup.
The current vogue of molecular cuisine has infiltrated even traditional establishments like Palkin as your palate cleanser in a form of raspberry sorbet emerges from the obscurity of a foggy haze running out of a bucket on your table. What a show! The sorbet is quite good as well and gets your mouth ready for your main course.
A surprise sorbet before the main course
The main courses range from the very traditional dishes such as beef Stroganoff to more opportunistic and for foreigners quite exotic-sounding Sterlet Sturgeon. Our curiosity won us over and we had to try the smoked sturgeon fish. Nevertheless, whether it was a good or a bad decision remains disputable for us. Our thirst for trying something new was quenched, yet our taste was not impressed. The smoked fish was rather fishy and oily, serving it with a heavy creamy sauce did not helped it, rather the opposite. On the plate it looked quite scary, almost like an eel and if I were to compare it to any fish it would be this particularly rich tasting long fish. Our conclusion was that a sturgeon should lay as many eggs as it can since caviar is a much tastier product of its being than the fish in itself.
Smoked sturgeon fish
For a complete gourmet experience the five-course special menu changing seasonally and paired with thematically selected wines is an intriguing option. Most of the dishes are traditionally served from trolley trays brought next to your table adding to the already “special” feel of the restaurant.
Cuisine: Russian with French gastronomic influences
Visit: Mai 2013
Price: High (anything in Russia that designates itself as a “fine dining” or  simply is a nice looking restaurant is very expensive).
Drinks:  The wine list impresses and markedly shrinks your valet. There are some reasonably priced wines such as the dry Rieslings from Germany that we got and enjoyed with our meals a lot. There are half-bottles as well, so you do not need to overdo it right from the start and move to a bottle or a glass of red if you want. An aperitif in the form of champagne is also offered before your meal, so count your glasses and do not forget to include the shot of vodka with your soup, otherwise you might find it difficult to descend the steps when leaving the restaurant.
Address: 47 Nevsky Prospekt, St Petersburg, Russia.
Contact: Tel: + 7 (812) 703 53 71
Opening hours: Daily: 12noon -11:30pm

Tsar: dining like a royalty in St Petersburg

Tsar's opulent interior
Ambiance: As its name suggests Tsar is a fine dining restaurant in an authentic grandiose Russian style. Portraits of Russian tsars and royal gatherings around large tables overflowing with food adorn the wooden walls, chandeliers bring light into a heavily decorated dim room, stucco ceilings are supported by pairs of sculpted angels and an old piano in front of a majestic fireplace, these all highlight this truly royal room.
Caviar degustation at Tsar
Food: At Tsar the pomp does not end with the surroundings as your drinks are served in heavy crystal glasses and food on colourful hand painted russian porcelain.
The “Degustation of caviar” is a must, although pricey (RUB 4.800/person), it is a rare occasion for anyone appreciating these costly mini eggs of sturgeon. At the same time you can compare three different types of Russian caviar. Everyone can find his/her favourite – sevruga, oscietra or belluga? They all taste different, so it is worth trying. Belluga is extremely rare, its eggs are the largest and are light grey to nearly black with a fine skin that melts delicately in the mouth. Osciatra has a subtle walnuts and creamy flavour. It comes from the smallest sturgeon whose grey-black eggs are fine grained. They taste distinctively salty. Sevruga is the least expensive, yet highly prized for the unique somewhat earthy flavour. Served with the fluffiest pancakes, dark rye toasts glass of champagne or vodka and cranberry juice (all included in the price) the meal becomes a royal affair.
Sardines salad with potatoes
Another traditional delicacy worth trying at tsar is the Russian borscht soup. The red beat soup with chunks of cabbage, tomatoes and other vegetables is here served with meat. It is refreshing and not too heavy as one can add as much of sour-cream as he wants, since it is served on side. Also served with a small shiny bun, these who find it too sour can tame its power with a bite of this bread. I found an ideal pairing with a glass of round red wine such as Bordeaux better than the bun as it worked similarly withs its fruity character balancing off the slight sourness of the soup.
Russian Borscht soup
Many russian style salads with mayonnaise, potatoes and fish feature on the menu as well as Beef Stroganoff, a meat dish in sour cream and tomato sauce, that fills anyone’s hungry belly. Often it is eaten with potatoes and raw vegetables such as peas, sauerkraut and cucumber.
The tsar's seat at Tsar restaurant
Cuisine: Russian traditional
Visit: May 2013
Price: Very high (any nice restaurant in Russia is very expensive).
Drinks: Try one of the russian “champagnes” and wines featured on the wine list or a shot or a couple of local vodka. The friendly waiter will surely recommend you an intriguing vodka and russian food pairing. The russian bubbles are fun to try, yet not as complex as a vintage champagne from its true region in France. These sparkling wines taste wonderfully with the fluffy blinis.
Opening hours: Daily from 8:00am until last guest (this is is what I call hospitality – the guest is really treated like a the king here).
Address: 12 Sadovaya st., 191023, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Contact: Tel: + 7 (812) 930 04 44

Russian 'champagne' and Russian 'madeira'

It may seem quite unusual, but nowadays you can really find a russian champagne or russian madeira on the shelves of wine shops.
During my visit of the London International Wine Fair this week I stumbled upon Russian stand and my curiosity whispered into my consciousness to skip the renowned French, Italian, Spanish and Californian wines in exchange for something more exotic.
Russian wines surely seemed to my inner persona of an explorer as an appealing adventure when I carefully examined Russian letters on the labels. You might have heard about Russian vodka but wine? What more – a champagne and madeira?
To be in alignment with the EU law it was not champagne what I tasted there. Since this sparkling wine does not come from the famous region in France, but from a Southern part or Russia near to the border with Ukraine. But, who said that Russia is part of the EU?
Let’s leave terms and look at taste. “Russians like it sweet and easy” – that was the message an exhibitor for Chateau Tamagne was sending to every customer visiting his stand. I can confirm, they really do.
Russian stand at LIWF 2011
First, I tried a red Rouge de Tamagne’ demi-sec (half-dry) wine. It was very juicy with strawberries and other red fruits tingling my palette. Interestingly in their brochure it is recommended to pair with “green cheeses”. Excuse me my ignorance, but I have to travel to Russia to taste some of these. To my knowledge, here in Europe, there are not any “green cheeses”. Perhaps it is something similar to blue cheeses such as Gorgonzola and Stilton.
I am appealing all my Russian readers for explanation.
Moving to the “Russian champagne” I was told that the most popular was a demi-doux (half-sweet) Chateau Tamagne. It was quite similar to the previous juicy red wine, but the tingle was much more intense with bubbles in this sparkling wine. It was more fizzy than bubbly though. If you don’t like dry champagne and love it sweet as the Russians do, this is an ideal drink for you.
In the super-sweet range my taste buds were in heaven. Traminer Chateau Tamagne was a very concentrated dessert wine with honeysuckle, dried exotic fruits such as papaya and aromatic rose petals dominating the palette. As the brochure describes it as having “a prominent dessert dominant”. Very descriptive, indeed. Perhaps, it is like when you eat a steak and have a crème brulèe at the same time. I have not tried it but I guess the sweet dessert would beat up the meat.
When I mentioned a Madeira producer on the other side of the exhibition hall, that I have tasted a ‘Russian Madeira’, he was highly amused and dedicated to give it a try. What these two have in common is the method of making – the oxidation plays the main role, therefore the fortified wine lasts forever. The location and complexity is different though. The 2001 reserve I have tried was not made out of the Madeira’s noble grape varieties. It was pleasant on the palette, but as my taste proved only 10 minutes later at the stand of a real Madeira producer D’Olivieras, it did not match the complexity, length and pleasure of the original.
Something special at the end – Chateau Tamagne had also some church wine to taste on the fair. Exceeding 16% of alcohol it must have been a pleasure for all the Russian priests drinking it during the church service. It was an intense red wine, but I do not think I will become a priest in order to enjoy it on a daily basis.
It was encouraging to see a less-known wine producing country being present on such an important event for the world wine trade and hopefully we will see more unusual wines in the years to come.
To learn more about Kuban-Vino, one of the largest wine companies in Russia, who owns Chateau Tamagne look at this YouTube video.

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