Gennady Jozefavichus

A globetrotting writer, TV presenter and MC, Moscow-based Gennady Jozefavichus has brought Russia to the world and vice-versa. He has written books on European gastronomy, contributed to food and lifestyle titles around the world, and is a member of judging panels for both international and Russian restaurant awards. He’s also the perfect man to show you the finer points of eating and drinking in the former Soviet capital.

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Welcome to Russia

Moscow has always been the centre of the Soviet empire. It’s a mixture of hundreds of different cuisines and dining traditions from the Kazakhs to Ukraine. A nice time to come is June and July when it is warm and the days are long and the nights are short. The Indian summer in September is nice, of course, as is October when the trees are yellow and red and you can enjoy all the parks and gardens. If you want to catch a Russian winter, come January or February. Between January 1 and 10 there are literally no locals because it’s a holiday and there is no traffic at all. A drive that might take an hour normally will take just 10 minutes. Museums and restaurants are all open so just come to enjoy. As we say, there is no bad time of the year to visit, just bad clothes.

A Famous Moscow Food Landmark

The most famous Russian food place among tourists is Cafe Pushkin. It’s named after Russia’s most famous poet and opened in June 1999 on the day of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Pushkin. The monument to Pushkin as well as Pushkin Square are both nearby. It’s one of the oldest restaurants in Moscow. We have very little left from the Soviet times following the conflicts of the 90s. The restaurant looks like it came from the 19th Century and has always been there. The interiors. The theatrical staff uniforms and the food which is either Russian food with a French touch or French food with a Russian touch. In the 19th Century, French was the language of the Russian aristocracy and French chefs were the chefs at most of the known Russian restaurants or private chefs. Cafe Pushkin serves Russian classics like pozharsky (chicken cutlets), beef stroganoff and borscht (beetroot soup), but the way these dishes are presented and the way the ingredients are treated are very much French. So lots of onions and butter. It isn’t typical comfort Russian food but more refined. The restaurant is also open 24-7 so you can enjoy your borscht at 4am in the morning. Every year on New Year’s Day, I go to Pushkin for early dinner with friends. I usually book a big table and tell everybody to come at 5 or 6pm. We’ll have maybe 10, 12 or 14 people around the table and share things like fermented vegetables, salted herrings, warm potatoes, caviar, blinis and cabbage soup.

Another Essential Moscow Restaurant

Doctor Zhivago is like a response to Cafe Pushkin. If Cafe Pushkin is Russian-French food of 19th Century, then Doctor Zhivago serves Soviet-era food. I took some friends here for breakfast and had blini (pancakes) made of rye and wheat; osteria caviar; pressed caviar – a paste made using damaged eggs – and we had smetana (crème fraiche). You eat smetana with your borscht. You eat it with caviar. You eat it with strawberries. You eat it with everything. We also had two kinds of kasha: one was buckwheat with ceps and the other one was millet with pumpkin. We also had a little cheesecake made with tvorog (quark) which has a lot of uses too. We also had a fish pie called kulebyaka which is kind of like our pithivier and made up of three layers. The upper level is made of cabbage. The middle level is made of salmon and vyaziga (the spinal cords of sturgeon) and the lower level is made of rice. Every layer is wrapped in a very thin pancake and then it’s all wrapped in dough and baked. It’s cut into slices and served with a very thick fish brother, smetana and a shot of vodka. It’s a classic Russian dish and every chef has a recipe for kulebyaka. The restaurant is also open 24-7. It’s not a very big restaurant and has maybe 80 seats, but on a busy day, they will have 700 covers in 24 hours.

Taste Your Way Across The Soviet Union

Virtually curated by Stalin, The Book Of Tasty And Healthy Food is the best-known cookbook from the Soviet era. It was first printed in 1939 but mass printing took place in 1952: a time of poverty and when the country was in ruins. However the book was filled with pictures of opulent tables full of food, wine, cognac, fruits, vegetables, suckling pigs, osietra caviar and whatever. People joked at the time that it was a fairy tale book about Soviet cuisine. Voskhod celebrates this sort of opulence. Vosakhod means sunrise and is also the name of one of the first spaceships that the Soviet Union sent to space. The restaurant is in Zarydye, the new park built at the former site of the Hotel Rossiya which was the biggest hotel in Europe and had 3,000 rooms. The restaurant represents the cuisines of 15 different republics of the Soviet Union but with some twists. There are a lot of different things to try: modernised but made according to today’s needs. Everything else is influenced by the 60s, 70s and 80s. The interior is modernist. There’s live music and the band plays quite loud. You can even buy space food from the vending machine and bring home some borscht in a tube.

The City’s Hardest Reservation To Book

If chefs are visiting Moscow, I would take them to Chef’s Table, the 18-seat counter restaurant and open kitchen inside the same buidling as White Rabbit (number 13, World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019). Chef’s Table was created by Vladamir Murkhin to give opportunities to every head chef in the group to cook a tasting menu [other restaurants in the group include Gorynich – see below – and Selfie]. If you want to have the real food of Vladamir Mukhin, you have to go here when he’s cooking. It’s really enjoyable. He’s quite charismatic and is a good storyteller and an excellent chef. He only cooks three or four times a month and for only 18 people, so it’s usually booked months and months ahead.

Playing With Fire

Gorynich is a new restaurant named after a mythological, three-headed fire-breathing dragon. The interior design features characters from Russian fairy tales and there are a lot of flames and fires. There’s a huge pizza oven which is based on a big stone that serves a lot of pizzas with fancy toppings that mix traditions and terroirs, so it could be something like pizza with kimchi and tuna from Russia’s far east. It’s quite a popular place now that serves comfort food and has a club music playing. You can have everything from breakfast to late supper there, or you can just go by to buy some bread. The restaurant bakes excellent bread.

The Ultimate Food Market

Depo is one of Moscow’s newest and biggest food markets and is based inside a former tram depot. It has zillions of stalls from ramen and Vietnamese pho to shrimps and sea urchins from far eastern Russia to Georgian cheese pies and Uzbek pilaf. There are also shops that you can buy things to take home. The whole complex is very well-serviced. You can take a trolley, buy your foodstuffs and then bring it to the delivery counter and staff will pack it and, while you’re having your lunch, deliver it home to you via a courier in one or two hours. Next to the market is a restaurant called Crab Kutaby. A kutaby is a pie that looks like a crab and has two layers of very fine dough with some stuffing in between. The classic stuffing is usually finely chopped herbs or a thin layer of cheese, but here it’s made with crab meat. It also does fried pies with crabmeat and you can have your crab cooked any way you like. It’s a very, very popular place.

A Seafood Paradise

Another popular place serving crab is Wine & Crab which is owned by the famous Berezutskiy brothers that run Twins Garden (number 19, World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019). The restaurant has around a thousand labels of wines from simple Russian sparkling wines to Romanee-Conti [a renowned producer in Burgundy] and crabs. There are maybe nine different kinds of crabs from the north of Russia to its far east. Some like the king crabs are live but most are frozen. They can cook the crab in classic ways like steamed or they can also cook them in experimental ways such as crab with ajika – a Georgian and southern Russian red chilli spice mix that’s pounded in a mortar until it becomes a paste. Ajika can be a dry paste or it could be more like a liquid, but it’s quite unusual to cook crabs with it. There are two restaurants. The first is on the most luxurious little street in Moscow where Yves Saint Laurent, Tiffany, Bulgari and Armani are based, and there’s another one at Barvikha Luxury Village which is about 45 minutes from the city centre.

Where I Go For Italian Food And Service

The Italian restaurant Probka is close to home and is one of my favourite places. Like the French word “bouchon”, probka is Russian for the cork in a bottle of wine as well as a traffic jam. The restaurateur is from Saint Petersburg where he first opened Probka, then he opened in Moscow 10 years ago. The pizzas are good and thin-based and the pasta is also very good. Most important of all is the attentive service. He always wins prizes for service at things like the GQ Restaurant Awards.

An Introduction To Natural Wine In Russia

There’s a growing natural wine scene in Russia. The main natural wine festival is called Gorizont. The people behind the festival are the biggest advocates for natural wine in Russia and also import it. They have amazing places in Moscow and Saint Petersburg called Big Wine Freaks which is a wine bar with food. Another place they have is called Max’s Beef For Money. The butcher’s name is Max and he has a couple of farms in Kallingrad and Saint Peterbsurg where they rejuvenate old dairy cows that they buy. The age the beef in ageing cabinets right in the restaurant and serve it along with natural wines. There are a few wine producers on the natural side of things. The most known is Pavel Shvets of Uppa Winery who produces a private label for Twins Garden and White Rabbit. He makes a lot of nice wines including an orange gewürztraminer. Some say he makes the best pinot noir in Russia.

One Of Russia’s Most Gifted Chefs

Another restaurant I go to is called Severyane. The name means “people from the north” and the restaurant is designed a bit like a traditional Russian northern home. There’s a Russian stove in the centre of the restaurant and it’s almost all-black inside to represent the traditional northern home. During the winter you have very few sources of light and the walls are usually black because there’s a lot of smoke from your Russian stove. The Russian stove is the centre of a Russian home. It’s a heating facility as well as your kitchen because you cook on your stove. Most Russian food isn’t fried or even boiled, but slow-cooked in the oven. So before you go to bed, you put your kacha (Russian porridge made with buckwheat, millet or barley) and it gets cooked overnight slowly and every grain is separate and it’s fragrant, fresh, good and what you need in the morning. My guilty pleasure is the whole roasted chicken that they cook in the stove with roasted vegetables and potatoes. You cannot stop until you finish. The restaurant is quite small and has about 40 seats as well as a communal table for 10. I love this table. Even if I’m alone or there’s two of us, I always sit at the communal table. I love it when strangers join me there. The breakfast is also excellent and the menu is always changing. Georgy Trojan, the chef at Severayene, cooks everything in the stove and I think he is one of the most gifted young chefs in Moscow and Russia. I believe he has quite a bright future.

Celebrating In Style

Beluga is a beautiful restaurant with amazing views to the Kremlin and Red Square and is another place for celebration. It serves 15 different kinds of caviar and it recently introduced a barge puller’s breakfast. It consists of a kilo of caviar, a litre of vodka and a lot of zakuskas – lots of different things that go with vodka such as salted mushrooms, quail eggs, pappardelle made of potatoes, little pies with spinal cord of sturgeon. The whole breakfast costs 40,000 roubles (around €550) which isn’t actually that expensive if you share it with a group. It’s a fun experience and a good way to celebrate something. Chef Anton Kovalkov has just introduced a nose-to-tail sturgeon tasting menu that includes caviar and the spinal cord as well as the fish itself.

Guide last updated November 2019

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