Best for a family lunch
The pioneer of Moscow’s field to table movement is Lavkalavka (Petrovka St, 21/2), a lively organic restaurant and shop 10 minutes walk from the Kremlin. On weekends it is packed with families, the adults catching up over local beers such as the fantastically named Atomic Laundry, whilst their kids cause inoffensive chaos. There’s an air of Shoreditch here – big beards are certainly de rigeur – and if you venture into the kitchen you’ll meet a young chef, Vladimir Chistaykov, whose tattoos betray his profession: he’s been inked with a selection of favourite ingredients, his kitchen knives and a grater!
The food at Lavkalavka is contemporary Russian. Beetroot, sour cream, dill and spelt wheat all make their appearance, of course, but the blending of flavours is exquisite and presentation is done with a flair. Even if you’ve turned your nose up at Russian cuisine before, Lavkalavka is guaranteed to convert you, and you may well find that that leisurely lunch rolls straight on into dinner.
Best for a romantic dinner
Michelin-starred restaurants are renowned for breaking the bank, but in Moscow you can eat in one of the world’s Top 50 restaurants for scarcely more than a gastro pub blow-out in London. White Rabbit (Smolenskaya St, 3) takes its inspiration from Alice in Wonderland and both the venue and the menu are full of surprises as chef Vladimir Mukhin makes his culinary magic.
When you find your way through the warren, treat your date to the tasting menu. English-speaking waiters present a selection of the day’s ingredients to you on platters as though they were fine wines: we were shown a particularly glorious string of red onions. When you choose your dish you learn where every ingredient has come from, and this attention to detail continues through to the flavours: regardless of how you feel about foie gras, the flakes of it accompanied by meringue made from organic chestnut honey are the best I’ve ever tasted, and the seared red mullet melted away on the tongue. Desert came as a wonderful surprise: what you see and what you taste may not be the same thing!
Best for a light bite
If you’re a little peckish but inclined towards a snack rather than a full meal, head to the O2 Lounge (Tverskaya St, 3) on the rooftop of the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Without a shadow of doubt the best located bar in the city, the summer terrace looks down over the walls of the Kremlin, and you can see straight across to St. Basil’s. Chef de Cuisine Florence Courriol is a true genius when it comes to fusion food, and has managed to perfectly combine Peruvian and Japanese cuisines. The result are flavours you will never forget, fresh and with a certain spicy bite. Be sure to pair your dishes with a cocktail or two from the O2’s inventive cocktail menu: how could anyone resist a Voland, or a twisted White Russian with local grain distillate Polugar?
Best for food and wine
Cafe Russe (Tverskaya St, 3) looks at first glance like an historic dining room, with stylish artworks decorating the wall and a dark, slightly moody atmosphere. You can come here for a long, drawn out dinner or, as I prefer, for a tasting of Russian wines, each one set off by a different savoury dish. The Russian Tsars had their imperial vineyards on the shores of the Black Sea, so Russia has a long history of wine production. Moscow’s sommeliers and wine lovers are rediscovering the delight of pairing Russians foods and Russian wines. The 2011 Raevskoye Renessans and the 2012 Vedernikov Krasnostop Zolotovskiya are particularly fine: the latter has won numerous international wine awards, and quite understandably so. It is smooth on the palate with a rich colour.
NEED TO KNOW
All EU and Australian nationals need a visa for Russia, and you have to apply for this in person at the VFS Visa Centre in London. Once this formality is out of the way, the rest is pretty straightforward.
Direct flights from London to Moscow take 3.5 hours and out of peak periods you can fly with Easyjet for as little as £52 each way. There are AeroExpress trains from all three of Moscow’s airports into the centre of the city, with tickets costing £4.20.
At weekends you can check into the Ritz Carlton (www.ritzcarlton.com) from £232 and the location and luxury mean it is worth every single penny. If your budget won’t stretch quite that far, however, World Escape (www.worldescape.com) has a number of short stay apartments to rent, including near the popular Arbat.