Now to the important stuff.. the food. I was well and truly excited about checking this place out. There's something about Russian food that makes me nostalgic.
Makes me think of sitting in my grandmother's kitchen, bruised knees, hair in pig tails, in the middle of a sweltering Baku summer. A glass jug of cold cherry compote sweating on the table, golden pancakes of all shapes and flavours, pies and light fluffy dumplings. As both my grannies are Russian their kitchens are perpetually churning out acres of doughy delicacies. So how could I not succumb to reliving the experience, albeit in grander more opulent surroundings.
The interior design of the restaurant is spot-on. It's inexpressibly beautiful and atmospheric, like the 19th Century country retreat of a Russian countess. It is brimming with curious knick-knacks and ornaments, creating the cosy feeling of sitting down to a home cooked meal.
The only problem is that the food does not fit the expectations that the rest of the restaurant creates. Sure, they kindly bought us a round of complimentary vodka shots to get us going and the menu was filled with old favourites. But the food itself was lack-lustre, lacking flavour and nothing particularly blew us away. The herring salad lacked punch and didn't taste of anything. The ikra (aubergine with other vegetables) tasted mushy and I was unable to make out any of the distinct slightly smokey flavours. The beef stroganoff sat forlornly on the plate. The veal liver with truffle was quite nice however. The hacha-puri was also good. The deserts were slightly better, but only if you ordered the 'medovik' (honey cake) or the 'napoleon' (layered pastry with cream); avoid the 'ptichie moloko' (a Russian classic which sinisterly translates as 'bird's milk') as the chef completely and unsuccessfully employed culinary licence.
Would I try the place again? Probably. Being a big believer in second chances I might visit again in a month or so and see if there's been any progress in the kitchen. I really want to like this place, so here's to hoping!