The First Moscow Supperclubs

Post date: 22-Nov-2011 09:57:26

22nd Feb 2014

Photo: Reuters

When I first visited Moscow in 1992, it was feast and famine. This was not long after Perestroika, and private enterprise hadn't really taken hold yet. It was the times of 2 mile long queues to their first ever MacDonalds - and there were reasons for that, not just the novelty of MacDonalds. Had I found it, even I might have queued. I was starving.

Every day I went out sightseeing. We had brought a suitcase full of M&S food for our hosts, so every morning I opened the fridge, surveyed what we had brought, and closed it again. It didn't seem fair to eat their precious M&S when I could eat it every day at home. So I went out hungry. And I stayed that way - all day. Almost the only restaurants we ever ate in were hidden away, in basements, they often appeared to be someone's flat. The supper club movement was in Moscow long before it was ever in London. Unless someone took you, you would never find them so we waited hungrily to meet our friends at night. All day, whilst we were alone being tourists, we had no idea where to eat. There were 3 options for sale on the streets, none of them particularly appealing:

1) there was tinned caviar. In those days a tin cost US$10. I shudder to think what it costs now. Of course there was nothing to actually eat it WITH, nor did I travel with a tinopener.

2) there were large salamis. Like - the size of your forearm. Presumably designed to feed proper-sized Russkies. Again, nothing to eat it with, and no penknife.

3) there was ICE CREAM. Yes, it was -18C, and the Muscovites were eating ice cream. For me, coming from the tropics, the wierdest thing about all of this is that they were standing on street corners, selling them out of PLASTIC BAGS. I was so used to big insulated ice boxes, it seemed wierder that they could sell them out of plastic bags than that anyone would even eat them.

Once, we did find a half-oildrum in which someone was cooking shashlik for sale. We devoured it - but didn't dare ask what kind of meat it was.

On New Year's Eve, 1992, we went to see the Nutcracker at the Bolshoi. It was like sailing in a sea of red velvet. Then we crossed Red Square and went to The Metropol Hotel, where Rasputin famously held court. In their Grand Ballroom, with the legendary glass roof, we ate, with the nouveau riche of Moscow's newly capitalist society, our New Year's banquet, the biggest meal I've ever had. The menu was even longer than our supperclub menus (I still have it somewhere) and it included an enormous bowl of caviare, which I remember one of the beautiful ladies on our table ate languidly, with a silver spoon, working her way through it. The blinis were mysteriously missing, to show up far too late. On the next table to us, there was a beautiful young girl with rather too much makeup. She was with an old man. They barely talked, and at midnight, she quietly started crying.

There was cabaret, and dancing. We left at 3am, and the food was still coming. Moscow also didn't have taxis in those days and the poor doorman had to stand in the falling snow, hailing passing cars, until he could find someone to take us home to the starvation land of M&S for a negotiated fee.

We have a donation of some salmon caviare for you and we will have a Russian menu with a few interesting foreign influences (not MacDonalds!) to warm you all up in February. Also you get to taste the very special Torte Napoleon which takes hours to make, and is composed of 16 separately baked layers of pastry.

One of my Russian friends says my borscht is better than her mother's...

Pitchoneie Griby (v) - baked mushrooms

Vinigrette (v) - Beet salad with a host of other ingredients, judging by the name some French influence here

Olivier (v) - the classic "Russian Salad" - rated the best he'd ever had by Aleksandr Popov (that's because we make our own mayonnaise)

Koreiskeiya Morkov (v) - the ubiquitous but mysteriously named "Korean Carrot Salad" - they don't have such a thing in Korea. My friend maintains it's the Russian equivalent of Chicken Tikka Masala (it doesn't exist in India); you can get it everywhere in Russia.

Blini , Salmon Caviare and Home-Cured Salmon

Classic Russian Borscht (v option available)

Gulupsi - Stuffed cabbage leaves with pork and beef - tasty and filling, a classic dish found all over the Russian Empire

Kasha and Cotelette - whole buckwheat with meat patties, a typical homestyle dish. Buckwheat will surprise you.

Mushroom Stroganoff (v)

Sharlotke - Russian Apple cake

The Absolut classic Napoleon Torte - more foreign influence here - apparently NOT named after Napoleon, but the city of Naples (10/10 says Oksana Sytnik when she tasted left-overs)

Price will be £45 of which £35 will go direct to MSF.

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