I can't make risotto. The most acceptable of my failures come out like a sorely-unspiced pilaf
– the more disastrous ones are more like an asian congee rice porridge. But since I really like risotto I've been driven to experiment at home with different recipes and various allegedly “no-fail” authentic Italian risotto rice brands... until now. For only 550 RUR my risotto fixation can be swiftly and sated with as perfectly-prepared a dish as you'd find in Milan or Florence – without going beyond Trubnaya metro. There will be some who see 550 RUR as very expensive for a dish of rice – for myself, I see it as a huge saving on the airfare to Rome.
I mention all this apropos
of Coffeemania being essentially a smartly informal place to eat – that incidentally happens to serve great coffee too. Those who already know their “original” cafe on Bolshaya Nikitskaya (adjacent to the Moscow Conservatoire) will know the fun-style pseudo-industrial interior (exposed pipework and metal-grille decor) – but the new branch at Trubnaya offers an entirely new ambience. The funkiest of Frank Lloyd-Wright's interior designs have been raided mercilessly to create a warm and relaxed feel of natural mid-brown woods (cedar, pearwood, and others) with recessed lighting that recalls some kind of cocktail lounge in an early Pink Panther
movie. The shopping-mall design elements of the Plaza outside (apparently a rejected design for Khanty-Mansiysk airport Duty-Free?) remain firmly where they belong – outside.
Ever-loyal to its bistro-style roots, Coffeemania is quite happy to serve just drinks or short-orders – and the bar menu would be very welcome for anyone dropping in after the adjacent shops in the Plaza, with a great selection of long and short drinks, wines, spirits and other drinks. With my dining companion delayed in New Year traffic, I plunged straight into the menu's recommended white wine for my risotto - Garafol Serra Fiores
(570 RUR), and my starter course - Salad Bakinsky
(ie in a “Baku” style) - 510 RUR - arrived alongside my friend. Both of these were close shaves - my friend's timing, and the slices of smoked halibut that made up the centrepiece of a nobly low-calorie salad for which I gained brownie points with her. The rest of my salad was composed of juicy tomatoes, dill, and sweet red onion flakes - a nice basket of sesame white bread and rich aromatic borodinsky came automatically. Meanwhile on the other side of the table, a delicious cider cocktail appeared - a Hotel Ritz Hemingway
special at just 370 RUR, surely the best bargain in the drinks menu!
I was pleased to see Coffeemania devoting the kind of detailed attention to risotto that it deserves - the waitress kindly advising me that mine was now at the exact moment of readiness for the table. Friendship is a fine thing, but risotto waits for no man and I urged it onwards in spite of all societal prejudice in favour of waiting for one's friends. No mistake either, because Moscow's most sumptuous Mushroom Risotto
(570 RUR) came to the table accompanied by a generously-unrestricted bowl of freshly-grated parmesan. Not even the arrival of Crab Jumbo
(530 RUR) opposite could distract me from savouring every last mouthful of the risotto, although I generously agreed to indulge in conversation once it was sadly gone. The soft-shelled crab itself was a wonderful thing, served in a light tempura batter on cos lettuce leaves... from my viewpoint as an observer the entire thing was a picture of deliciousness, although the actual diner-behind-the-plate claimed she'd have preferred her whole cos-leaves sliced for ease of consumption. Such are the dilemmas facing the modern aesthete at her supper. With my risotto craving duly discharged, and running one dish behind my companion (a nicety with which the table staff coped seamlessly) I was able to relax and admire the interior decorations whilst my colleague tucked eagerly into a favourite dish from the Coffeemania “old place” - Corleone
, a classic escalope of veal served with hand-made pasta and field mushrooms, and worth all of the satisfied drooling sounds at 730 RUR.
We skipped desserts in favour of coffee and tea - but you may not feel so pressured, and there is Coffeemania's legendary selection of in-house patisserie to edge you towards temptation so extremely easily.
Freed of dining duties temporarily, I surveyed the dining-room in search of the answer to my question - who is Coffeemania for? To my western eyes it's considerably more relaxed and informal than many Russians would accept as a “restaurant” - but many of the diners there were clearly on romantic dates, whilst the larger (and, err clumsier-looking) group tables went unoccupied the entire time. Have credit-crunched couples moved their eating expectations down a price-notch - or have Russians finally begun to abandon pompous pretention as an essential to their dining? Whichever is the case, the Coffeemania formula is clearly not only surviving, but moving ever onwards and upwards - and taking a loyal public along with it.
So what's good here? Almost everything, really - a standard of cuisine (achieved with a newly-imported kitchen set-up) that knocks spots off places costing double the price, an informality of style and ambience that belies cheerful smiley efficiency at the table; a range of menu items that covers everything from European bistro favourites, Italian trattoria classics and a delicate range of asian dishes; genuinely separate smoking and non-smoking areas; and underlying all of this, a quality-driven at which the client's happy mood and comfort are in the driving seat. And the downsides? Conservative diners in search of starched whites and silverware won't find any of that here... and the price of wine by the glass doesn't encourage refills. However, the Hemingway cocktails are priced to comfort the credit-crunched at a feel-very-good-indeed eaterie that quickly feels like your favourite place in town.