By the mid-C19th, central Siberia was booming. Settlers rights, unlimited free land, freedom for runaway serfs, and tolerance for religious minorities banned in European Russia were just some of the reasons...a gold rush, diamond mines, the post-road to Moscow, and rumours of untold and untapped riches had even stronger appeal. In place of shady taverns and shoddy flophouses, fine eateries and respectable hotels sprang up to cater to Siberia's new bourgeoisie - mine-owners, factory magnates, railway tycoons and families like the Demidovs, whose commercial interests ran far and wide.
“Chemodan” isn't just a Russian-cuisine restaurant – it's specifically a Siberian restaurant, with a menu featuring the freshest river-fish from Siberia's vast rivers and lakes, game dishes from the riches of the taiga forests, pickles and preserves featuring mushrooms and berries that barely even have dictionary names in English. In fact “Chemodan” in Moscow is a branch of the same restaurant in Krasnoyarsk. Well-known actor Oleg Menshikov visited the restaurant there and went in for supper – and loved it so much, that he decided to open another in Moscow. Very frequently movie-actor-owned restaurants are great ideas that fail to work in reality – but in this case, the established know-how and local Siberian expertise that made Chemodan a success in Siberia has transplanted superbly to Moscow.
The individual triumph of Chemodan offering delicious cuisine at medium-high prices (certainly not cheap - but you could easily spend double on dross in Moscow) and without the vacuous ostentation of its rivals. If you want to treat your visiting relatives or business colleagues to fine traditional Russian food, then this is the new pretender to the throne. No waiters in fake C19th livery, no hokum chandeliers, and no twaddle with calling clients “Milord” - this is honest, excellent cooking, on attractive plain white porcelain, with charming and personable multilingual staff in plain black shirts. The dining-room echoes upright provincial excellence of the mid-C19th – no nonsense, but very charming and atmospheric, and a welcome relief from the Theme Park interiors elsewhere. The food is served with quiet, confident pride and expertise – some of the staff are Siberians themselves. The table staff can tell you which rivers the fish come from, and what gives each recipe its special flourish. Restaurants further round the Boulevard Ring will be looking to their laurels – Chemodan will keep them on their toes.
On our waiter's recommendation, we took some house specialities as appetisers – but be warned, some of these dishes come in Siberian-sized portions, and a single appetiser would easily feed two. Emilia instantly warmed to the tenderness of the Venison Carpaccio
(490 RUB), while I dived into a truly Siberian experience – stroganina, cold cuts of naturally-frozen fish. I'd had it before in Siberia with friends, but the Chir – translated on the menu as Blue-Back Salmon Stroganina
, 590 RUB – exceeded all expectations. With an accompanying dipping sauce and seasoning, this was truly delectable eating – fat-free, carb-free, and guilt-free. In fact lightness, delicacies are hallmarks of Chemodan's menu, in sharp contrast to what you may have expected.
Although there's an extensive wine-list, I strongly recommend you to leave it unopened – the correct accompaniments to Siberian food are plain or flavoured vodkas, or the fruit-flavoured alcoholic tipples found in Siberian homes of the nineteenth century. The menu not only lists them, but gives an insightful account, in endearingly wonky English, of how they are made, and the lore and traditions surrounding them. Even long-term expat stalwarts are unlikely ever to have tried Erofeich – but these potent liqueurs were the staple of the Siberian table from the C17th onwards... and pack a powerful 56-percent-proof punch. A superlative accompaniment to my stroganina, in every sense! However, with ladies present we restricted our other drinking to the fruitier tipples with marginally lower alcohol content – Emilia's Honeysuckle Nalivka
(196 RUB) – 26-percent-proof and coming in at a mere was pleasantly tart, while my own Blueberry Nalivka
(180 RUB) was attractively and authentically sweet.
Salads aren't part of the Siberian scene, and probably we should have gone with the delicious-sounding soups on offer instead. Emilia had a Salad with slightly salted Whitefish, Avocado and Sweet Pepper
(490 RUB) – nice enough if you wanted it, but rather out-of-place amid the Siberian specialities. This dish wasn't really too different from what you might make yourself at home. We had a few reservations about the limp green lettuce-leaves, however. They also topped my Warm Salad with Tiger Prawns, Mussels, Mushrooms under Garlic-Soy Sauce
(690 RUB), but were only there for decoration, and I didn't bother with them. Once again, we'd blundered into ordering food that isn't Siberian – unless prawns now live there?
But things were firmly back on an even keel with our waiter-recommended main courses. Steamed Siberian Whitefish
(890 RUB) is one of the most delicate things I've tasted in many a year. In fact it's been smoked before steaming, and was both succulently tender and sophisticated in taste - I could happily eat this every day. And once again – easy on the waistline, served with mouthwatering mushrooms. Emilia found her Grilled Cutlets of Siberian Stag
(890 RUB) a trifle too pink in the middle – but you may find them to your taste, or might request them more well-done? Delicious aromatic black bread came on the side.
For dessert we shared a Walnut Soufflé
, especially as the recipe came from “Exemplary Cuisine of Krasnoyarsk, 1892” - the source of quite a few other house specialities. To go with it while we had very pleasant espresso, and a pot of Guan Yin Iron Bodhisattva Tea
Fine food, fine service, and a warm, relaxed atmosphere – what's not to like? All the ingredients of a memorable meal in Moscow are here – the only thing missing is you. Word is already out about Chemodan, and the place was packed when we went midweek - so be sure to book in the evenings. Or pop along for their 450 RUB Business Lunch (12pm–17pm) instead?