Wine + Russians = does not compute. Of course it shouldn't be so, because Russians have loved the fruit of the vine for centuries, the Tsars themselves owned vineyards although Mikhail Gorbachev dug them up and burnt them, and was rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize for doing so. Russia even produces decent wines, although you have to look hard for them (the Krasnodar Krai is a rewarding place to begin your search where Australian winemakers are now guiding the process). Yet despite all this, it's hard to think of the Hollywood movie where the Russian character's favourite tipple is an elegant Barolo. Wine is in the final analysis - an alien pastime for many Russians a fact to which La Bottega are neatly attuned. Even the blackboard of specials chalked-up outside is in English. Bottega is aimed very clearly at an expat clientele, plus those Muscovites who hanker after their summer holidays in Andalucia as they trudge through the snow. The staff are English-speaking and greet guests cheerfully in English. If you're an expat in Moscow, then this place was made for you. How well was it made? Well, let's see....
The location at White Square outside Belorusskaya Circle Line Metro is almost purpose-made for La Bottega's target market, scattered at the feet of the Towers of Mammon that loom above. Prosperous pin-suited yuppies go scampering homewards past La Bottega's doors and on the evening we visited there seemed to be an exclusively foreign clientele filling out the place.
It's a warm, cheerful and unashamedly louche venue with lots of soft furnishings and red crushed-velvet curtains they may be serious about wine, but the atmosphere is far from stern and severe. There's a mixture of 1970s retro with 1920s Berlin cabaret playing on the sound system this is a barfly lounge where lounging is positively encouraged.
La Bottega is primarily a place you come to enjoy a glass of wine, so we eschewed the other drink options and went straight for the wine list. The wine list is extensive, and their website has the whole thing if you want to check it out. If you aren't in the mood or the visitor-numbers for a bottle, they have a good range of some of their most attractive wines available by the glass and for prices that stand up very well by Moscow standards, with some even coming in under 300 RUB per glass. It's a pricing policy that keeps you there for a second or third glass, and encourages sampling several. I found the Allegrin Veneto Soave 2010 crisp and attractive served ideally chilled, with some fruity notes to it, and priced to enjoy at only 370 RUB per glass. Emilia's preference for reds led her towards a Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2009, further up the price-scale at 470 RUB - but worth it. This is wine that stimulates the palate and prompts the appetite, and so we were quickly surveying the food menu.
As a Wine Bar, La Bottega's menu is extensively slanted towards smaller and lighter dishes you might have on the side with your glass of wine and we enjoyed these appetiser dishes rather more than the main courses. If I went back to Bottega, next time I'd order two starters and skip the main course altogether there's a panache and inventiveness among them that is somehow missing amid the worthy standards of the mains. Outstanding among the starters, and The Most Outrageously Delicious Thing I've Eaten in Months was the Mellow Figs Baked with Gorgonzola & Walnuts
(450 RUB). My relentless curiosity often leads me into ordering the strangest stuff on the menu just to try it - but this time, for once, it paid off the Odd Coupling of tangy fruit with attention-grabbing intense cheese is an unbeatable duo that I've never seen anywhere before you have to try this! In fact it was so magnificently delicious that Emilia ate most of mine. And with good reason she'd ordered a Mixture Of Green Leaves with Parma Ham Gran Riserva & Sheep's Ricotta
(570 RUB)... but the green leaves were mostly chopped Chinese Leaves of clunky unloveliness, and they went unmunched. Surely they could get nicer salad leaves than this? My local supermarket sells them. The salad was crammed into a small deep bowl that made it hard to eat - and barely showed it in an attractive way. A better partner for a serious red wine was the Pear & Gorgonzola Quiche
a substantial slice for 320 RUB, and a meal in itself. It looked a little forlorn just plonked on a dish without even a lettuce-leaf for company, and might have benefited from more attractive presentation but it delivers the goods on the fork.
The wind whistling in from the front door which it does with some ferocity, straight into the seating area was causing a little discomfort by now, and they'll need to fix this before winter draws in. We fortified ourselves with hot dishes and more wine, moving on to a Laughing Magpie Australian d'Arenburg 2007
satisfyingly full and rounded, and worth the 450-RUB price-tag that accompanies it. The main courses which came along with it were less satisfying, however. I'd never seen a veal medallion the size or shape of those which appeared as Veal Medallions in Marsala Sauce
(590 RUB). Full marks for getting the classic Marsala Sauce right, but the veal was very average. I had high hopes of Papardelle with Porcini and Cream Sauce
if it was priced at 530 RUB but it, too, was very ordinary. Scant on the porcini (in a bumper year for porcini), and not very creamy at all. We shared a quite decent panna cotta
dessert for 290 RUB. The fare is bog-standard wine-bar stuff, in fact.
Overall, we felt that La Bottega would be good for sharing a glass of wine with friends, perhaps with a snack course on the side the tables in the bar area are too small for eating main courses anyhow. There's a good selection of wines at prices that encourage you to linger. Unless you are unduly fond of fresh air, you might want to seat yourselves at the larger and more convenient tables which are further from the door. The staff is friendly and cheerful, but you have to keep on their case to make sure they bring what you actually ordered. The huge volume of passing trade from the adjacent office-blocks will probably keep La Bottega packed without them having to try harder than they do.