Celebrity chefs are steadily taking over the world’s eating habits – and Russia is no exception. But it’s not all about high profile openings from international brands, like Jamie Oliver’s recent arrival in Moscow. There’s also a strong batch of local contenders, with celebrated actress Julia Vysotskaya leading the way.
Vysotskaya comes from the ‘yummy mummy’ school of cookery, one of those domestic goddesses who manages to whip up delicious looking food on long-running TV shows while still looking effortlessly gorgeous in the process. The brand, which has long encompassed cook books, culinary tourism and signature kitchenware, also powers the Food Embassy restaurant – one of the flagships of Moscow’s post-pafosny food revolution.
The Vystoskaya brand seeks to promote an idealised yet attainable life – and that principle is obvious from the approach to the restaurant. It fits well into the switch in focus in the city’s dining scene, where an exaggerated homely vibe is steadily – and thankfully – replacing the overdressed to impress venues of recent years. As such Food Embassy, with its plain wooden interior and artfully arranged ‘babushka’s dacha’ knick-knacks cleverly plays on the illusions of what life might be like for Moscow’s middle class if it wasn’t stuck in cramped apartments in a sprawling metropolis. Even the weekend entertainment for kids is aspirational – clowns and balloons replaced by classes in Oshibana, a Japanese art of making pictures from pressed flowers, leaves and seeds. Large windows, lots of natural light and views of a botanical garden from the upper levels complete the effect – it’s not an unattainable Rublyovka mansion, it’s just a slightly nicer version of the family ‘cottedzh’ you might be able to afford yourself.
That’s very much the charm of the place. The menu, which has echoes of a gastro-pub that perhaps reflect the legacy of the English chef who helped set up the kitchen here, offers dishes that are interesting, and more complicated than you could be bothered to cook for yourself, but that nonetheless don’t leave you feeling lack a slack-jawed yokel in the presence of great sophisticates. And, after all, if you enjoy your dinner you can always buy the book, keep it in your kitchen and never quite around to recreating the feast for yourself.
Most importantly, though, the food is excellent. Whether the image strikes you as sublime or ‘Stepford Wives’, there’s no arguing about what arrives on the plate. The Rabbit in the Woods
looked terrific, with a green foam of pureed fennel and clusters of berries creating a sylvan backdrop for the meat. And what meat! Tenderly cooked to perfection, sliding off the bone at the first touch of a fork and melting in the mouth. The recipe books, no doubt, suggest that this is straightforward; experience shows that serving any meat like this demands a chef on top of his game.
That dish alone would be worth returning for and its quality suggests that the rest of the menu deserves greater attention. However, the supporting acts also justified their place on the cast list. Warming, nourishing soups for the winter months – the Creamed Pea and Smoked Ham Soup
was a rare treat, especially for someone who isn’t a big soup lover. A diverse range of salads that combines local favourites – herring, beetroot and potato could hardly be more stolidly Russian without being slathered in mayo – and international hits. That doesn’t just mean yet another Caesar; the list also includes Food Embassy’s take on the flagship Cobb Salad
inspired by the famed 192 Notting Hill restaurant in London.
The drinks selection is also worth browsing – and this is a place that takes care to offer a good range of non-alcoholic drinks as well. My wife was intrigued and impressed with a halva-flavoured coffee
, setting aside her common grumble that coffee should taste of coffee (and, by implication, halva of halva) for this unusual but effective combination. The ginger
lemonade, a fairly common feature on Moscow menus, was also one of the best examples I’ve tried: a refreshing lemony kick to start with and a slow, warming tang of ginger in the after-taste rather than the oversweetened, under-flavoured offerings found elsewhere. For a lunch meeting or a designated driver, the soft drinks menu is a winner; for those on the booze, the cocktails come with a good reputation.
There’s an extensive terrace and, as mentioned above, it’s next to the botanical gardens on Prospect Mira. With our long-awaited spring finally looking like it might be here to stay, Food Embassy is coming into its own as a place for good food in the open air and is definitely worth checking out for a lazy weekend lunch or a convivial catch-up dinner with a group of friends.