The Expeditsia restaurant which opened recently amid a good deal of publicity, is tucked away in an undisturbed part of the city, just off Solyanka.
The chef, Leon Ek, is of Night Flight fame, which has long boasted a tasty, inexpensive business lunch. But that's another restaurant-and another story.
Expeditsia is on the first floor of a pre revolutionary building. Once inside, you are struck by post-modern decor. As you make your way through the pine trees to your table, you absorb the subtle design and at the same time wonder why there is a helicopter at one end. Suddenly, you are aware that you are walking over a glass floor with a miniature river scene laid out below.
I ordered the Siberian Delicacy starter. My colleague chose the smoked Omul salad "Baikal". Which, we were informed, is a fresh water fish found only in Lake Baikal. It came very nicely presented with cedar oil but unimaginatively garnished with potato salad. My Siberian delicacy was a variety of small concoctions, burbot liver and damsons with aquavit, smoked fish and other salads. Again, well presented - but I was expecting the food to be as edgy as the decor and was a little disappointed.
They stock a reasonable selection of wines - Both new and old world. We settled on a bottle of Chilean Chardonay.
All of five tables were occupied the evening of our visit. Passable for 7pm on a Tuesday evening but the interior is so eye-catching that the lack of fellow diners doesn't distract you from the experience.
So, why the helicopter? The menu reflects the fare that can be hunted on a typical expedition to the Siberian wilderness, where you're either dropped off by the chopper to wage war on the wildlife, or you can hover overhead, picking off the game. , ducks, rabbits, wild horse etc. - are the critters likely to come into your cross hairs - and almost all are represented on the Expeditsia menu.
Pheasant and young wild horse followed. The pheasant was terrific. Very tender and cooked slightly pink. It rested on a lightly fried potato cake and was presented with cauliflower and celery purees with a ribbon of delicious pear, cognac sauce. It looked and tasted delightful.
I went for the roasted young horse from Yakutia. It was a bit of an attention-grabber served on a skewer and wooden board and looked as if it had been broiled rather than roasted as stated on the menu. The sauteed mushrooms in duck fat, were simple button mushrooms. At these prices I would have expected wild mushrooms at least. There was a celery, herb and cheese thing too. It was Okay, but not very impressive.
A lemon pistache mousse arrived for dessert. Pleasantly done but the pistache mousse had a little too much gelatine and was rubbery. The chocolate mousse was better. Nicely chilled and beautifully contrasted with hot parcels of baked apple wrapped in pastry.
The service was professional and attentive. And if your Russian is like mine (patchy), the staff will work hard to ensure things go smoothly.
The menu is well balanced and interesting, even though it leans heavily on raw fish, especially the starters. There are enough soups to justify a separate section to accommodate them and the main courses include various wild animals along side more familiar offerings such as steak and salmon. Creative desserts such as frozen cranberry with warm fudge and a homely Siberian berry pie are featured.
The bill was not cheap - around $130 US for two.
Overall, the decor upstaged the food but I understand that Leon the chef was off that night. Is Expeditsia just quirky, vying for attention in the over crowded Moscow restaurant scene? Probably, although its always going to be tough to make the food as appealing as the concept. Who can resist the lure of exploring Siberia and hunting in a helicopter? I recon they should sell those tours at reception - just a thought!
Robert Gollings is a
Consultant Chef in Moscow