Arkady Novikov has eateries where it’s all about you
(Vogue Cafe). And he has eateries where it’s all about him
(Galleria). But before either of those came Syr, where it’s all about the food - and still is. Almost everyone knows where CHEESE (“Syr”) is – you can’t miss it as your taxi trundles past on the Garden Ring, it’s the place with the model of a chunk of cheese on its roof. (They really should consider taking that thing down now). But yesterday’s young cheese is today’s vintage classic, and Syr has not just moved on with the times, but led from the front. The recently remodelled interiors are joined by an elegant staircase – cheese-themed on the ground floor, the last word in subdued post-modern elegance and contemporary chic upstairs.
As the urbane General Director, Albert Danielyan, puts it succinctly – “at Syr, everything is harnessed to presenting fabulous food. The choice of ingredients, the range of the menus, the decor, the furnishings… nothing takes away from the food, and the delicate harmony in each of the dishes. It’s unusual, almost unique, for a contemporary Moscow restaurant – we eschew glamour in favour of gastronomy, and we don’t apologise for that.” He isn’t joking. Every millimetre of glam and glitz has been carefully excluded in favour of subdued and understated contemporary design. Syr is a modern theatre, where the food is the spotlight, and the diners are the audience.
But neither is Syr an ascetic foodie temple either – a subtle and sophisticated welcome awaits. I stumbled through its doors on the hottest day of the year, with the mercury showing +37C and my face the colour of gazpacho
. I was also my habitual seven minutes late – for a dinner-date who doesn’t appreciate being kept waiting. Some iced water and some towels appeared without beckoning, along with the suggestion of sitting upstairs – “M’sieur will find it rather cooler”, they smiled. Marusya, fortunately, was held-up in traffic, and by the time she arrived I was the very picture of calm composure. This all afforded the chance to visit the swanky loos, and cast an initial eye over the menu – with the Summer Special Menu delicately mentioned by the waiter.
The aperitifs appeared considerably before the story of the delayed arrival was done, and we settled comfortably into a corner table, with air-conditioning set sensibly to “pleasant ambient” rather than “Ice Station Zebra”. The Forest Berry Crush
(380 RUR) had an almost miraculous mood-restoring effect on Marusya, whilst my rather staid choice of a Classic Mojito
(440 RUR) was a mixologist’s manna, and hit the spot most neatly. A selection of breads (wheat rolls, sumptuous rye-bread and some lavash) came in a stylish paper cone, with hot toasts and dips to savour. With carbs and oils declared persona non grata by Marusya, the perfect appetiser came from the Summer Menu – Scallop Tartare with melon, asparagus and limoncello
(1200 RUR), and the mouth-wateringly fresh flavours proved a perfect balance. I was having none of that, and tucked in to Avocado & Artichoke Salad
(860 RUR for a gigantic portion – which went very extremely well with the bread). Feeling somewhat chastened by Marusya’s noble self-denial, I followed suit and chose a Gazpacho Chilled Soup
(560 RUR), which came with a free portion of smugness. Doing that “you try a bit of mine” thing, I have to say I regretted missing the Summer Celery Soup With Egg & Truffle
(960 RUR) – which is a sort of orgasm in a bowl, and probably shouldn’t be served to under-18s. Of course at that price it ought to be stupendous too – and this doesn’t disappoint.
And here we took a pause to refill our drinks, ask for some more water, and quietly digest what was merely Act One of the performance. The entire culinary drama is the brainchild of Novikov star chef Mircko Zago, whose route to Moscow lay through Aosta, Gstaad, Rome, and Verona. His culinary daring has won him awards in Italy, where he is well-known on television. His work creating banquets for the Russian Presidency, however, was an appropriately more discreet affair. In addition to his work at Syr, Mircko Zago has been the Consultant Chef on many other new Novikov restaurants – including Galleria, Cantinetta Antinori and Nedal’ny Vostok.
Meanwhile, our main courses – presented with artistic beauty on fine white porcelain – came speeding from the kitchen. One of the best features of the finest kind of service in a restaurant is that you hardly notice it happening around you – you can leave your semaphore manuals and signalling coughs at home. Marusya’s eye had fallen on the Medallions of Beef with Thyme
(1300 RUR), and they were every bit as tender as the waiter had faithfully promised. My usual habit of choosing the gonzo main dish from the menu was fustrated – there are no duds here, and Grilled Scallops with Mediterranean Ratatouille
were worth every last rouble of 1600 RUR.
But.. where was the cheese? I’d had none so far, and decided to pass-up on the desserts in favour of putting the cheese-board to the test. There’s gorgonzola and gorgonzola
, (300 RUR) but this was tantalisingly good, and any wistful regret for the tempting pannacotta
instantly passed. Meanwhile, however, all the good intentions across the table that had marked the earlier stages were now thrown to the wind… a Raspberry Millefeuille
(700 RUR) was heartily consumed in short order, with a growing chorus of yummy appreciation as its several layers disappeared. Tea and coffee came along with perfect timing.
None of this, you will already have noticed, is aimed at the credit-crunched – but in fairness, Mr Novikov’s culinary nest is home to a good clutch of value-priced eateries too. Syr doesn’t really have serious competitors in Moscow – you would need an air-ticket to head off in search of anything quite as good as this in the world. In Moscow, it simply doesn’t get better than this.