Address: Glinischevskiy per., 3
Tel: +7 (495) 692-9731
Open from 11:00 until 02:00.
By Neil McGowan
Looking to dazzle your friends as a cultured hipster - without breaking the bank? Bookafe is basically "Museum" - but for less than half the price. The strongest thing in its favour is the "statement" you make by naming it as your rendezvous - this is so cool it's almost off the thermometer. The three rooms are all set-up with the same furniture and physical decor - but each is colour-designed to set a different mood. The yellow room is light, bright and awash with positive aura; the red room is perfect for dark deeds and illicit liaisons; and on the basis of "blue for a boy", the blue room is more suited to a lad's night out. And the books? Well, they line the walls, covers facing outwards, establishing fashion that's both cerebral and visual. You are welcome to take down a book and flick through whilst you dine, if you wish? There are art books, deep philosophy, or artistic erotica amongst the many on view - but primarily they are there to establish an ambience. The project's been designed by architectural bureau 69 - also responsible for the interiors at vogue eateries like "Zhioltoye More" and "Goa".
The menu leans heavily towards the Italian Mediterranean, and indeed they've just introduced a new range of pizzas (250-450Rb) with inventive toppings (10% discount on take-out). The menu's innovative if not extensive, and it required a Mochito (180Rb) and a Cosmopolitan (195Rb) from their cocktail-list to concentrate our thoughts whilst choosing the main action of the evening. The Mochito was suitably subtle and had most of a market-garden of mint piled into the glass for good measure - whilst the Cosmopolitan was utterly delicious. The more health-concious might have headed for the fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable cocktails on offer (all in the 300Rb bracket) - bristling with vitamins to reinforce you against the dual onslaughts of crappy weather and heavy partying that mark the Year End in Moscow.
A very munchable bread-basket appeared, and immediately behind it came our appetiser courses. The Mesclan Salad (350Rb) is pretty simple- in fact, it's basically a green salad, but there's a nice assortment of leaves, including a bit of ruccola and endive. Interactivity's encouraged at Bookafe, and not only with the books. Many of the dishes arrive with the final stage to be completed by the diner - salads arrive with dressing served separately, squeezable lemons come in elegant net coverings. It all adds an element of theatre, and fills up the table with exotica. But where was the goat's cheese? Aha, there it was - in camouflage uniform, rolled in herbs - although the quantity was a bit sparse even so. By contrast, Mussels with Wine & Lemon (660Rb) were a huge portion, enough for a supper by itself. Good, big mussels in prime condition, with a piquant bouillon that divided opinion - my co-reviewer found it one of the best in Moscow though a bit salty.
The lull between courses offered another chance to glance around the premises. The design is quite "edgy" - so minimalist that it might even look a little poverty-stricken? This isn't a place to bring your newly-arrived friend from Novy Urengoy - who might wonder if this isn't an intense case of the Emperor's New Clothes? However, the trendy intellectual set who gather at Bookafe aren't at all deterred by this - and they are a diverse breed, including several older diners unphased by the contemporary decor.
Moving on to the mains, my dining companion was only moderately happy here. The Swordfish with risotto (550Rb) was chewier than expected, although attractively charred on the plate. The risotto was more liberally buttered than might have been ideal - although within the boundaries of acceptability. My veggie-oriented Buckwheat crepe with mushrooms (190Rb) arrived stuffed with a massive amount of molten cheese (not alluded to in the menu) that made it a bit indigestible, and swamped the delicate mushroom flavour.
All the Desserts weigh-in in the 250-350Rb vicinity. Figs with rosemary were pleasantly tart - although served on a not-entirely-successful biscuit-creme base, whilst the Cream with Forest Fruits was too cloying to enjoy, and went back largely untouched. The coffee , though, was the best we'd had in a Moscow restaurant in a long time.
Bookafe advertises itself as a "conceptual cafe", and as a venue to meet your cooler friends, it's ideal. The welcome is warm, and they have undoubtedly the most charming door staff in the city (please take note, other venues! Extras from "Brat II" don't make good door staff!). If you have a product to launch, or a reception to organise, it's a stylish location that is well worth checking out.