In a city where restaurants come and go with alarming speed, only a few stay in business for long enough to deserve the title of “Moscow institution”. But, with 14 years of toil over a hot stove, Kavkazskaya Plennitsa (The Prisoner of the Caucasus) has proved its staying power, long before the recent crop of Georgian cafes began to pop up all over the city. The name is taken from a popular Soviet-era film (known in English as “Kidnapping, Caucasian style”), a 1967 comedy based loosely on a Pushkin poem, which trades heavily on the exotic charms of the frontiers of the former USSR. Rustic scenes and references to the movie inform much of the décor of the restaurant.
No prizes for guessing that Georgian cuisine dominates the menu here. Head chef Olga Gulieva grew up in Sukhumi, the principle city of Abkhazia, and the flavors of her homeland are deeply engrained in her kitchen. Georgian food is best sampled via a large assortment of dishes, ideally shared around the table – shashlyk and khachapuri are essential, but it’s also worth experimenting with a few starters. Here the Chicken Satsivi
(430 RUR), a kind of cold, creamy chicken soup with a piquant, nutty flavor, was hugely impressive. The meat was done to perfection, with none of the slightly unnerving sense that it might be underdone which often undermines this dish. Other eminently snackable starters include lobio – green and red varieties here – delicate balls of aromatic, fresh-flavored goodness built around beans (the type of bean determines the color, although the flavors come as much from the herbs as anything else), and fresh fruits and veg (eggplant, prune and more) stuffed with ground walnuts and similar treats.
No Georgian meal would be complete without a Khachapuri
, and the Adjarian version (570 RUR), topped with an egg frying merrily on the piping hot cheese is the king of this staple of trans-Caucasian cuisine. Once again the Kavkazskaya Plennitsa version was impressive – and apparently became Steven Seagal’s favorite dish when he visited Moscow and dined here. Clearly he chooses his dinners better than his scripts.
And, just as it’s impossible to avoid khachapuri, so Shashlyk
– the much-loved flavor of fresh-grilled meat – is also an integral part of the Caucasian dining experience (and one rapidly adopted by the rest of the Imperial Russia). Again, this isn’t something you’d struggle to find on a menu elsewhere in Moscow, so quality is the key, and the staff recommended the lamb. And again, the freshness of the ingredients makes the New Zealand Lamb Chops
(1400 RUR) a juicy, finger-licking joy (yes, fingers. Nobody should attempt this with a knife and fork). The Lamb’s Tongue
(1050 RUR) was a surprising treat. Not having had tongue since childhood (when it made the short journey from tin to sandwich to infant disapproval), I was impressed with the tenderness of the meat when served in a more natural state.
In a crowded market, Gulieva’s dishes stand out for their quality: a cut above many of the Georgian cafes which have opened around town over the past 18 months or so and on a par with the best I’ve tried in this city.
With several rooms, ranging from a cozy nook for private parties to a large dining hall complete with a stage and a live band (a band which taps directly into the nostalgic feel with a repertoire of slightly saccharine songs which clearly mean a lot to locals but are largely unknown to expats) there’s something for everyone. And the summer terrace, sharing a leafy border with the neighboring park, feels a world away from the bustle of Prospekt Mira. The restaurant is proud of sourcing fresh, organic meat, but the chickens cooped in one corner are not on the menu – only their fresh-laid eggs do find their way to the kitchen. Although the overall theme is taken from the movie, complete with a model donkey and even a discarded shoe preserved in memory of a crucial plot twist, its appeal is not limited to movie buffs. Instead it manages the neat trick of combining a hint of the exotic with a strong waft of nostalgia, meaning for foreign guests it is both adventurous and reassuring at the same time.
Even on a chilly Tuesday, the place was busy with a mixture of besuited businessmen draining the company expense account and family groups who look like regular clients. The crowd is far from the cutting edge, hipster types who flock to the self-conscious venues around Krasny Oktyabr or ironical haunt the slightly arch retro-chic of the Kamchatka beer bar (like Kavkazskaya Plennitsa, operated by the Novikov group).
Verdict: Kavkazskaya Plennitsa is a great place to try Georgian food – or come back for some old favorites. Prices might be a bit higher than some of the competition, but in general you get what you pay for and the food is good enough to justify the mark-up. This place feels like somewhere which would be a success with visitors to Moscow – much like GlavPivTorg it is foreign enough to be intriguing, without becoming intimidating for the uninitiated. And with some of the highest quality Georgian cuisine in town, it’s worth coming back more than once.