Where to try caviar, pelmeni and borscht (and other Russian specialities) in Moscow
These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making your journey. Note that our writer visited pre-pandemic.
Moscow’s culinary scene, like the rest of the city, has asserted itself with laudable energy these last few years. Not only has traditional Russian cuisine itself boomed, but local chefs have also been busy giving it updates and overhauls while keeping note of international trends for seasonal and regional ingredients: never have so many delicious varieties of borscht (a sour soup) and pelmini (dumplings) been available. Added to that is a pleasant surprise for first-time visitors, namely that the city offers lots of equally tempting food from former Soviet republics such as Georgia, Uzbekistan and Armenia. Can’t decide? Head to one of the city’s funky food halls such as StrEAT or DEPO, where you can try a dizzying array of cuisines from around the world.
This award-winning, regal restaurant is one of the city’s most famous. Running since 1999, it’s set over three themed floors—the Pharmacy, the Library and the Fireplace room—which are all sumptuously decorated in the style of an aristocratic 19th-century mansion with tall ceilings, country house décor, and elegant antiques. The menu is accordingly sophisticated, offering dishes like caviar and blinchiki (traditional pancakes), borsch and pelmeni, though the house special is the famous ‘Tsar’s Sturgeon’. Service is exemplary and there’s an excellent vodka selection as well as great wines.
Contact: 00 7 49 57 39 00 33; cafe-pushkin.ru Nearest metro: Okhotnyy ryad Reservations: Essential Prices: £-££ Best table: Try for the summer terrace in season
White Rabbit, located inside a glass dome on the 16th floor of the Smolensky Passage department store, is the place to head for if you’re seeking culinary experimentation. Known for his playful and adventurous takes on Russian classics (think borscht with baked beans and turnip crisps; cutlets of boar meat with puree of celery root and rowan jelly; rabbit and cabbage rolls in foie gras with potato crisps and truffle juice), head chef Vladimir Mukhin also emphasises seasonal and regional ingredients. The decor, heavy with plants, colourful Rococo furniture and designer touches, matches the playful aesthetic, and the panoramic views, wines and cocktails are equally impressive too.
Located close to Red Square, this charming Russia-themed restaurant can be found inside the five-star National Hotel. The crisp white and red interiors are matched to replicas of paintings by famous Soviet artists such as Malevich and Petrov-Vodkin, staff in traditional uniforms, and large windows with views onto the street. The menu offers classic Russian dishes: caviar, blini, borscht and ukha (fish soup), as well as caviars of all kinds and colours, and pelmeni with various fillings. It’s also worth visiting at breakfast, with blinis and Soviet-inspired dishes like ‘doctor’s sausage’.
Contact: 00 7 49 99 22 01 00; drzhivago.ru Nearest metro: Pushkinskaya or Okhotny Ryad Prices: £-££ Best table: Grab one near the windows for maximum people-watching opportunities
Set on a quiet side street a few minutes from the busy Tverskaya metro station, this little oasis of calm has remained something of a neighbourhood secret. Descend down the stairs of a residential block to find a small, simple but immaculately decorated basement room, with enough space for around 20 punters. Though it calls itself a gastropub, the menu is way more creative than that term suggests, with beautifully presented and expertly made dishes such as raw tuna in coconut milk with almonds and mint, juicy barbeque pork ribs, potato donuts and tartar sauce and much more. There are also weekend breakfasts and brunches, delicious fruit lemonades, and the service is always warm and friendly. Inventive cocktails and fine wines make it a great casual night time option too.
Contact: 00 7 916 402-70-49; facebook.com/tildafoodandbar Nearest metro: Tverskaya Prices: £-££ Best table: Grab one of the few seats at the plant-covered entrance if the weather is nice
Named after the protagonist of Ivan Goncharnov’s satirical novel, this romantic restaurant, set inside in a former merchant’s mansion house, is styled like a pre-revolutionary country home. There are three floors: a casual room on the first level, two formal dining rooms on the second, and a decadent lounge on the third, as well as a leafy courtyard. Decoration is warm and welcoming, a mix of open-tiled fireplaces, wood-panelled walls, framed pictures and other Russian-themed knick knacks. Staff sport uniforms as traditional as the menu, which spans favourites like wild boar and sturgeon, pelmeni and caviar, borscht and home-made ice cream. Service is top-notch.
There are two Genazvale restaurants in Moscow: one in the Arbat and another in Ostozhenka St. Both excel at Georgian food, but the Arbat venue has a more fairy tale-like setting; indeed, the restauant feels like visiting a quaint Georgian town thanks to the quiet surrounding streets and the flamboyant, castöe-like building complete with towers, balconies and a stable. Chefs are authentically Georgian and offer traditional dishes like ajarian khachapuri (a baked bread with cheese and egg), khinkali (dumplings) and kharcho (a beef and tomato broth soup with nuts). Order the Georgian home-made wine. Meals are usually accompanied with traditional music and dance.
Contact: 00 7 495 697 9453; restoran-genatsvale.ru Reservations: Recommended Prices: £-££ Best table: Get one near the stage (4, 6, 15 or 45) for best views of the entertainment
This updated Soviet-era canteen enjoys a brilliantly apt location inside a restored Soviet-era silk industry pavilion that dates back to 1950s, and still has the panoramic windows and monumental colonnades of the original. The name, which translates to ‘thaw’, is a reference to the Khrushchev years, when the communist regime was relaxed for a few years. The menu reflects this with a menu of Russian and European dishes, including cabbage and okroshka soups, ‘buterbrody’ sandwiches with toppings like sprats and herring, and ‘sosiska v teste’ – a type of hotdog traditionally served with bacon, pickles and crispy onions.
Contact: 00 7 925 317 4315; ottepel-restoran.ru Reservations: Recommended Price: £-££ Best table: Get one near the window if you can
A visit to Mari Vanna is like dining at a friend’s vaguely bohemian Soviet-era apartment—right down to the fact that visitors need to ring a doorbell (apartment number 10) for access. The interior is a riot of vintage delights: antique bookcases, decorative vases and photo frames—even a television broadcasting old Soviet channels. The kitchen specialises in traditional comfort Russian cuisine, generous portions of borsch, stews, pies and dumplings. Such is the restaurant’s success that it now even has branches in London, New York, St Petersburg and Los Angeles.
This flagship trattoria from St Petersburg-based celebrity chef Aram Mnatsakanov has slowly but surely won the hearts of Italian-food loving Muscovites. Designed by local architect Albina Nazimova, it offers an immediately open, welcoming atmosphere, with stylish, minimalist furnishings, a constantly busy state-of-the-art kitchen, and large, street-facing windows. The menu reworks traditional Italian fare, using local ingredients, aged parmesan, and virgin olive oils. Dishes span beef carpaccio and cecina de vaca from Spain; grilled octopus and warm veal salad; a wide selection of homemade pastas with items such as duck ragu, Kamchatka crab and burrata with black truffle; plus special sharing plates, black caviar dishes, a spread of meat and fish dishes, and a talk-of-the-town tiramisu. The smartly dressed wait-staff are professional and punctual, and the presentation of the food as well as the European wine list are both impeccable.
Contact: 00 7 495 995 9045; probka.org Nearest metro: Tsvetnoy Bulvar Reservations: Recommended (especially for dinner and at weekends). Price: ££-£££
Specialising in top-notch Ukranian and Russian cuisine, this long-standing restaurant is also notable for its glassed-off atrium farmyard, which hosts peacocks, rabbits, chickens, pheasants and even a cow; an unusual tableau for an evening meal. The rest of the interior, with contemporary floral chairs, wooden floors and over a hundred designer lamps, plus a dapper open kitchen with a bar, makes it clear that this is a modern experience, but the menu stays true to authentically created classics like borscht (the restaurant’s signature dish), Russian salads, blinis and picklings, and a huge variety of lard. There’s a seasonal and regional aspect too—the mirror carp comes from the Vologda region, suckling pigs from Ryazan, white mushrooms from the Urals—and the wine list is considered and international.
This funky interpretation of a traditional Japanese Izakaya (small sharing dishes and sake) restaurant was created by Australian chef Glen Ballis and the Lucky Group. The broad, savvy, seasonally focused menu ranges from raw fish and kushiyaki skewers, robata-grilled fish and meats to noodles and rice dishes, with unique treats such as the grilled green onion bread with curry gravy, avocado gazpacho with crab, and duck salad served with pear and cashews. The chic interior matches 18th-century arches, wooden beams and preserved glass bricks to industrial grey concrete, terracotta textured plaster and slick designer tables and chairs. The long open kitchen is separated from the main room by an equally long and low-set counter that offers extra seating at eye level with the chefs. Add in a hip deep house music soundtrack, tattooed wait staff, and weekend parties in the courtyard, and you have one of the buzziest eateries in town.
Contact: 00 7 495 189-78-88, luckyizakaya.lucky-group.ru Nearest metro: Arbatskaya FL Reservations: Recommended, but walk-ins possible Price: ££ Best table: Take a seat at the bar if you want to watch the kitchen staff at work, or near the windows for people-watching.
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