Organic modern Russian cuisine in a cosy setting
Naturally during our trip to Russia we were keen to try as much of the Russian cuisine as we could. Recently, there appears to have been a wonderful revival of Russian cuisine, with many restaurants looking to reinvent the pre-Soviet cuisine with modern twists. After our night at White Rabbit (review coming soon), we decided to continue exploring and booked a table at LavkaLavka.
LavkaLavka prides itself on its farm-to-table concept, and even lists its affiliation with Russian producers and farmers on its menu. This ethos of fresh artisanal food creates high expectations and we were super excited to go.
L: For starters I chose the ‘traditional Russian snack’ of lardo with pickles. Lardo, or ‘salo’ as its usually called in Russian, is frozen rolls of pig fat, and is traditionally served with various pickles and condiments. To the European palette this sounds gross as hell, but once you get past what it is, the flavour isn’t that dissimilar to prosciutto of some kind. I was in the mood to revisit this snack, and was curious to see what LavkaLavka would do with it, but tbh was defo not expecting the gargantuan platter that arrived in front of me. This was defo a starter for two people, and so I was keen to ply K with my food (hehe). However, what did arrive in front of me was very impressive and exciting. Rolls of lardo accompanied by lovely black bread, hot roasted new potatoes, spring onions and a selection of pickled mushrooms, tomatoes, cabbage and cucumbers, horseradish, mustard and stewed apples. The various ingredients tasted fresh and flavoursome, and gave me so many snack combinations I didn’t even know where to start! The lardo itself had a porky flavour that was meatier than prosciutto or ham, but wasn’t too nasal if ugm. Also, even though I tried to offload some of my food onto K, I did end up eating most of it, and actually didn’t feel too heavy or full afterwards, which was great considering I still had a main and desert coming (loll).
K: I had never had lardo before and was somewhat hesitant before trying it. Having tasted it though it grew on me, I wouldn’t say its my favourite thing in the world, but accompanied by some mustard, bread and pickles was very tasty! For my starter I went for a classic beef tartar. The first thing I noticed on arrival was its odd presentation – all in one corner of the plate and covered in crackers meaning you couldn’t actually see the beef. To be honest I wasn’t a big fan of that, I don’t understand why you would cover up the centre piece of the dish, the beef atop the cracker may have looked better. Either way the taste was great. The salty, dry cracker accompanied the rich, meaty tartar well. The beef was clearly fresh and of high quality, carrying an almost sweet flavour to it that was both fresh and pleasantly appetite-whetting as a starter. Overall a good starter, with the only drawback being some odd presentation.
L: I’m always nervous of tartare, even though I know I like it, because in my head raw meat = ew. Nevertheless I soldier on and go with taste buds over mind. I really liked the taste of K’s dish: the meat was well seasoned and tasted almost oniony actually, and importantly didn’t taste too metallic or meaty. Moving onto main courses, I decided to go for the haunch of venison with red and black ashberries. Venison is, for the obvious reasons of supply, more readily found on Russian menus than English, and so I was keen to make the most of this opportunity. What on earth are ashberries though I hear you ask? My thoughts exactly. Turns out they are quite similar to currants, although each is quite distinct in flavour. The dish arrived beautifully presented, with the venison cooked to medium. The black ashberries had been stewed and almost turned into a sweet conserve, while the red ashberries were served as a tart and tangy sorbet on top of shortbread crumbs. Even on its own, the venison was delicious and simultaneously light and rich in flavour. To be honest, I preferred it in combination with either a combination of the two ashberries, or with just the red ashberry sorbet: I found the sweetness of the black ashberry conserve too much of a clash with the meat. Similarly, I found the gritty crumbs quite a clash in texture with the rest of the dish and wasn’t really a fan of them. All in all though I would defo order this again, as overall the dish was delightful to eat.
K: L’s Venison was really good, well cooked with a pick middle and seared surface, the accompanying berry-based sauces complimented the meat well. I went for duck breast for my main, medium rare. The duck tasted good but I would say the skin and fat were a bit ‘flobby’ for my liking. I would have used a hotter pan to sear the skin and render the fat to make it crispier and carry less of that fatty, nasaly taste which I associate with undercooked bacon and other raw fats. Accompanying the duck was a beetroot mash which was an interesting flavour and accompanied the duck well, it was much lighter than I thought it would be. Also, the duck was accompanied by pear and shavings of something (I am not actually sure what they were), I am not a huge fan of pear but it complimented the other flavours in the dish well. The duck was topped with a sweet sauce that was tasty and sharp, cutting through the richer, softer flavours of the rest of the dish. Overall, a nice dish, although a little light on the carbs and the duck wasn’t quite cooked as I would like.
L: For someone who wouldn’t necessarily go for duck in a restaurant themselves, I really liked K’s dish. It struck me as being quite rich and filling, but the beetroot mash was yummyyyy and the pear complimented the richness of the duck very well. I’m not entirely sure how the different flavours all fitted together as a whole, but the components by themselves were very good. For desert I decided to go traditional and get honey cake. The cake was yummy and fluffy, although in my opinion the previous evening’s offering at Megobari still trumped it unfortunately. I found the cake at Lavkalavka a little sweeter, but having said that not at all sickly, so the portion size I was given was perfect and hit the spot. To be honest, I was just proud of myself for having fit that amount of food in myself at this meal, because as you will see from pics it was a lot.
K: I thought I would try some Russian cheese for desert, this was despite warnings from L that Russia had banned the import of most foreign cheese and her uncertainties over the quality of Russia produce. However, these misgivings were proved wrong, all the cheese on offer were good. They were, though, all a bit similar to each other (varying on a brie-esque theme) bar one hard cheese. This came with three honeys, to be honest of the three I only liked one, and even that couldn’t hold a candle to the truffle honey we had at our favourite, Mangius. Overall, though I was surprised that all the cheeses were good so kudos there if a lacking a little in diversity. Perhaps I am being a bit harsh on the cheese, this would be because I absolutely loved L’s honey cake and wished I had chosen that instead. I thought this was better than the honey cake we had in Megobari and in fact was the best we had in all our time in Russia! We are still working on discovering the secrets to a good honey cake so stay tuned for that!
All in all we loved the take on traditional Russian cooking that LavkaLavka was going for. The produce was tasty and fresh and the farm-to-table ethos made us feel like we were in good hands. The restaurant also have a daily wine offer, and so we were able to get a great bottle of red wine from Krasnodar for a cracking discount. When we arrived the restaurant was quite empty, and very bright, which may sound silly, but we felt it slightly detracted from the intimacy of a table for two, and felt a bit odd for an evening meal. For a restaurant that empty we were surprised at how slow our service was, and were waiting about 25 mins between courses. Our waiter was very nice though, and this did mean we were able to nurse our wine, so no hard feelings.
Nevertheless, such nit-picking aside, I think I speak for K and myself when I say we would both love to come back and try out more of the menu – I feel like the sense that you’re supporting local businesses and farmers is always a good one, no matter where in the world you find yourself!