maître d’ - Cafe Pushkin, Moscow
Written by Piers Gladstone
Café Pushkin is unique and also an anomaly; in a restaurant scene dominated by European cuisine and all things Japanese, it is the only top-end Moscow restaurant that serves traditional Russian cuisine.
“Russian cuisine in Russia is the most difficult direction in the restaurant business,” explains Andrey Makhov, Head Chef of Café Pushkin. “For many long years we have almost lost the concept of Russian culinary culture in ‘public catering’. But Russian culture flows in the veins of everyone who was born and lives in this land, and the revival of our culinary traditions I see as both my duty, and at the same time the success of my creativity.” The happy diners, especially the Russian ones, are testament to this fact.
Opened in the same year as the 200th anniversary of the birth of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, Café Pushkin owes as much to the influence of French culture in Russia as it does to the country’s best-loved bard. The name of the restaurant was inspired by a lyric from the 1954 song ‘Nathalie’, about a romance on a visit to Moscow by the French crooner Gilbert Becaud, who sang about a visit to ‘Café Pushkin’ to drink hot chocolate after a snowy tour of Red Square with his guide and romantic interest, Nathalie.
The French influence on the restaurant, Russian culture, and the chef goes further back in time, however, to the 19th century. “Not only were the clothes of the Russian women of fashion of that time brought from Paris, but also culinary extravagance,” Makhov points out. “Foreign delicacies such as foie gras, truffles, and champagne became integral in the diet of the Russian nobility. A harmonious combination of Russian culinary favourites with the tendencies of the French school-defined tastes of 19th century Russia, and adhering to this is the chosen direction of the kitchen at Café Pushkin.”
And if the food does not transport you back to 19th century Imperial Russia, the décor and waiters in period costume will! The downstairs ‘Pharmacy’, with its large bay windows, richly carved wood, high ceilings, frescoes, and ornate latticework is the ‘buzziest’ of the different dining rooms. In summer you may be tempted to dine on the roof terrace. The restaurant is open 24/7, and breakfast is another journey into traditional Russian cuisine.
The ‘Real’ Russian Experience
Order a selection of piroshki (small stuffed pies) and blini (pancakes) with either black or red caviar. Next up should be pelmeni (stuffed dumplings), a firm Russian favourite, while the salmon pelmeni here are unique, and the borscht soup the richest and meatiest in town. Be sure to try the chef’s pride and joy, the Pozharsky cutlet made from ground chicken. Pushkin himself wrote about this dish, and although the original recipe has been lost in time, Andrey Makhov has recreated it after painstaking research. If you have room for a dessert, try either the Medovichok (a honey cake) or a Napoleon, a Russian variant of a mille-feuilles.
A Russian Legend