- Food & Drink
On every holiday there is a bar or cafe that you adopt as your home from the strange, alien world you have travelled miles to explore. A little safe haven that strikes a chord of familiarity, where you can retreat when you’re tired of expanding your horizons. For us, the homeMade cafe was that warm embrace of a restaurant, ideally located halfway between our hostel and Red Square (less ideally down a grey, brutal alleyway off ul. Tverskaya).
We went there on our first day on our way home from photographing every onion dome in the Red Square/Kitai-gorod area. We’d read about it in one of The Books (Lonely Planet/Rough Guides) that every good independent traveller carries with them in place of being on a package tour. We followed the cheery red plastic sign down the alley and ended up in a restaurant that had a touch of the All Bar Ones about its decor. Pale wood everywhere, newspapers hanging on wooden poles from the walls, tea lights and bright main lights – contemporary casual restaurants always have a whiff of brunch and Ikea about them.
We ate bowls of pelmeni – meat for DJ and me, mushroom and potato for Leonard. The hefty, long-haired Russian owner brought them to our table, set them in front of us and then shouted: ‘What? Are you DUCKS?’
We stared at him, round-eyed and puzzled.
‘Is Russian joke! Only ducks eat pelmeni with water! Russians eat them with VODKA!’
Ahhhh, a cultural difference noted and learned, not least that the lager and wine we were drinking with our pelmeni count as water in Russia. The lager, incidentally, was the best lager I drank all holiday. I’d opted for the light lager and the menu said it was made at the cafe (but you can’t be sure with English translations if they mean what they say). It was golden, with a hint of bubbles but essentially flat. Sweetish, malty and with a taste of rubber in a good way, I could drink it forever.
The pelmenis were soaked in butter, dusted with dill and came with a pot of sour cream that we dolloped on to the chant of ‘MORE! MORE! MORE!’ from our host. The meat ones were good but the potato and mushroom ones were an essay in why vegetables and butter are meant to be with each other. A side of courgette fritters (soft, golden mini pancakes that came with more sour cream) was our first dip into the world of Russian pancakes – a world we did not leave willingly. I can’t remember how much the lager was, but the pelmenis were about Rub260 a portion (£5-6ish). By Moscow standards, that’s practically free.
On our last day in Moscow we went there for an early dinner before boarding the train. More lager were the first words out of my mouth, followed by grilled lamb chops. A board of treacly black bread that made me question why I ever bothered with such namby-pamby fare as baguette came with a pot of flavoured butter that I couldn’t place. Leonard immediately recognised pesto. Crushed pine nuts had been stirred into the butter. I’d say I ate far too much of it with the bread, but you can’t eat too much of a good thing.
My lamb chops had been rubbed with fresh rosemary and grilled tender pink. A pot of homemade tomato sauce and a stack of Mediterranean vegetables were well cooked and represented about 1/4 of the vegetables I managed to eat in Russia. The only downside was that my plate was whisked away before I could commence shameful bone gnawing, the main reason I order lamb chops (if you’re ever out with me and I order lamb chops, be prepared to look away in horror towards the end of the meal. I will get greasy).
Our bill was around Rub2,600 (£55) for 2 lagers, 1 glass of wine, complimentary bread, lamb chops, mushroom and potato pelmenis and courgette fritters for Leonard and something for DJ, which I can’t remember (DJ?), plus tip. The best value meals we ate in Moscow and definitely my favourite restaurant.