- Food & Drink
In late September we strolled down sunny Siberian streets in our shirtsleeves (try saying that after a few Russian Standards). The legendary frozen climate we were expecting had been replaced by a Spanish spring and we stripped off layers of fleece and HeatTech in the marshrutka minibus from the train station to our hotel. A hot shower and a great deal of shampoo later, we were wandering along wedding cake 19th century streets in t-shirts, admiring the river’s iridescent rainbow hue and the optimism of the fishermen who refused to let heavy pollution put them off a mutant fish supper.
Omsk is one of Siberia’s larger, more beautiful Nowheresvilles. It’s streets are broad, with pastel and Napoleonic flourishes. There are museums for dedicated artifact botherers, golden doomed churches for the newly religious and a sand and rubble beach for getting drunk with the local children (how those little scamps loved their beer). At night it smells of wood smoke.
After taking dozens of photographs of a monument to communism, we abandoned the delights of Omsk for the delights of coffee and cake. Kafe Berlin is a slick looking cafe with free WiFi, low lighting, neutral furnishings and a steaming espresso machine. There are identikit cafes throughout Europe and of course we loved it, because it was like being at home but with a menu in Russian and English for that essential sense of adventure.
It was afternoon teatime, so we ordered a Europuddle mix of apple strudel, pancakes with apple and cinnamon, pancakes with something else (sorry DJ, can never remember what you ordered), a latte, a mocha and a hot chocolate. The strudel was a thick slab of flaky pastry and tart apple chunks served with a smooth scoop of vanilla ice cream over which someone had carefully drizzled Fairy Liquid. As lemon sauces go, there’s no doubt that it lifted dirt, cleaned surfaces and lasted 5 times longer than any other lemon sauce.
The pancakes with apple and cinnamon were a much bigger hit. Two flannelly circles of flour and milk were wrapped around more of the tart apple chunks and then thickly dusted with cinnamon and icing sugar. The other pancakes, which I can’t remember, were definitely less good, whatever they were. All together, the bill was Rub600 (£12.50) – clear proof that we were out of Moscow and close to the world of affordable eating out.
The next day, having established that Omsk is short on conveniently located, cheap restaurants and cafes, we were back at Kafe Berlin for an early dinner before our train. I had French onion soup, which turned out to be a bowl of buttered onions that the chef had run a warm tap into. I never thought I’d hear myself saying this, but they could have eased up a bit on the butter. When your soup begins to solidify as it cools, you’ve gone too far with the animal fat.
It was topped with a slice of toast coated in melted plastic and dill. Cheese, it’s fair to say, was not one of Russia’s strong points. Potato pelmenis demonstrated that carb on carb dinners are always winners and another round of apple and cinnamon pancakes kept our batter quota up for the day. The bill was around Rub1,000 (£21).
I liked Omsk – the lack of direction or urgency and the bright, hard light that spotlit the wooden buildings and smooth white chapels. Kafe Berlin was a welcoming place to eat Russian food, if not necessarily the food from the more western end of Europe. And the waitresses kindly indulged our belief that we could speak Russian, which pleases my vanity. Anywhere that strokes the more obscure, outer reaches of my ego is always a winner for me.