- Food & Drink
In Snezhinka we came up against our worst dining fear: a menu entirely in Russian. And not a small menu either. 8 pages of Cyrillic stood between us and dinner. Would we starve to death in a cosy cafe, slumping decorously over striped satin cushions and wrought iron chairs? No, because we’d stuffed ourselves with bread, cheese and ham over the past week, so we had plenty of calories in reserve. And also no, because we could read Russian.
Sort of. DJ and I had almost learned the Cyrillic alphabet (Leonard was concentrating on her Mongolian) so we smiled at the waitress, ordered some wine and beer and told her we needed 5 more minutes. The waitress came back. We needed just 5 more minutes. She came back again. Just 5 more minutes, we were nearly there. Again she came back and again we told her that we needed a few more minutes. At this point the waitress revealed she could speak English and translated the entire menu in 2 minutes flat.
We’d actually done quite well; our only mistake was to translate the fish section as steaks, which is only a minor error really, unless one of us had tried to order our omul fillets rare.
I ordered the grilled pork chops because I cannot eat enough pig. Leonard and The Wandering Australian, a fellow traveller we’d rescued from a lonely evening in an empty Soviet apartment block, ordered the beef Stroganov. DJ, once again I have forgotten what you ordered. I’m looking at the receipt and I seem to have forgotten Russian too, so it’s a bit of a mystery.
The thick pork chop was beautifully cooked and came with a scattering of dill and a smiley face drawn on the plate in balsamic vinegar, which made me feel extra welcome. It also came with a portion of chips mixed with cooked onions. This is such a good combination. Chips need to come with an onion topping more often. Imagine how good for our health they would be then.
The beef Stroganov was fantastic and, unlike the Stroganov at Cafe Pushkin, you couldn’t feel your arteries hardening as you gluttonously stuffed down more creamy, lardy beef. The sauce had a chunky curd flavour with a lactic tang, and a hint of paprika that relieved the dish of its more extravagant richness.
We were a lot more successful when it came to translating the dessert menu. There’s nothing like a slathering desire for sugar to boost your language skills. DJ ordered the cheesecake, The Wandering Australian ordered a double chocolate soufflé and Leonard and I went for orange pancakes.
The pancakes arrived with swirls of sauce and scoops of ice cream. Leonard took a bite. She froze mid-chew.
She chewed again.
‘I’VE GONE BLIND!’
‘JESUS CHRIST, I’VE BEEN TANGOED! JESUS, JESUS, JESUS!’
The syrupy orange sauce swirled so attractively around the pancakes was strong on citric acid. Very strong. It was the very opposite of a homeopathic orange sauce – the essence of citrus distilled so perfectly that the room took on a hazy orange hue and scurvy was permanently eradicated within a 10 mile area.
We finished our meal, finally, we some vodka. We’d been in Russia for a week and not touched a drop of the hard stuff – why had we even bothered flying out there? We drank a few glasses of Russian Standard and felt the warm self-confidence that suffuses people who are considerably more drunk than they think they are.
The meal was Rub3,997 (£85) without tip, which covered 4 mains, 4 desserts, some sides, a litre of beer, a bottle and a glass of wine and 7 shots of vodka. I would be so much richer if I wasn’t such a drunk.