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More insider guides for planning a trip to St Petersburg
It wasn’t that long ago that dining in St Petersburg was a fairly dismal affair. And yet given the impressive dynamism and diversity of the culinary scene today, it feels like another era entirely. Nowadays you can find classic Russian dishes – borscht, stroganov, pelmeni, cabbage soup, caviar – served in upscale settings redolent of 19th-century aristocracy as well as in simple canteens that have retained, or recreated, a Soviet-era spirit. The main street, Nevsky Prospekt, offers a global medley of cuisine from Mexican and Asian to Indian, while a slew of swish new spots are updating Russian classics or offering innovative fusion menus.
Stroganoff Steak House
The steaks really are high-end at this vast restaurant, located a short walk from St Isaac’s Cathedral. It’s housed in a historic building that once served as a military barracks and now has a simple but elegant interior – low, arched ceilings, white walls broken by collections of small photographs, a mix of leather banquettes and vintage chairs – and imported, dry aged, hand butchered cuts from Australia, New Zealand and Argentina. These are not only served with a long list of sides, but also find their way into classics such as beef stroganoff and burgers. Breakfasts are good too, with a decent eggs Benedict among other highlights.
This classic, popular restaurant is famous for being the spot where Pushkin and other famous local luminaries often visited; indeed, Pushkin was last seen in public here before being killed in a duel in 1837. There are two different dining spaces available: expect quirky, vintage-style décor (antique lamps, a stuffed bear, portraits of Pushkin) in the casual café on the ground floor, and a more formal second-floor space with elegant parquet floors, chandeliers and regal striped chairs. The European and Russian dishes in both are excellent (think salmon-topped pancakes, toasts with herring, baked beets and borscht), as are the wines. Service is top-notch.
Contact: 00 7 812 312 6057; litcafe.su
Nearest metro: Admiralteyskaya
Ukrop means dill in Russian, and this breezy café-restaurant is one of the few in the city that’s devoted to serving vegan, vegetarian and raw food: picture freshly-made soups and smoothies, salads, and larger meals that are often inventive and always tasty. Order at the first-floor counter if you want a quick, pre-prepared dish or head to the second floor for a full-service restaurant. Both are kitted out with quirky but welcoming furnishings and décor that includes a hammock, lots of plants and books, and comfy sofas. Portion sizes are on the small side, but on the other hand it’s reasonably-priced enough to try a couple of different things. There are some good bio wines too.
With roots stretching back to the late 18th century, this sophisticated restaurant – named after its founding family – is one of the oldest in town. The French-Russian menu is as traditional as it gets, featuring aristocratic treats such as foie gras, truffles, and black caviar, as well as signature classics from cabbage soup to lamb on the bone. There are also seasonal five-course menus that can be accompanied with wines, highly memorable desserts, and a wine list that stretches to over 100 labels. It all takes place in a warmly decadent dining room with hand-drawn murals, crystal chandeliers and colourful seating. Service is excellent.
Contact: 00 7 812 703 5371; palkin.ru
Nearest metro: Mayakovskaya
Prices: ££ -£££
By far the best Indian restaurant in St Petersburg, Tandoor has been knocking up delicious biryanis, kormas and vindaloos, as well as lentil soups, tasty desserts and masala tea, since 1994. It’s situated right across from St. Isaac’s cathedral and offers two spacious rooms, both colourfully decorated with painted ceilings, hardwood floors and India-themed ornamentation. The menu is extensive and authentic; spice levels are damped down for local tastes, but just ask for more spice and you’ll get it. The English-speaking staff are friendly and attentive, and the summer terrace has great views of the Admiralty and St. Isaac’s as well as – somewhat surprisingly – DJs at weekends. There’s a good selection of vegan and vegetarian dishes.
Situated between St. Isaac’s Square and the Yusypov Palace, this intimate, three-roomed restaurant is named after Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Idiot. Its pre-revolutionary interior combines antique furnishings and watercolour paintings with striped wallpaper and quirky ceiling contours. The menu is classic Russian: caviar, blinchiki (crêpes), beef stroganoff, pelmeni and various fish and meat offerings, but there are also plenty of vegetarian dishes and a decent selection of Georgian and Russian wines and homemade lemonades. An additional basement room has board games (backgammon, chess, cards) as well as an English-language bookshelf. Service can be slow during busy times but that goes with the laid-back atmosphere and is compensated by the friendly English speaking staff.
Contact: 00 7 812 315 1675; idiot-spb.com
Nearest metro: Admiralteyskaya
This spot on a bustling street is as famous for its rustic European style as much as its lively, family-friendly atmosphere. It features an interior designed in a cosy and classic style, with wooden chairs and tables and floral wallpaper. The menu is quite expansive, spanning Russian and international dishes (pasta and salads, traditional meat soups, roasted duck, sturgeon), and there’s a very extensive wine list, Russian varieties included. For breakfast and snacks the homemade fresh pastries and cakes are delicious. There’s also a children’s room on the second floor, and tables outside in warm weather.
Set just far enough away from the milling crowd in the city centre but close enough to remain accessible, Birch offers a refreshingly contemporary fusion menu with influences that stretch from Asia to Latin America. The tasting menu, for example, includes crab bisque with coconut espuma, marble beef tataki with truffle pesto and ponzu, and a dessert that blends marinated aubergine, pear and gorgonzola. The interior, by DA Architects, is aptly stylish – think Scandinavian minimal with a dash of Brookyln chic, with light but solid woods, grey-seated bar stools, and low-hanging lamps from high ceilings. The main dining room also has a long communal table alongside normal ones, but the place to be is at a stool watching over the open kitchen.
Contact: 00 7 911 920 3165; birchrest.com
Nearest metro: Chernyshevskaya
This restaurant, located in the lavish Belmond Grand Hotel Europe, offers a theatrical Art Nouveau interior with a beautiful mix of stained-glass windows and carved wooden balconies. It’s a perfect fit to the aristocratic, amuse-bouche peppered European and Russian cuisine on offer, which includes duck and caviar, beluga and borscht and house specials such as the Meringue Pavlova. If you want to make it even more memorable book for a Friday Tchaikovsky night, with live music and ballet. And if you prefer a daytime experience, the Sunday brunch, all caviar and champagne, is nothing short of spectacular (and also has a supervised playroom for children).
Contact:00 7 812 329 6000, belmond.com
Nearest metro: Gostinyy dvor
Hamlet + Jacks
Hamlet + Jacks is part of a recent breed of trend-conscious restaurants in the city that also pays tribute more generally to the history and inherent flexibilty of Russian cuisine. It offers two separate menus: ‘ours’ focuses purely on Russian recipes and local ingredients, often updated, remixed and deconstructed, while ‘theirs’ is more open to international influences. As well as popular dishes such as Murmansk fish and Siberian deer, more inventive experiments include draniki with chanterelles, chorizo and bisque foam, and Rostov duck with beetroot mole sauce and parsnip. The wines are equally well considered – mostly from small, organic and biodynamic wineries – and staff are professional and friendly. The main room is an attractive mix of oak and steel with an open kitchen, but on a nice day the place to dine is the outdoor courtyard.
Contact: 00 7 812 907 0735, hamletandjacks.com
Nearest metro: Admiralteyskaya
Armenian cuisine is popular in St Petersburg and for good reason: it’s diverse and delicious. This authentically run restaurant is a great place to get yourself acquainted or, thanks to the expansive menu, try something new. Decked out with a range of handmade Armenian textiles and knick-knacks – stained-glass windows, weaved carrpets, and clay utensils – the restaurant has three different dining spaces: a grand hall with a more European feel, and two more intimate rooms. The menu stretches from melt-in-the-mouth Kufta made from veal to Whipped Sevan crayfish’s tails and harissa with chicken, various kinds of tolma and shashlik skewers, plus wines from around the world and Armenian cognacs. There’s live duduk music most nights.