Thursday, 12 April 2012

Mari Vanna: Russia in Knightsbridge

From my last post; a lounge room that felt like a restaurant to the new Mari Vanna, a restaurant that felt like a lounge room.

I'd been counting down the days to this much anticipated opening ever since my Russian foodie friend mentioned the Ginza Project were bringing their Russian name to London's Knightsbridge. Craving pelmeni all through spring, we finally nabbed a table at the half-finished home in mid April. When I say home, I mean home. The interior was warm and atmosphere welcoming, and elegantly eclectic. Every detail had been fine tuned from the crystal chandeliers hanging from rosette covered ceilings, to the traditional Khokhloma serving spoons and Gzhel wallpaper in bathrooms. The bells and locks decorating the terraced entrance oozed exclusivity, as in true Mari Vanna style you either need you own key to enter or to ring the door bell to be greeted.

Mari Vanna met all my expectations. It was warm, it was welcoming, it was the comfort food we grew up on. Simple in it's extravagance, heavy and rich with traditions.

I started with the borscht, which was perfectly sweet from the beetroot, accompanied by a light-as-air brioche bun. The authentic rye however on the complimentary bread board also sat perfectly alongside the soup.

The pierogi with chicken and cabbage was soft, doughy and morish. The salted herring that followed my starter was melt-in-your-mouth smooth and everything I wanted it to be. The saurkraut I ordered on the side, mainly because I crave my grandma's saurkraut every time I see it on a menu was almost as good as Oma's, although for it to gain full marks I would have preferred it hot.

Perhaps my only criticism was the meat pelmeni. I am yet to find a pelmeni as good as those at Veselka in New York, yet I never seem to stop searching London. Mari Vanna's were dry and a little too stodgy, and lacked the necessary kick from the soured cream and chives.
After too many courses, we were presented with the dessert menu. Eager to see if the chef could end the meal as strongly as it started we went for the honey cake that came highly recommended by our waiter. It was devilishly good. Too good as after the last mouthful we were riddled by guilt.

The most noteworthy accompaniment to the meal, which I can't sing high enough praise for was the homemade horseradish infused vodka. It burnt, in a good way. Was warming with a bite, yet went down dangerously easily along side the food.

Eastern Europeans know how to cook good hearty traditional food well, and that's what this is. The food was true to it's traditions and roots, and wasn't 'over accessorised' as you may expect from Knightsbridge. I don't think Mari Vanna is for everyone, but for me it satisfied the craving for the home-cooked family meals that I don't often get being so far from home. And I loved it.

Mari Vanna on Urbanspoon

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