The Siberian restaurant decorated with real birch tree trunks isn’t new, but the icy season seemed the right time to re-visit its homemade Russian comfort food – and we’re not just talking about the bear meat.
We knew its lavish Sunday brunch buffet: a vast selection of salads, meats, fish, pickles, hot dishes, dumplings and pancakes (€9.90), but had yet to properly sup there.
This is the place to swallow a shot of unbelievably smooth, Tundra-brand vodka served as cold as a Siberian lake (in one down-the-hatches, Cossack-style gulp) while munching on some classic zakuski – salty bites to line your stomach while boozing – like the Na Zdarovje (€6), an assorted plate of luscious dill-marinated wild mushrooms, juicy pickled tomatoes, sweet and sour gerkhins and Russian style coleslaw.
Or feast on a plate of delicious puffy fried pastries filled with meat, mushrooms, potato or cabbage and served with sour cream, Russia’s answer to empanadas and the ultimate hand-held comfort food (€7.90; €2.30-€2.90 for one). To thaw your frozen insides you can of course order a bowl of Siberian-style borscht, with meatballs and beans, Ucha (fish soup) or wild mushroom Solyanka (€5.90; €2.90 for a small portion).
Russians don’t traditionally have courses when they dine – they just randomly eat whatever’s on the table in an orgiastic beer-and-vodka-fuelled feast. Be sure to order the house dumplings and eat them when they’re hot: meaty pelmeni (a real Siberian dish) and/or veggie vareniki (originally from Ukraine).
The choice of pelmeni fillings runs the gamut from pedestrian pork (€10.40 for 22 dumplings, €5.90 for 12) to bear meat, a Siberian delicacy (this bear is apparently absolutely un-endangered and imported from Estonia, €25 for 20, €13 for 10) – with beef, turkey, lamb, venison, boar, moose, reindeer, salmon, pike and sturgeon in between.
Veggies are well catered to with the vareniki – meatless ravioli-style pouches filled with potato, spinach or mushroom. Ours were sauerkraut-filled (€9.40 for 15, €5.50 for 8), served with sour cream and herbs and far superior to the frozen kind you get at Russian Spätis. And you thought pickled cabbage was for just for Germans. We rounded out the savoury part of the meal with a plate of Siberian Basandaj pork meatballs with heaps of sauerkraut and boiled spuds (€8.90) and their more sophisticated venison version, served with a great sour berry sauce and French-style duchesse potatoes – as comforting as comfort food can get.
For dessert, we gleefully wolfed down two blinis with raspberry sauce and honey (€4.50). There’s nothing bogus about Bogus (in case you wonder, it was actually named after a friend of the owner) – and maybe next time, we’ll even brave the roast bear with buckwheat kasha.