New Kid on the Block
miX in St. Petersburg//6 Voznesensky Prospekt//Tel: 610 6161//Open: 6.30 a.m. to 10.30 a.m.; midday to 3 p.m.;//6.30 p.m. to midnight//Menu in English and in Russian//Lunch for three without alcohol: 4,800 rubles ($173)
Published: May 11, 2011 (Issue # 1655)
The Admiralty end of Voznesensky Prospekt once looked as if it were gearing up to become the equivalent of London’s Brick Lane, with two Indian restaurants located next door to one another. Following prolonged, some might say perpetual, construction work, however, it is finally beginning to reveal itself as the city’s hotel center. There are the two veterans on the scene, the Angleterre and the Astoria, and a Four Seasons is scheduled to open in the vast House With the Lions in 2012, with the forest of scaffolding already beginning to come down. Rumor has it that the Four Seasons has been designed with premises for an incredible eight restaurants.
It’s the new kid on the block, the W Hotel, which has already opened, that is a real shot across the bows of the city’s top hotels. At the risk of offending St. Petersburg’s hoteliers (and advertisers), the five-star end of the market in these parts is a fairly conservative realm where historical connections and long-established reputations predominate over innovation or a more modern sense of style.
The W aims to change all that with a funkier, slicker, younger style – even before its mid-April opening it had created something of a buzz in the city with its staff hiring process, which glammed up the whole interviewing process into a Hollywood-style casting event for potential employees, and a swift glimpse at its unashamedly modern interiors is enough to let you know that it hasn’t been taking its design tips from the interiors of the neighboring Winter Palace.
The hotel’s restaurant also differs in that the management has made a conscious effort to distinguish between the hotel and its eatery housed in the same building, even giving it a separate entrance — they are well aware that many travelers regard eating at their hotel’s restaurant as being strictly for the lazy or unadventurous, and they are keen to attract guests from across the city (and the neighboring hotels, no doubt). The new restaurant, miX in St. Petersburg, is also a first for Russia in another sense — a top flight “name” chef has finally opened a restaurant in the country. Among Alain Ducasse’s claims to fame are his having been the first chef ever to have three-Michelin-starred restaurants in three different countries at once, and being the only chef to have accrued 19 stars during the course of his career.
Stepping in, you quickly forget you’re in St. Petersburg, although the interior by the Milan-based Antonio Citterio design house does claim to be “inspired by the jewel tones and layers of a Faberge Egg,” according to the publicity blurb. It’s warm and inviting, thanks to the dark, golden tones of the rough-hewn walnut boards, the dark brown leather of the custom benches and the chandeliers made from countless 24-carat gold chain links. The layout entirely ignores the original interior of the historic building, with the four zones within the restaurant linked by curving passageways and corridors that entirely avoid any right angles, and there is a large glass window looking on to the chefs beavering away in the kitchens.
The menu, on initial examination, seems fairly limited, with just 20 to 30 humbly titled dishes, but appearances here are deceptive: A “soft-boiled farmhouse egg with Paris mushrooms and croutons” (600 rubles, $21.50), turned out to be a miniature masterpiece, complete with rich, perfectly cured bacon. The velvety pumpkin soup with ricotta gnocchi (500 rubles, $18), was another unexpected delight, the concoction perfectly creamed without being overly rich. The menu is divided into dishes that have been specially concocted by Alain Ducasse and his team using local ingredients, and a special “Alain Ducasse Classics” section, featuring some of the chef’s most memorable creations from his other restaurants (visitors would do well to order the seasonal vegetables and fruit prepared “in a Cookpot,” in which the ingredients have been chopped and arranged into a cream and brown-toned mosaic, for the whole table).
Our excellent waitress steered us in fluent English in the direction of the beef tournedos with foie gras and truffle and a perigueux sauce (1,500 rubles, $54). Like all the dishes served on our visit, the portion was small but perfectly formed. The meat, ordered medium rare, was incredibly tender, the foie gras and truffle effectively a rich sauce — another palpable hit. The young rabbit, served with pumpkin in a pastry casing, was equally tender, and just as packed with taste (1,200 rubles, $43).
And after all that, the desserts were by no means a disappointment — some of the best, absurdly light cheesecake this reviewer has tasted in the city (450 rubles, $16), a rum baba as served in Ducasse’s Monte-Carlo restaurant (for 500 rubles or $18, you can choose from a range of rums) and a “miX candy bar” (what you get when a 3-star Michelin chef gives his interpretation of a twix, for just 350 rubles, or $12.50).
The portions are by no means huge, and the prices are by no means cheap, but if you’re looking for first-class dining in Petersburg, this new opening has just raised the bar.
Around the Admiralty
The end of Voznesensky Prospekt, where the three radials converge at the Admiralty, is home to a small yet diverse hub of restaurants that only looks set to grow as more upscale hotels prepare to open their doors on and around St. Isaac’s Square.
Tandoor offers a comprehensive range of delicacies from the subcontinent in a pleasantly kitschy setting, with very friendly service. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s worth every kopeck. The business lunch and Thali sunshine special are highly recommended, and the vegetable samosas are to die for.
2/10 Voznesensky Prospekt
Tel: 312 3886, 312 5310
Receptoria is a corner of French rustic elegance opposite the Admiralty Gardens. The high expectations set by the inviting, sophisticated interior are surpassed. In contrast, the languid and arrogant service borders on the edge of being rude. The attached gourmet food boutique is not shy about its pricing.
10 Admiralteisky Prospekt
Tel: 312 7967, 315 7544
From the street, Tandoori Nights looks a little vulgar with a large neon sign announcing its presence. Inside, however, the restaurant is far from vulgar. The service is thoroughly professional, and the excellent offerings on the menu reflect a number of Indian regional cuisines.
4 Vosnesensky Prospekt
Tel: 312 8772