No Country for Bodyguards
Barbaresco // 2 Konyushennaya Ploshchad // Tel: 647 8282 // Open 8 a.m. to 2 a.m weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 a.m. weekends // Menu in Russian and English // Dinner for two 4,165 ($147)
Published: May 25, 2011 (Issue # 1657)
Barbaresco is another addition to the streak of trendy new bar-cum-restaurants in what used to be the imperial stables on Konnyushennaya Ploshchad. Peckish passersby may find selecting a dining spot somewhat of a dilemma: Barbaresco is land-locked by two structurally identical restaurants that each have as many ostentatious vehicles parked outside them as each other. The only exterior selling point to differentiate it from the others is its outdoor seating.
The first floor is spacious and filled with the heady aromas of fine wine and homemade bread (140 rubles, $5 per basket). A large trattoria-style bar stands as the centerpiece of the room, adorned with row-upon-row of deep brown and green bottles, containing whiskeys and liqueurs from the far reaches of Piedmont and Venetia.
The restaurant’s upper floor is a balcony running around the edges of the interior, incorporating smaller, low-set tables for loungers: Certainly dining is not the only thing on the cards. A glance around revealed many a group of expectant girls reveling in the retro-Italian vibe of the upper level. Through the windows, a vista of the neoclassical imperial barracks opens up across the square. The blue and white tiled bar could have come from a Lavazza coffee ad, as could the barman himself. The walls are graced with many grainy photographs of French luvvie Gerard Depardieu, whom the restaurant affectionately claims is a frequent customer.
We were led to our green-velvet clad dining space by a maitre d’ whose beauty matched that of most of the wait staff, and drinks were accompanied by a selection of olives from regions ranging from Sicily to Tuscany (190 rubles, $6.80). The olives were unprecedentedly fresh and kissed the palette with an almost sweet twang.
From the starters we decided against a choice from the wide cheese selection which boasted 24 month old Gran Padano and Sicilian Saffron Pecorino, both complete with walnuts, honey and celery, and opted for the zucchini flan with goat’s cheese sauce and the somewhat overpriced homemade Mozzarella with marinated tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplant (850 rubles, $30). These, like the later dishes, were a little slow to arrive, a foible that betrayed Barbaresco’s Muscovite aspirations. The flan was hearty and filling, with the zucchini and goat’s cheese melting in the mouth, though its presentation was not on par with its content. The Mozzarella was approached with as much caution as a Beef Stroganoff made in Liberia, but it triumphantly won over the table with its fresh, simple but instantly reconcilable components.
Curveballing the pricier mains such as the green tagliatelle with lobster and asparagus (1,900 rubles, $68) and the marble (Wagu) beef (1,100 rubles, $40), we opted for the ‘M’Petata’ seafood stew (520 rubles, $18.60), duck “anialotti” with Marscapone sauce and black truffle (730 rubles, $26.10) and veal with porcini mushroom sauce and rye toast (650 rubles, $23.20).
When they eventually arrived, all three were rather cold. The fish stew was no regular stew, and had more of a pasta-sauce consistency to it. The seafood was all cooked to perfection, but its flavor was drowned by the sheer amount of tomato. The duck dish was more successful, as the tender duck meat infused wonderfully with the sweetness of the Marscapone and rarified extract of truffle. The veal was very well prepared but did not really amount to anything out of the ordinary.
The wine list reflects the expensive side of the establishment, with most coming in at more than 2,000 rubles ($70). We chose a more moderate Chenin Blanc from South Africa (2,050 rubles, $73) which was satisfying enough, but somewhat simple for its price. The cellar is eclectic and tempting, containing specialties for those who are passionate either about wine or about spending money.
Both desserts sampled were delicious: the Piedmontese Panna Cotta with mint was a winner, perfectly presented and reminiscent of minty angel hair. The cheesecake was Italian-style rather than New York-style, so the cheesy center was gorgeous, but somewhat fell apart for lack of a biscuit base. It was saved by the berry coulis and accompanying forest fruits, and was ultimately delightful.
Despite its exclusive tone, Barbaresco has kept aside a kids’ corner to recue parents whose restless children have begun to ruin the meal. While kids may be welcome, a telling message in the menu, presumably written in jest, reads: “Please leave bodyguards outside.” Unsurprisingly, there is already a branch of Barberesco in the Russian capital.
The area around the former imperial stables — Konyushennaya Ploshchad and both Konyushennaya Ulitsas — are rapidly becoming an upscale culinary hub to contend with the more democratic gastro-street, Ulitsa Rubinshteina.
Beaujolais serves up Russian and European dishes of consistently high quality and at reasonable prices. Its striking interior incorporates decor associated with Parisian high cuisine, with a basement resembling a rural French inn. The nights of live accordion music help to whisk diners away to the bistro of their imaginations.
29 Bolshaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa. Tel: 571 8151
Located in one of the newly-renovated imperial stable houses on Konnushennaya Ploshchad, Vesna brings new life to the often precarious world of fusion dining. Combining European, Russian and even Asian cuisine with an atmosphere of quiet intimacy, Vesna is looking to be one of the trendiest joints in town.
2 Konyushennaya Ploshchad. Tel: 913 4545
22.13, which shares its owner with Barbaresco, has already found popularity, with most tables booked in advance at the weekend. Specializing in Italian food but also offering dishes from the world around, 22.13’s niche is one of travel, which is reflected in the eclectic interior decor, which features everything from Moroccan tiles to flea-market antiques hand-picked by the restaurant’s well-traveled owners.
2 Konyushennaya Ploshchad. Tel: 647 8050