THE DISH: Aiming High
Le Menu//79 Kronverksky Prospekt//Tel: 933 5229//Open daily from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.//Menu in Russian and English//Dinner for three without alcohol//1,492 rubles ($48.35)
Published: September 21, 2011 (Issue # 1675)
Just a short stroll away from the Peter and Paul Fortress and with the most spectacular views of the Winter Palace right on its doorstep, Le Menu is enviably located. Despite its name, it is not a French restaurant. In fact, it is neither French nor a restaurant, but a cafe with a predominantly Italian menu where you order at the till, canteen-style.
The inside is attractively decorated with green wallpaper and exposed opposing walls. The menu is not particularly large, but is as green as the walls, comprising a selection of vegetarian and fish dishes. Unfortunately, when compared with other vegetarian cafes in the city such as Botanika and Idiot, the food at Le Menu is rather bland and uninspired. It is, however, extremely reasonably priced.
To start, the minestrone soup with lime (109 rubles, $3.50) was more of a vegetable broth, and lukewarm at that. Lacking any distinct flavor and with no pasta to speak of, it is difficult to imagine this soup as the minestrone with lime advertised on the menu, but it couldn’t be described as awful — simply no more than average.
The salad section was marginally better labeled, but did come with excessively large plates. The mussels (99 rubles or $3.20 per 100 grams,) were inoffensive enough and the herring (42 rubles, $1.40), while brimming with bones, would have been more or less decent had it not been quite so salty.
Of the main courses, the fettucini with mushrooms (129 rubles, $4) was satisfying, although rather on the small side. Having been forgotten — along with a glass of mors — by the waitress to begin with, when the lasa-gne (129 rubles, $4) did eventually arrive, it was small, uninspiring, and still not quite warm after a measly 60- second stint in the microwave. The gnocchi (129 rubles, $4) would have been better described as potato cutlets, and the tinned tomatoes with which they were served were nothing short of disappointing. A major reason these dishes were such a let down was that they had been described as something much more than they were. Perhaps, instead of giving every dish an Italian name that the meals do not match up to in reality, the people behind Le Menu might fare better by describing the menu more modestly, thus saving their customers from any unwelcome surprises.
The hot dishes, however, were heroically surpassed by the selection of cakes and pastries baked on site. With a selection ranging from marzipan sticks (55 rubles, $1.80) to an incredibly delectable mango cake (80 rubles, $2.60), the cakes are all reasonably priced and are definitely worth a try.
Le Menu is a great place to drop in for a coffee in an area that, despite its numerous attractions, does not have much in the way of cafes. It is a cafe with plenty of quirks, not least the library in the restroom, but also its wide range of fresh juices, ranging from your regular orange and apple juices to kiwi, pumpkin and pomegranate at only 55 rubles ($1.80) per 100 milliliters. Without wishing to conjure up a comparison with a garden
pea, Le Menu is probably best summed up by the words petite and green. The staff are friendly, albeit a little forgetful, and it is a great place to sit and relax with friends or to rest your weary limbs after hours spent trekking around the fortress. It is not a gourmet restaurant and nor does it pretend to be. It does, however, offer simple, healthy food and a cozy, welcoming atmosphere. So, if you’re looking for a cafe that is reasonably priced, with a bit of flair and a large range of fresh juices, Le Menu may be the place for you.