THE DISH: Mesto
Mesto//59 Kronverksky Prospekt//Tel: 405 8799//Open daily from 11 a.m. to midnight//Menu in Russian and English//Dinner for two with alcohol 4,150 rubles ($135)
Published: October 26, 2011 (Issue # 1680)
The Place to Be
I should immediately declare an interest here, and offer something of a warning. Take a trip to the toilet at Mesto and you’ll find a photograph of this author staring down at you as you go about your business. The original Mesto was located on Ulitsa Lenina and was something of a hit. The management has hung reviews of that previous incarnation in the toilet. Back then, your humble reviewer gave it a glowing thumbs up when working for another publication, hence the mug shot printed by the article.
The new Mesto also gets a thumbs up, albeit for entirely different reasons. The restaurant on Ulitsa Lenina — opened in the early noughties — dates back to an almost forgotten time in St. Petersburg’s culinary history, a time when having a sushi section on the menu was something of a daring novelty. The fusion of simple and light European and Asian cuisine went well with the restaurant’s minimalist grey interior. The fact that Mesto’s owner and head chef, Katya Bokuchava, was also the city’s top celebrity photographer, also gave it a certain flare. Memorably, one wall featured a large black and white collage of the city’s crème de la crème ace faces snapped out and about at society events (no, my photograph wasn’t there). The restaurant’s name also referenced this would-be glamorous connection, Mesto literally meaning “the place,” but also “me-100,” sto being Russian for one hundred.
Mesto version 2.0, however, has now set off in something of a new direction, Bokuchava having taken a break and studied cooking in England — she now admits that she worships at the temple of British chef and restaurateur Marco Pierre White.
In the interior design of Mesto’s single dining room, the British connection is understated, the dark floral wallpaper, exquisite ceiling plasterwork and stucco molding recalling the black ink styling of Aubrey Beardsley. It’s an inspired piece of referencing, as Beardsley’s curving Art Nouveau flourishes perfectly at home amid the Style Moderne architecture of the Petrograd Side.
But it’s the menu that really reveals the extent of the British influence here. British cuisine has gone through an incredible renaissance in the last couple of decades, partly thanks to celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and the above-mentioned Marco Pierre White, and it’s at new interpretations of English classics such as shepherd’s pie and Beef Wellington that Mesto excels.
We started with an “anti-Caesar” (380 rubles, $12.50), Mesto’s antidote to the standard Caesar salad that almost every restaurant in St. Petersburg feels obliged to offer. Here, it featured grilled chicken wrapped in crispy pancake rolls, iceberg lettuce and a pesto sauce. The pancake rolls were everything they should be — perfectly crisp and oil-free — and the sauce also avoided the potential for an oil-slick calamity.
The warm salad with new potatoes, grilled chicken fillet and spinach in a pesto sauce (320 rubles, $10.50) was another light salad, perfectly presented and featuring wonderfully fresh ingredients. The menu proudly announces that the range of dishes it offers is very limited in order to ensure that all the ingredients are fresh, and both salads that we tried provided evidence, though it would be hard to describe the portions as ample.
At Mesto, the English staple that is shepherd’s pie (500 rubles, $16.50) is much like the island that it hails from – small but perfectly formed. Served in its own individual porcelain baking tray, and featuring strips of veal and mutton under its upper layer of mashed potato, this is something of a novel take on the dish, which usually relies on minced meat, thick gravy and an outsized portion.
The duck with apple puree (700 rubles, $23) hit all the same buttons: A beautifully presented piece of minimalism, wonderfully tender and cooked to perfection, but perhaps not for those in search of hearty English fare.
The tiramisu (250 rubles, $8) was another miniature masterpiece, again served in its own individual white ceramic tray, while the apple pie in a flaky pastry casing and ice-cream (250 rubles, $8) was more generous, but just as packed with taste.
In short, then, and despite the slight reservation about the size of the portions, Mesto is to be recommended — this is excellent pub grub, but not as we know it.