The Dish: Wide open space

The Dish: Wide open space

6A Startovaya Ulitsa (Crowne Plaza St. Petersburg Airport hotel)//Tel. 240 4200//Open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.//Menu in Russian and English//Lunch for two without alcohol 3,170 rubles ($99)

Published: August 1, 2012 (Issue # 1720)


A restaurant named Skylight could very reasonably be expected to be found on the top floor. We were therefore somewhat surprised to be escorted to a wide white staircase leading to the second floor of the newly opened Crowne Plaza St. Petersburg Airport hotel.

The hotel has been operating for only a few months, and everything is pleasantly shiny and new. As much as the existing Pulkovo international airport, with its pigmy size and shortage of facilities and services, is an embarrassment for Europe’s fourth-largest city, the Skylight restaurant is a delightful experience. Its contrast with the small and ever-overcrowded airport itself could not be greater.

This vast restaurant, which can accommodate nearly 230 diners, felt airy and full of light on a sunny day. In St. Petersburg, it is hard to plan a lunch in a panoramic restaurant, in the sense that the weather can always render the panoramic part null and void at the last minute. We were lucky, and spent a Saturday afternoon gazing at arriving and departing planes from the venue’s ceiling to floor windows. With large white designer lamps, a winter garden at the center of the room and stylish minimalist furnishings, the restaurant clearly did not save on design.

The restaurant was not packed, but did not appear deserted either — a handful of tables were occupied by couples and cheerful-looking youths, most of whom seemed to be hotel guests.

The compact menu features a winning selection of dishes for a transit dining experience. Russian cuisine, represented by beef Stroganoff and borshch, is fused with European bestsellers, such as Caesar salad, Mozzarella and tomato salad and minestrone soup.

The cranberry and vodka salmon (380 rubles, $11.80) was a winning arrangement of soft and juicy marinated salmon rolls resting on creamy avocado salad and sprinkled with cranberries. The presence of alcohol in the berries was sublime, and the light, fresh dish was declared a successful treatment of the fish.

The shellfish soup (410 rubles, $12.80) was a transparent yet gorgeously aromatic broth with hearty chunks of salmon and whitefish, as well as king shrimps and mussels. The chef succeeded in making the broth rich in flavor while low on fat. No large oil drops were spotted in the soup — the plight of so many takes on broth in Russia, where oily soups often wrongly appear to be taken as a sign of the cook’s generosity.

The seafood theme continued with shellfish curry (650 rubles, $20.30), a sweetish, mild variation of the dish, perhaps adapted to Russian tastes. Crayfish and bits of salmon blended with tomato pulp and zucchini in the thick curry sauce. Braised lamb (490 rubles, $15.30) was another success — fresh lamb of this quality is rare in town. Chunks of lamb soaked in red wine sauce were served with roasted eggplants, bell peppers and tomatoes.

Skipping dessert is the tough part at Skylight. The enticing dessert trolley, with its artfully designed mini-masterpieces, was hard to resist. The waitress offered a choice of four mini-cakes or a full-size dessert. We went for the former, and chose a selection of two portions of lemon mousse topped with fresh berries, and two portions of cherry and chocolate mousse (280 rubles, $8.70). Lightly prepared and creamy, they made the perfect finishing touch to the meal, without making the lunch too heavy, as often happens when midday dessert is involved.

The classy restaurant compares more than favorably with similar venues in other Russian cities, including some of Moscow’s airport establishments, which are often something of a Soviet-era canteen experience. An enjoyable overnight accommodation experience for a transit passenger can become an important factor in determining whether or not they return to a city that they originally visited for business. The service was friendly, discreet and not at all intrusive. Skylight is a fine example of the fact that Russia has begun to overcome its cavalier and indifferent attitude that has for many years been damaging its hospitality and dining industries.

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