THE DISH: Brera Bar
Brera Bar//14 Pochtamtskaya Ulitsa//Tel. +7 921 941 9090//Open daily noon till midnight//Menu in Russian and Italian//Lunch for two without alcohol 1,430 rubles ($47)
Published: January 16, 2013 (Issue # 1742)
Fifty shades of gray
Brera is a smart new bar that opened at the end of last year on the unassuming Pochtamtskaya Ulitsa. Housed just a few doors down from the upscale gourmet giant that is Ginza’s Mansarda, and around the corner from the row of expensive eateries comprised by the Stroganoff Steak House, Russian Vodka Room No. 1 and Graf-in, Brera offers a considerably less expensive and formal alternative for hungry office workers in this neighborhood.
Named after a district in Milan, the restaurant offers a menu that is — unsurprisingly — predominantly Italian, and given that district’s reputation as the “Milanese Montmartre,” the interior is also suitably artistic.
A lot of work has gone into Brera’s original design, which certainly lives up to Italy’s reputation as the design capital. A centerpiece is the chandelier, which consists of dozens of spherical lamp bulbs bunched together with a red cord. On one wall, a huge mirror hangs in a wooden frame around which climbing vines snake their way, threaded in and out of a trellis. Large silver-colored lampshades resemble the kind of dryers that elderly ladies seem to spend hours under at the hairdresser’s, and doorknockers provide quirky decorations for the backs of some of the chairs. Spacious gray velvet armchairs positioned in front of the windows provide a languorously comfortable spot from which to watch the world go by. Gray is indeed a dominant theme, with the walls and a wardrobe at the entrance also painted in its shadowy shades.
There is also an international feel to Brera’s decoration, and a constant contrast between old and new, with flag designs inset into the shiny tables, other country symbols adorning the walls and furniture and a vast globe sitting in a stand on the bar that dominates one wall (and boasts an impressive peanut dispenser). Old-fashioned traveling trunks are dotted around the interior, among the smart leather hassocks and giant candles standing in enormous glass jars. Above the bar stands a miniature obelisk resembling a Cleopatra’s Needle, while a classical bust completes the picture of empire. A jarring note was, as so often encountered in Russian restaurants, the shopping channel playing on a flat-screen TV.
From the Italian classics on offer, bruschetta (100 rubles, $3.30) featured decadently ferocious amounts of fresh garlic alongside the tomatoes and basil. It was a small portion, but given its reasonable price and that it came from the Bar Snacks section of the menu, this was probably to be expected.
Traditional Italian clear soup with meatballs (290 rubles, $9.60) was a winner, and contained delicate, pea-sized pieces of potatoes and carrots, as well as tender meatballs. It made an excellent appetizer and winter warmer, without being too rich.
Another national favorite, ravioli with ricotta and arugula (250 rubles, $8.30), was disappointingly average, however, and lacked any strong taste, while the arugula was undetectable, presumably swamped by the oily sauce in which the ravioli were served.
Moving into more international territory, the hamburger (410 rubles, $13.50) was a spectacular sight, featuring both bacon and burger, as well as a mountainous hunk of Mozzarella and rings of roasted red onion, along with the obligatory lettuce and gherkin. The burger was very moist, which unfortunately made the bun disagreeably soggy. Despite this, it was refreshingly light for a hamburger, and the accompanying fries were a welcome surprise, in that they turned out to be chunky, British-style chips rather than American-style fries.
With a substantial wine menu as well as a range of fresh juices available for 200 rubles ($6.60) per 250 milliliters, Brera may not be a new gourmet Mecca, but as a smaller and reasonably priced café-bar with a relaxed atmosphere, it is a welcome addition to a district dominated by large and expensive eateries.