THE DISH: Fresh Point
Fresh Point//126 Nevsky Prospekt//Tel. 971 1555//Open daily 8.30 a.m. to 9 p.m.//(from 10.30 a.m. at weekends)//Menu in Russian and English//Lunch for two without alcohol 740 rubles ($24)
Published: November 9, 2011 (Issue # 1682)
To the point
Fresh Point, tucked away behind Ploshchad Vosstaniya metro on the corner of Stary Nevsky and 1st Sovietskaya Ulitsa, represents a new format for the local dining scene, with its pre-made sandwiches and takeaway-friendly menu.
In terms of the food on offer (the sandwich has never been a staple of Russian cuisine), the cafe’s simple white and lime-green plastic interior comprised of easy-to-clean surfaces and sharp angles, and indeed its display of neatly packaged and date-labeled products, Fresh Point is highly reminiscent of an Eat outlet (a U.K.-based deli-café chain).
Ordering is refreshingly simple: It is done at the cash register rather than from the table as is so often the way in Russia, even in bars where it seems a needless waste of time and resources.
Indeed, it was at the cash register itself that the cafe revealed its most impressive side. Our server spoke fluent English (all the staff spoke a commendable level of English), and all of the employees were exceptionally friendly and helpful. The dilemma of choosing between two different kinds of soup was solved by the offer of a sample cup, while the staff smiled throughout, checking on the meal’s progress with what seemed to be genuine interest, and one waitress even offered to retrieve an erroneously discarded check from the trash can.
As a result of the soup tasting session, the pea and mint (105 rubles, $3.40) triumphed over the chicken noodle: Thick, well-balanced and served at the perfect temperature, it was an excellent starter despite its companion — an overpriced half-slice of very ordinary bread for another 10 rubles ($0.33).
A quick check on Fresh Point’s Facebook page reveals that the eatery prides itself on having a “new thing appear on the menu practically every day,” from Beef Bourguignon to Uzbek plov. However, in order to try out any of these new additions, it is recommended to arrive at lunchtime or before, especially on the weekend. At 4 p.m. Saturday, the choice of sandwich fillings was restricted to BLT, coronation chicken or salami salad, and the salads to Greek, Nicoise or hummus and falafel. Yogurt with granola and a variety of fruit and desserts are also available, and the staff insisted the small selection was due only to the café’s popularity.
Fortunately, as far as main dishes were concerned, the choice was also limited in terms of price, the salads ranging from 60 rubles ($1.95) for a Greek salad to 150 rubles ($4.90) for a hummus and falafel salad, and the sandwiches between 135 rubles ($4.40) for coronation chicken and 155 rubles ($5) for a BLT. While such low prices might instill fear of low quality among some, the reality was quite the opposite. The hummus salad was incredibly fresh, with the falafel retaining a welcome crunchiness despite having been wrapped in packaging for, presumably, at least several hours. The coronation chicken sandwich, substantial in size and filling, was also certainly worth its price, though the sauce left a slightly strange aftertaste of something resembling tahini.
However, as if to balance out the excellent value of the main courses, the drinks and dessert menu leaned the other way. The chocolate brownie was buttery, soft and rich, but considering it was devoured in about three bites, 40 rubles ($1.30) seemed a little steep. While cold drinks such as coke (45 rubles, $1.45 for 330ml) are averagely priced, the real shock comes with the coffee. 120 and 95 rubles ($3.90 and $3.10) may not sound like a lot for a cappuccino and Americano, but only if the coffee is fresh and aromatic. The reality however, was an insipid, thin filter coffee reminiscent of the kind served at highway truck stops.
The only other slight concern at Fresh Point is that while it seats approximately 50 people, the café has only one toilet — a potential problem during the busy weekday lunch hours attested to by the staff. Overall, the restaurant delivers in all of the ways in which it is supposed to: Fast, easy service (ideal for popping in and out on a work break), as well as food that is healthy, affordable and — most important of all — fresh.
Just don’t try the coffee.