THE DISH: Legran
Legran//4/1 Millionnaya Ulitsa//Tel. 643 0444//Open from noon to midnight//Menu in English and Russian//Dinner for two with wine 4,190 rubles ($135)//www.legran-rest.ru/
Published: October 10, 2012 (Issue # 1730)
Golden age dining
French cuisine is somewhat richer than the baguettes, soups and éclairs that the city’s many boulangeries would have us believe, and newly opened Legran aims to restore the good name of haute cuisine by proving just that. Nestled in a shy corner of Millionnaya Ulitsa, in a district that was once occupied by wealthy expatriates (and still is, to a large extent), the restaurant aims to satisfy their tastes 200 years on.
The concept of the restaurant has been meticulously executed, in a menu divided into regional French and “old style” Russian cuisine, both limited to a dozen or so dishes in the finest traditions of “less is more.” The French side of the equation is represented by dishes from Normandy, Alsace, Brittany and Auvergne.
More importantly, the restaurant confidently passes the test for schizophrenia that is all too relevant to Russia’s fusion scene: You won’t be allowed to order such harmonious combinations as salmon sushi and spaghetti Bolognese here. The Russian menu is composed mostly of pre-revolutionary recipes that hark back to the country’s Francophile past, or at least that of the Europeanized aristocracy from the nearby Winter Palace. Think head of pike in cream or roast honey duck, rather than good old Soviet cutlets.
The interior is equally refined, starting with the elegant entrance from the cream-colored veranda out on the street and red-carpeted steps into the restaurant proper below ground level. Four spacious rooms occupy what appears to be a redesigned red-brick cellar, which the custom-made furniture, imported lamps from France and Belgium and intricate Italian plates and cutlery complement perfectly. The rooms are divided by theme: A cigar room, lunch room, private banquet room and bar, with each one outdoing the other in terms of attention to detail. A potpourri of interior accessories lends a rustic charm to the space, including old clocks, bronze-framed mirrors, statuettes, a model sailboat and a scattering of books on French cuisine, all accentuated by a soft ambient lighting that creates shadow plays on the red brick walls and arched ceiling. Comfortable velvet dining chairs and ample space between tables provide for a pleasant dining experience.
The waiters were equally drilled to convention, insistently ushering us to the cloakroom when we set out to explore the halls. Other than that minor annoyance, the service was attentive and professional throughout our visit, and the sommelier deserves special credit for choosing a wine from the extensive selection that perfectly complemented our meal: An Italian Santa Cristina Antinori light-bodied red (400 rubles, $13) for the meat, and a Sancerre Les Baronnes Sauvignon Blanc (720 rubles, $24) for the fish.
Complementary glasses of a cheesy mousse-like cream with shredded tomato were a pleasant surprise with which to start, and the appetizer of fried goat cheese with arugula salad, roasted pear, raspberries and walnuts (600 rubles, $20) was as spectacularly presented as it was excellent on the palate.
In true French style, though ordered to be cooked medium, the beef medallions glazed with cognac and blue cheese sauce (1,350 rubles, $45) were in fact bloody, but were also mouthwateringly soft, and paired excellently with the sharpness of the cheese and juicy cognac marinade over a bed of creamy mashed potatoes and steamed carrots. The other main, fillet of salmon with pearl barley and oyster sauce (690 rubles, $23) was tender and its accompanying barley was declared the best the diner had ever tried.
Riding these high expectations, the pear cooked in raspberry syrup with basil cream (430 rubles, $14) was a bit of a disappointment and did not seem to justify its high price, consisting of an average cooked pear and a slab of basil cream, which though interesting, was too meager to save the rest of the pear from mediocrity.
Although the traditions of the past can never be fully experienced and the golden age of Russian and French cuisine is long gone, Legran has reinvented the experience of fine dining, enabling one to feel like — and eat like — an aristocrat.