THE DISH: Summer on the Half Shell

THE DISH: Summer on the Half Shell

Slow Kitchen // 2 Nab. Admiralteiskogo Kanala. // Tel. 924 31 37 // Daily 12 p.m.-10 p.m. Fri./Sat./Sun. 12 p.m.-11 p.m. // English menu available // Dinner for two without alcohol 1780 rubles ($55.80)

Published: June 5, 2013 (Issue # 1762)

St. Petersburg’s most exciting summer hangout, New Holland Island, is back in business, providing sun-starved locals and visitors with access to an enormous green space in the city center, just off the Moika canal.

The triangular-shaped island was a massive hit last summer and looks set to continue as the city’s leisure capital until the end of the season with a host of sports and cultural activities ranging from art exhibits to ping pong tournaments.

This year, Slow Kitchen joins the Wolkonsky Bakery as one of two new food joints on the island. While Wolkonsky will suffice for a coffee or a quick bite, Slow Kitchen provides an altogether different experience, with full service, a substantial menu and excellent terraced views overlooking the island’s central pond.

Organized by restaurateurs from the farmer’s cooperative LavkaLavka and Moscow’s famed Solyanka, the café is all about the leisurely passing of time in one of St. Petersburg’s most beautiful (and quiet) locations.

The café is practically entirely open air and is located on the waterside of New Holland’s pond. Its roof is only a wooden frame, covered by translucent material so as to let the sunlight in. As a result, the dark grey wooden floor and frame prove to be the perfect foil for a bright summer’s day.

The location is also made all the better by the comfortable seating provided. Found at the cafe’s far end are low green couches, while leaf-green wire chairs surround the small circular tables that occupy the majority of the space. A cocktail bar operated by Zing Bar also sits to one side, while lake-level seating is provided on a lowered platform.

The concept of a laid-back summer’s day inspires the menu, which seems to be designed to conjure up visions of the Mediterranean, Middle East or Southeast Asia. Turkish cuisine is particularly well-represented, with the surprising inclusion of a meze selection.

With any chance of a vacation still far on the distant horizon, we succumbed to the three-dish meze option (280 rubles, $8.80), choosing baba ghanoush, roasted pepper, and chickpea yoghurt salad from a wider selection. While the portions, accompanied by two pieces of naan, were rather small and lacked in spice, the meze did the job of whetting the appetite, with the eggplant proving the best of the mix.

A Tarator soup (210 rubles, $6.60) was another appetizer that seemed made for a hot summer’s day. A cold Balkan soup consisting of yoghurt, cucumber and herbs was very light and pleasantly sour.

The mains were more substantial in both size and flavor. The chicken tikka (360 rubles, $11.30) was tender and succulent while the lime, sliced chili, roasted onion and yoghurt sauce on the side excited the palate by hitting all the different flavor profiles. The Asian mussel soup (360 rubles, $11.30) was no less inspired, though difficult to manage because no receptacle was provided for the empty shells. The tangy bouillon, with bamboo shoots and tomato, packed a gingery punch and went hand-in-hand with the jasmine rice on the side.

Chocolate mousse with red peppercorns (250 rubles, $7.80) for dessert proved to be very rich and arrived in a portion fit for two, so back-up had to be called in the form of a Joshua Tree non-alcoholic cocktail (220 rubles, $6.90), a sweet ginger-based tea, and a classic Americano coffee (100 rubles, $3.15).

Despite the cafe’s name, the arrival time of the dishes was just right, with enough space between courses to exult in the surroundings. Unfortunately the same thing could not be said about the check, which had to be asked for three times before finally arriving — perhaps the lazy summer atmosphere had finally taken hold of the staff as well.

The cafe’s waterside location and “plein air” vibe make it a fantastic summer getaway. Add in a relaxing mix of retro pop, rock, jazz and folk tunes, and watch the hipsters flock to the place in droves as the sun dips towards the horizon.

While the kitchen might not be among the best in the city, the offerings are frequently inspired and the surroundings make it worth it. The presence of a Wi-Fi connection and wall sockets completes the perfect summer recipe for an easy-going home away from home.

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