The last EatFIFA of 2012 took us to London’s Russian stronghold of Knightsbridge and Mari Vanna, reportedly one of Roman Abramovich’s favourites. There were no oligarchs in sight this evening, but almost certainly some of their WAGs.
Coming in out of the cold to the warmest of welcomes (never has an offer of taking one’s coat been extended with such glee), we were shown downstairs to a cosily-lit dining room. The staff, who can only be described as impossibly beautiful, flitted in and out the tight corridors and stairways of what feels like a rich Russian grandmother’s house. Every square foot of shelf and wall space is taken up with charmingly authentic clutter, from (somebody’s) family photos to various pots and pans. A bit like a Harvester, but with a hell of a lot more effort, history and extravagance involved. And then there’s the toilets…
Sat underneath the biggest lampshades ever seen, we quickly decided on some starters. Pirogi, filled with beef and pork, were a more robust pastry affair than their more commonly-seen Polish counterparts, resembling mini Cornish pasties rather than ravioli. Blinis, served with salmon roe and a selection of condiments, harked back to the dark days of EatNetherlands, albeit with a reassuringly eye-watering £23 price tag. No-one had the borsch, and we will regret it for all eternity.
The smiling waiter returned to take our orders for the main course – Golubtzi (stuffed cabbage leaves), dumplings, calf’s liver (accompanied by a charming urn of mashed potato) and a couple of beef stroganoffs. The modest portions packed a rich, creamy punch that slowed you down to a satisfying pace, and we all felt surprisingly full afterwards. There was just about room for some deliciously sour cherry dumplings, tempered only slightly by the cream poured on top. Complimentary shots of Russian Standard took the edge off the arrival of the hefty bill, but Mari Vanna had charmed us too much to care about that.
Value For Money: 61.3
Russia elegantly slides into third place in our rankings, behind the exotic delights of Argentina and Colombia. Mari Vanna is a surprisingly versatile option – we six men, with no oil fortunes to speak of, dined next to some Uzbekistani ladies of leisure. No sign of Abramovich, though…