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The New Chefski of Chennai

A dreary ride past a bustling 8 pm Chennai traffic proves rewarding as we settle down at the quaint alfresco dining area of Winter Palace, the city’s first Russian restaurant.

Published: 29th August 2015 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 29th August 2015 09:50 AM   |  A+A-

sergey

A dreary ride past a bustling 8 pm Chennai traffic proves rewarding as we settle down at the quaint alfresco dining area of Winter Palace, the city’s first Russian restaurant. Resembling a traditional Russian dacha (a house or cottage in the country) with cosy cane chairs and white flowing curtains, it is as refreshing as its fine-dining counterpart, which in turn is done in baroque style of architecture to resemble its namesake in St. Petersburg. “The whole idea is to make people experience a Russian ambience while they relish food from our land,” says Sergey Yaroshinsky, the restaurant’s manager as he appears from the kitchen. 

An initiative of the Russian Cultural Centre, Winter Palace was opened in March and formally launched on June 25 at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture at Alwarpet in Chennai. “Unlike other cuisines not many are familiar with Russian food and Winter Palace is an initiative to acquaint people with classic and contemporary Russian cuisine at its authentic best,” says Yaroshinsky who has been in India for the past 13 years.

The menu offered is elaborate, a spread of about 50 items picked up from cuisines across the erstwhile Soviet Union. “Russia is big and thus the food is varied and colourful,” says the manager as he hands us over an appetizer of tangy tomatoes crammed with oodles of creamy cheese flavoured with herbs and garlic.

We finish a bowl of Svekolnik, a cold sour soup of beet and fresh veggies, and dig into a cheese mushroom Blini, a kind of stuffed pancake. “Blini is a staple appetizer in Russia and its beauty is you can fill it up with anything you like,” says Yaroshinsky. No wonder, the stuffing that includes juicy fillings of liver, cured fish, chicken and caviar would leave one spoilt for choice. Those having a sweet tooth on the other hand are recommended to try the one with a honey and ice cream filling.

But it is the restaurant’s Salo and Stroganina that make people come back for more, says Yaroshinsky. The former is a piquant Ukrainian dish of cured tender pork bacon marinated with black pepper and salt with the latter being a beef carpaccio paired with green onions and a chef’s special sauce.

“These are all simple dishes and I try to maintain a perfect balance of salt and pepper in them without letting the ingredients lose their individual taste to heavy spices,” says Executive Chef Sergey Nekrasov, also the curator of the menu, as he joins us at the table.

For the main course, he suggests that we try the famous ‘Plov’, a biryani-like dish of lamb or chicken in flavoured rice that has its origin in Uzbekistan. “You may not find it as spicy as biryani, but it is equally difficult to cook,” says Nekrasov.

He signals the waiter for tall glasses of Kvass, a Russian beverage of fermented rye bread and spices. While we acquaint our taste buds with the unique blend of tanginess and fizz of this non-alcoholic orange-coloured drink, Yaroshinsky says that it has great digestive properties.

“The rye flour and spices for the drink, however, come all the way from Russia,” says Yaroshinsky. “Even though I never tire of experimenting with Indian vegetables and personally shop for most of the ingredients from the local market, certain recipes like Kvass and Plov need spices and ingredients that aren’t available here and have to be imported,” he adds. With Russian cuisine heavily dependent on cured meat and fish, the chef buys them from local suppliers and cures them himself.

With sea food and east Russian cuisine on their cards, Yaroshinsky says they have never attempted to customise the food according to the Indian palate as it will defeat the chief purpose of catering authentic Russian food. To fill that gap, chef Nekrasov has whipped up a line of spicy souses (sauces) like the Gorchica, a spicy mustard sauce, and Adjika, a south Russian tomato sauce to go with the food.

Even as they taste great, we wash the spicy taste down with our fill of the Banana Strudel, a vegetarian dessert of bananas, raisins and vanilla ice cream, and a mouthful of the delectable pumpkin cheesecake. And vow to come back for the rest.



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