The brown bear of Russian restaurants
Claim to fame: The most celebrated contemporary Russian restaurant
Reason to go: Curing a Moscow hangover with the cold soup of fermented grape leaves and green tomatoes
To look out for: Chef’s Table star Vladimir Mukhin’s signature set menu
It may come as a surprise, the most lauded Russian restaurant is not called “Brown Bear”, but “White Rabbit”. Although it wasn’t the name that helped the restaurant enter the realms of gastronomic high society, it was the dream of Chef Vladimir Mukhin and the vision of Restaurateur Boris Zarkov. One of them had enough passion, the other one enough resources.
The restaurant doesn’t exactly look like a gourmet temple, it’s a gigantic venue occupying a grey office building’s penthouse, granted with a terrific view of the Foreign Ministry’s gothic skyscraper, one of the famous Stalinist’ “Seven Sisters”. The menu doesn't really make a strong first impression either, it’s excellent comfort food, nothing more, nothing less, an à la carte menu designed for the regulars who drape themselves over intimate sofas and puff imaginary shishas. Skip that and go for the tasting menu, a thing of beauty that makes it worth all the trouble you just went through to find the restaurant in Office Hell.
Everything starts with caviar here. Mukhin tops a slice of rye bread with a piece of lard and a spoonful of caviar. C'est chic, but what’s the trick? The lard is made of coconut pulp. Not exactly a Russian fruit, yet any chef can forage it in the supermarket, therefore it can probably be regarded as local and seasonal.
Fast forward to a phenomenal cold shchi made of fermented grape leaves and brined green tomatoes, instead of the usual cabbage. This thing is powerful enough to not only satisfy a culinary craving, it also cures the worst of hangovers. Next up burnt cabbage with a sauce of three kinds of caviar; trout, sturgeon and pike, followed by cod, seasoned with dust of fermented lemon, tenderloin cooked in linden leaves, served with a chunk of burnt goose liver, or as we like to call it, “Tournedo Tchaikovsky”. Desserts are made with caviar and sea urchin roe, elegant balancing acts of savory and sweet.
All these dishes take you to a new gastronomic dimension, without failure. The flavors are rich, yet delicate, it’s intellectual food that tells a story of belonging, traditions and innovation.
Fourteen flights down, on the second floor, is a shiny miracle of a high-tech kitchen; Chef's Table by Grand Cuisine. This is where other White Rabbit Family chefs (it’s the restaurant group’s name, not a metaphor) take turns in the Japanese-style open kitchen, sometimes making room for guest stars like Magnus Nilsson or Gaggan. Here you come face to face with the chef, there are no sofas, no views, just pure edible pleasure.