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TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPICE

Russian entrepreneurs have recently infiltrated the closed world of elite London restaurants

@owenmatth

RUSSIANS ARE taking over London. No, we’re not talking about high-end real estate or even Premiership football teams. We’re talking food and drink. Unlikely as it may seem, London’s newest generation of restaurateurs comes from Moscow—and their restaurants are among the most innovative and popular arrivals on London’s crowded food scene.

ALL ABOARD: Leonid Shutov’s restaurant Bob Bob Ricard has decor that is somewhere between a high-end American diner and a 1930s Pullman dining car.
BOB BOB RICARD

Most of these new restaurants don’t serve Russian food, but let’s start with the exception that proves the rule: Zima on Frith Street in Soho, which opened in April and is the brainchild of Moscow chef and food critic Alexei Zimin. Zima’s shtick is Russian street food. Truth be told, Russian street food isn’t actually a thing. For pressing climatic reasons, Russians are strongly inclined to eat indoors for most of the year. “I wanted to create a place that would fit in among the new hipster-ethnic food places,” says Zimin, whose rotund figure and luxuriant ginger beard give him the look of a Tolstoyan landowner. “But at the same time, I wanted it to be absolutely Russian in spirit.” A Moscow take on a club sandwich, for instance, is made with Georgian-inspired spicy chicken tabaka and salted cucumbers. Zima’s pelmeni are made with venison, while the poached salmon comes with sweet beets and sour cream and the herring with pear. You can also load up on real black Oscietra caviar in any quantity you can afford. It’s priced at 1 pound a gram—a bargain, relatively speaking—and it’s the real malossol kind, lightly salted (malossol means “little salt”) and fresh, not like the pasteurized stuff that comes in tins. Blinis, with sour cream and potatoes on the side, arrive on a cheap enameled tin plate.

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