Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Backstage buffets

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

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Not sure if it’s the disconnect between the featherweight models and the stodgy foods often seen backstage, or just the fact that I’m perpetually hungry during Fashion Week, but for the last couple of seasons I’ve been sneakily documenting the catering on offer. Something about the unglamorous reality of the backstage buffet is very intriguing though: no matter how upmarket the brand front of house, everyone is still fueled by crisps and instant coffee.

Also I just learned this week that I love coconut water, so I’m feeling a very strong sense of regret when I reflect on the many missed opportunities to fill up my bag with £1.50 a carton Vita Coco. You live and learn, I guess, you live and learn.

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Round Mari Vanna’s yard

Monday, October 29th, 2012

As you might know (because I’m going on about it constantly), I’m originally Russian. We moved to London when I was a kid, but I’m still Russian enough to dig the food and always quite interested when a new Russian restaurant pops up. Mari Vanna has been open for a few months in London, so my parents, Andrew and I gave it a go at the weekend.

tl:dr review: expensive but authentically delightful Russian food in a jolly setting, totally let down by shitty service.

First of all, the place looks amazing (hence the picture post). It’s kind of worth it just for that. Housed in a big residential-ish building in (but, of course) Knightsbridge, there’s even a load of doorbells outside the entrance as if you’re popping round to eat at the fictional Maria Ivanovna’s flat. The whole place it decked out in Russian knicknaks, doodads and what-nots on every surface. The napkins come rolled in the bottom half of a Russian doll and the bill arrives in a leather purse, it’s all very very cute. The bathrooms are especially increds, with Russian audiobooks playing, beautiful clashing tiles and wallpaper and lots of little gold mirrors.

The food is legit, too. My mum and I both gave it the thumbs up (my mum, being Russian, fussy and vegan is a tough customer) and the Brits were also happy. There’s a good balance between the Very Russian stuff (anything jellied, salo, all the salads) and the Not Too Scary for newcomers stuff (beef stroganoff, fish), lots of veggie options and some excellent drinks. The food is properly Russian though, not westernised fusion or any of that nonsense (at least half the clientele were eastern european btw, though this is Knightsbridge and half of Zuma is Russian as well…) The only thing we found they were missing was solyanka and cherry Вареники for dessert. Mari Vanna, if you’re reading, I can put you in touch with my grandma for the best recipe.

(Sex on the birch, I see what you did there.)

We didn’t have alcohol, but a jug of (totally disgusting imo, but my mum’s choice) Kvas and a round of delicious raspberry and cranberry Mors drinks which came in lovely mismatched crystal jugs. Some of the cocktails look great and I’m sure add to the occasion (though at about £15-20 each, also the bill!).

(The Napoleon cake, a Russian version of a mille-feuille, was about about 3 times the size such a rich dessert should be, but that’s not something to complain about. Have it with black tea.)

Other than the massive dessert, the portions were rather small though. I read in some early reviews that the portions were enormous, but I think they must have adjusted them following feedback. I was dithering between a few of the mains and could have easily eaten two, without side dishes.

On the downside, the service was abysmal. The wait time between getting the menus and anyone bothering to take our order was about 30 minutes and that was only after several attempts to grab the staff’s attention. Once the food started to arrive, it came in weird fits and starts that were surely too random to be intentional. There’s the home-style, bring everything as it’s ready approach (which I love) and then there’s bringing two people’s main courses > then half the starters > then one more main course > then rest of the starters > then the last main course over the space of an hour. If you’re splitting the menu into starters and mains, surely they should come out of the kitchen in vaguely that order, or why bother? Even the cakes we had for dessert came about 15 minutes before the tea that was supposed to accompany them. It’s a pot of TEA for crying out loud, why does that take 15 minutes?! They also forgot part of my order completely, but still tried to charge for it.

The restaurant is quite small and there was a lot of staff around, so we couldn’t work out what was going on with the service. Management issues maybe? Trying to get the bill and then pay it was another debacle which took f o r e v e r. We saw the table next to us having a similarly frustrating time, so it wasn’t just us!

I didn’t have any problems getting a table (in fact, I only booked the day before, but it was for a weird time between lunch and dinner. Dinner reservations are trickier.) but on arrival/departure/toilet trips, you could hear a constant stream of people in the hallway or on the phone that had issues with their reservation or with tables being given away.

For nearly £200 for 4 people without alcohol, I’d expect WAY better service. It is a bloody shame though, because it ruined an otherwise excellent restaurant. Hopefully they’ll get it sorted because the food is REALLY good.

One of each of the pirogi, with Beef & Pork, Cabbage with egg and Sea Bass fillings.

Salad Vinegret, some of the assortment of pickles and buckwheat.

love the tea glasses in their ornate holders, reminds me of getting the overnight train between Moscow and St Petersburg.

my beef and pork pelmeni with sour cream on the side (this is a £13 main and they forgot my £6 fried potato side order, to put the prices/portion size in perspective). I also wanted to try the Golubtzi (stuffed vine leaves) and Вареники (savoury dumplings), which I bet would be good. Basically anything that’s a small pastry or a dumpling is my favourite, which is why I also fucking love dim sum.

The herby garlicy butter that came with the bread was amazing, I was piling it on like it was cream cheese.

This and the two below are the bathroom, isn’t it the coolest?

In case you were wondering how the decor stacks up against a real Russian or Ukrainian grandma, below is what my babushka’s house looks like. They definitely know what they’re doing.

I’d love to hear any Russian (or Eastern European, I’m not fussy) restaurant suggestions for London. I’ve been to Baltic for drinks (highly recommended!) and hoping to make it there for food soon. My Russian pal has recommended Nikita’s in South Ken. Anywhere else?

Further afield, I’ve been to the quite famous Russian Tea Rooms in NYC (pretty good) and my parents raved about Pasternak in Berlin on their trip a few months ago.

If nothing else, this inspired my mum to visit a Russian supermarket and she’s promising us a proper home cooked russian evening when we’re next round. She sent me this picture this morning ^__________^ GET IN MY MOUTH Зефир!

August & September in photos

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011


Russian chocolate is the bomb


Drinks with the internet (Charlotte, Bethany, Tamsin and  Charlotte) at Barrio Central


Jewellery at Topshop Unique SS12 show


I shot Unique backstage for Marie Claire, so can’t show any more until the issue is out!


Making roasted red pepper and tomato soup (recipe)


Tomato, spinach and mascarpone gnocchi (recipe), when a bit cheese mad on this one, but it was INCREDIBLE


Homemade ice-cream sandwich pro tip: freeze the ice cream in desired shape for a while before sandwiching between cookies, or eating it is a nightmare. A very delicious nightmare.


Brighton pier


and the beach


Richard’s fancy shoes in Notting Hill


Sushi at Kulu Kulu (my favourite, so cheap)


Tempura Udon


my parents’ garden


Anna Karenina at the Royal Opera House

Pompoko in Brighton


Luxemburgerli (like a mini macaron), present from Confiserie Sprüngli in Zurich


South Bank beach