Round Mari Vanna’s yard

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!

Tags: , ,

29 Comments

  1. eliza says:

    what a bummer! service like that can really mar an experience of a place! i hope they shape up, because it sure looks sumptuous!

    reply

  2. Kim says:

    My friends have really recommended the food at Baltic before, I’ve just never got round to going!

    It’s such a shame when there’s good food but bad service. There’s a dim sum restaurant I love but the staff are just outright rude – at one point I saw a waitress blatantly arguing about whether or not a customer had ordered a one or two bowls of soup :/

    reply

  3. Яна says:

    Great photo post!
    I love the food and atmosphere as I go to the one in NYC
    Sad to see how the service was for you!
    In NY it Is always great I recommend it
    Even had birthdays there for NY non Russian boyfriend.
    The culture shock of the bday song was made up for in spades by the Delish food

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    October 29th, 2012 @ 8:00 pm

    I’m glad you had a better experience in the NYC one! I’m hoping they were just having a weird disorganised day or something, they can’t be this bad all the time or no-one would ever go back.

    reply

  4. Helena says:

    Bookmarking this for next time I’m in London. This place looks amazing!
    Shame about the service, though.

    reply

  5. Kelly says:

    LOVE this decor, but what a bummer about the service!

    reply

  6. christina says:

    fika brick lane!!! swedish cuisine and it’s absolutely GORG!

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    October 29th, 2012 @ 7:55 pm

    I’ve been there! It was very good actually, I should go again :)

    reply

  7. Natalie says:

    I love this review! You should totes do more of these. I’m a stickler for service so I would have been raging. It’s such a shame. I had a similar story at Colbert the other day – great setting, food but the service = abismal!

    Nx

    reply

  8. What an amazing setting! I don’t know a whole lot about Russian food except I’d love to give it a try :)

    reply

  9. Trix says:

    Love the little knick knacks and decor details. Lovely photos, as usual :)

    reply

  10. Meru Mir says:

    Well, bad service just proves that the restaurant is authentic russian (:

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    November 20th, 2012 @ 9:13 am

    haha, that’s what my mum said!

    reply

  11. Purrfect Kat says:

    Loved this post! I’ve got russian origins too and can’t help but feel proud about them. I live in Paris and now I want to try and find a GOOD trad restaurant there! You gave adresses for NYC, Berlin, do you have any for Paris??

    BTW : I love your blog, you’re one of my favourite reads! Thanks for the lovely posts!!

    reply

  12. Bee says:

    I really enjoyed this, especially your babushka’s decor skills. I weirdly can’t view the comments, so apologies if every single other person has said the same thing, but a piece of my heart definitely belongs to Trojka in Primrose Hill. It’s perfect after a big ramble on the hill, and I like the way the staff randomly reserve tables even at the quietest times for their friends & locals.

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    October 31st, 2012 @ 11:27 am

    Thanks for letting me know about the comments, I think we’ve solved the problem.
    Troijka looks good! Might be one to try out with my pals. x

    reply

  13. Christine says:

    The restaurant looks amazing! Too bad for the bad service though, hate when that happens :(

    reply

  14. Sarah Kane says:

    I went to Sobranie in Belgravia with some friends (one of whom is Russian). It was quite pricey, but I did enjoy it. I was not too adventurous (which I now regret, as the more I hear friends talk about authentic Russian cuisine, the more keen I am to try it out). I think I had Salmon, or some other kind of fish. The restraunt was nice, I enjoyed the food (it was hardly cheap, but not ridiculous either), but my friend said the menu was quite westernised, though if I remember correctly she liked it too.

    Nice post Kris, also loved your recent fashion week posts. I was so dissapointed not to make it to LFW (I was sick!), but maybe I will see you next time.
    x

    reply

  15. sharon says:

    ridiculously sweet looking restaurant, such a shame about the service x

    reply

  16. Barbara says:

    What a beautiful and cozy place! i’d love to be there

    reply

  17. Kate says:

    Ah! Russian Standard Original Vodka! That is all my husband ever buys but no one ever seems to have heard of it. Tickled pink to see it on a menu. :) The food sounds lovely although shame about the service.

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    November 20th, 2012 @ 9:12 am

    Russian Standard is pretty standard here! Most London bars have it I reckon :)

    reply

  18. AlinaALina says:

    Hello :)

    First of all would like to say that I just loooove your blog.
    There is a great Russian restaurant in London called Erebuni… Well this is not really russian name, but being Russian myself, I have visited it many times when I used to live in London. here is the link: http://www.erebuni.ltd.uk/ It is not sooo posh, but all Russian celebrities do go there when they are in London for sure, and you can see their happy faces on the photos hanging at the restaurant. The cuisine is not only Russian, you can find a lot of Ukranian and some Caucasus dishes there- basically everything, what we used to eat in Soviet Union. )))

    Hope this helps)

    Best,

    Alina

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    November 20th, 2012 @ 9:04 am

    Haven’t heard of Erebuni before, the Russian/Armenian fusion is interesting. I’ll definitely add that to my list to check out! Thank you! x

    reply

    AlinaALina says,

    November 20th, 2012 @ 9:35 am

    Happy to help!

    You will find all sorts of Pelmeni there, also Chebureki and amazing Borsch ( for those who love this very Russian/Ukranian dish:))
    And when you get the bill, the shot of cranberry vodka is served. I am not vodka fan, but this drink is very special. Let us know your feedback, Kris:)

    Have a great day, looking forward to see your new posts:)

    Al
    x

    reply

  19. […] dreamy Russian restaurant that Krisatomic has captured above. See more photos (and a full review) here. DiscussionLeave a comment Category Uncategorized Tags Anthropologie, Fashion, Favorites, […]

  20. Yamila says:

    Lovely photos and what a awesome restaurant. I did not know you were russian. My greatgrandparents were russian/ukrainian and polish. They migrated to Argentina at the beginning of last century. I have always been fascinated in russian culture and literature. At uni I took Russian for a year in Sydney, Australia and learnt to read and write in Cyrillic. Your photos are beautiful. I would love to go to Russia and Ukraine one day and visit my family and would love to go to a russian restaurant that you mentioned in New York. Now we live in Patagonia there is nothing of the sort here :(

    reply

    kris atomic says,

    November 20th, 2012 @ 9:10 am

    Hi Yamila, thanks for your comment!
    I’ve only been back to Russia twice since I left, I’d really like to go back to Ukraine too. It’s great you learned Cyrillic, I’m lucky I didn’t lose it altogether, as when I was younger I had no interest in it at all. I can still speak/understand ok and read slowly, but my writing is pretty much gone sadly :(

    reply

  21. Sarah says:

    This post comes at a very good time; I’m currently living in Moscow, and am going back to London for Christmas. Can’t wait to eat some pelmeni when I get there!

    reply

Leave a Comment