Friday, March 18, 2011

Eating Moscow: Café Pushkin

Where to start, where to start? With a classic perhaps to put things into context. Not only was the iconic, must-at-least-drink-a-coffee-there Café Pushkin architecturally striking, it was somehow able to be cozy despite the slight air of pomposity. It's the kind of place my grandmother might have taken me to as a kid, where I would sit fidgeting, scolded for using the wrong utensil. At the same time, in the late afternoon sunlight, after shedding 45 layers of wool and fleece, it was welcoming, comforting. The downstairs was informal, whereas upstairs one might feel underdressed without a jacket and tie. But the atmosphere, inviting as it was, is not what would keep me coming back. That, would be the food.

The wild mushroom pelmeni ruined me. I don't think I will ever order pelmeni again because none that I will ever eat will be as good as the mushroom pelmeni at Pushkin. 

The mushroom julienne, (I was in a mushroom mood, perhaps still reeling from the meat jello the night before, but that's another story) was served in an adorable edible cracker pot - I bit into the lid to see if it was edible. It is - but I would advise against it, I think I cracked my tooth.

The story of this place is equally charming. Back in the 80s, Russian Andrei Delos was a student studying architecture in Paris. After the fall of the Soviet Union he went back to Moscow, intending to stay for a short visit. Bureaucracy extended his stay indefinitely and soon Delos, fluent in French, was giving city tours to French tourists. 

The French tourists all seem to have one request: Can you take us to Café Pushkin? They had heard about the café in a popular French song about a Russian tour guide who falls in love with a French tourist and in the song he takes her to "Café Pushkin". Thing was, there was no such thing as Café Pushkin. It did not exist. But after being repeatedly asked about the famous non-existent café, Delos had an idea. The architecture student invested his savings in building from the ground up a café that was designed to look like it may have been Pushkin's house. Decorated in period style, he overlooked no detail. Café Pushkin quickly attracted not only the French, but the Moscovite glitterati in droves. To get in today, you need to push past the hordes of SUVs parked outside, drivers waiting with motors running. The establishment has become an institution and it's established Delos as one of the major players in the Moscow restaurant and club scene.

His latest creation Turandot, has been all over the press lately. Again the design was overseen by Delos' and his keen architect's eye for detail. Built in a "French Chinese" style, the place is opulent, beautiful yet on the verge of becoming gaudy. When we visited, a group of eight adults sat at a table while their children, the girls in white islet dresses with satin sashes (and snowflakes that stay..), ran up and down the stairs and around the dining room as though they were at a picnic in the park. It reminded me of a scene from the Nutcracker, some how so bourgeois Russian - like a dream sequence.  

Café Pushkin is open 24 hours - which surprised me - you wouldn't peg it as a 24 hour kinda joint. Apparently around 4-5 am it fills with SUV-chauffeured 20-somethings who are wrapping up a night of clubbing.

For the food, the atmosphere, the people-watching, when in Moscow save your pennies (which you will have had to do to even breath the air in Moscow) and take them to Pushkin. 

1 comment:

  1. My favourite restaurant experience EVER! Brilliant place - wonderful staff.