Monday, 17th September/Thursday, 20th September 2018 – Tsarske Selo, Il Molino, Khachapuri, Hanami, Musafir, Spirito di Italiano
And so to food! Yes, we did get to eat in Kiev. Most of it was very good indeed. Some of it wasn’t…
Monday, 17th September – Dinner: Tsarske Selo
After arriving too late to look at the Pechersk Lavra, we had a table booked for all of us at Tsarske Selo, a Ukrainian restaurant, which looked lovely from the outside.
After some faffing around while we decided whether we wanted to be inside or on the terrace (which is actually partially enclosed) we sat down to dinner en masse, discovering that it was also lovely on the inside.
Ordering took some time, with most of the party deciding they wanted borsch. I didn’t. I’ve eaten enough borsch in my time. I wanted something new, and so I went for the Herring in a Fur Coat option. While we were waiting there was bread with horseradish, with a beetroot spread and with pork dripping. One of the breads was malted, very like the dark rye bread you can also find in Finland.
Further distractions arrived in the form of a trio of musicians. They wanted to be paid to play and as the person with Ukrainian cash I was happy to supply the money. They then asked what we would like to hear and one of my colleagues, who I shall not name to spare their embarrassment, asked them to play “Midnight in Moscow”. I wasn’t near enough to kick them or clamp a hand over their mouth, and they repeated the request only to be told, with some disgust, that “We do not play Russian music!” so that didn’t exactly go well! Eventually, we persuaded them to play something lively…
When the food started to arrive it proved to be very good. The borsch was served in very pretty pots too.
The herring under a fur coat turned out to be a salad (also known as shuba), made of layers of finely chopped pickled herring, eggs, beetroots, carrots, potatoes and a hefty dose of mayonnaise. It was very tasty indeed, if rather bigger than I needed. I managed to finish it though I probably should not have done so.
My main, I am happy to report, was actually much smaller and more moderate. While the others tackled golubtsy (cabbage stuffed with veal, pork, rice, Bulgarian peppers, carrots and onions) in a tomato sauce, with the inevitable sour cream…
Or chicken Kiev…
I tucked into a modest but delicious portion of veal stuffed with cherries, and served with carrot puree. It was excellent and the cherries went very well with the veal, the sweetness being just right with the meat.
With it my colleague and I drank a bottle of red wine from Odessa, a merlot from the Kolonist vineyard. Everyone else was on the inevitable beer, but much as I enjoy a beer now and then, it isn’t something I like to have with dinner. It just leaves me feeling too bloated for words.
Tuesday, 18th September – Lunch: Il Molino
On Tuesday we had an hour to grab lunch and so we ended up in an Italian restaurant, part of the Il Molino chain, where we had a very decent lunch, even if some of my colleagues felt the portions were on the small side and needed to top up their spaghetti carbonara with half a pizza.
I ate a very good ravioli, stuffed with beef, and accompanied by a cream and mustard sauce and a scattering of air-dried tomatoes. It was very good, and I thought it was quite enough for lunch. Then again, we don’t have a canteen in London and thus don’t usually go for a cooked meal.
With it I drank a refreshing drink from their Summer menu, a sea buckthorn and pear juice that was very light and sharp and delightful. So that’s another use for sea buckthorn!
The burrata salad looked good too.
If I find myself in the office again, I’d be quite happy to go to il Molino for lunch or even dinner.
Tuesday, 18th September – Dinner: Khachapuri
In the evening the wheels somewhat came off the dining train, which it’s fair to say had been going very well up until then. The trouble started when we went round the corner from the hotel to a Georgian restaurant, the Khachapuri i Vino. Even so, the dinner started well enough, with everyone getting a beer and getting stuck into the eponymous Adjarian khachapuris, a boat shaped dough base rather like a thick crust pizza, filled with melted cheese and egg, and which the waiter added a fresh egg too and stirred it around vigorously. It was gooey and wonderful, and if we’d stuck with those, or the other khachapuris, we’d have been fine. I was here last week with colleagues and it’s fair to say that the meal was patchy in the extreme. They were fabulous, cheesy and tasty and a bit like the best cheesy garlic bread you’ll ever eat.
My colleagues opted for the khinkali, which are dumplings with a variety of fillings. I’d gone for the pkhali mix which I shared with a colleague. These were also very good, having a texture similar to hummus, and some fabulously fresh flavours. They are basically made of chopped and minced vegetables, in this instance beetroot, spinach, carrot and beans, which are combined with ground walnuts, vinegar, onions, garlic and herbs.
After this it all started to fall apart. I’d ordered a chorba soup, which should have been rich and tasty and full of meat and rice. Instead it was watery and tasted of absolutely nothing, with the only flavour provided by the three small chunks of meat that were floating in it. I ate the meat, had a couple of spoonfuls of the liquid, and lost the will to continue. Apparently my mistake was to think it might look similar to the photo in the menu…
My lamb kebab was fine, if somewhat meagre, and came with very little in the way of accompaniments, despite the promise of a salad. It was OK, perfectly edible and tasty enough.
The real disaster was the chicken. Several of my colleagues ordered it, and were told it would need an hour to cook. They were fine with that. However, when it did arrive, it was clearly not fully cooked. Blood was pooling under the wings, and more of it came to the surface when people pushed knives into the meat. It was quite clearly not fit to eat. According to the one person who risked a bit that they reckoned was cooked, it also didn’t taste of anything at all apart from bland chicken and it was soggy, which was a tad unfortunate given it was described as having a crispy crust.
The waiter was summoned, and eventually the manager arrived, whisked the chicken away, and offered free desserts instead, which seemed a bit odd as seven people out of our party had not actually had a main course at that stage. We declined, paid the bill minus the chicken, and went back to the hotel. Here’s what the menu photo looked like… Spot the difference, eh?
Wednesday, 19th September – Lunch: Hanami
I was feeling somewhat queasy all morning on Wednesday, which I must admit I was inclined to put down to the previous evening, so I wasn’t overly keen on the idea of lunch. However, I was happy to go and drink some carbonated water and at least be social with the rest of the party. We went back to the shopping centre next to the office and settled in at the sushi restaurant, Hanami. I don’t know how authentic it was, but E, my colleague who has lived in Japan, seemed happy enough. I ended up ordering a smoked eel dragon roll, and was very glad I did. I didn’t take a photo, so I’m using theirs, especially as it did actually look like this too.
I managed a few of the mixed sushi the others ordered, and started to feel a lot better quite quickly. I would have preferred not to have to inhale the fumes from the shisha pipe of the woman on the next table though. When she wasn’t blowing the resulting fumes into the middle distance, she was blowing it at the child she was with, which seemed alarming to me.
Wednesday, 19th September – Dinner: Musafir
By Wednesday there were just two of us left, so I checked the recommendations in my guidebook and found Musafir, which was described thusly: “One of Bakhchysaray’s best restaurants, Musafir relocated to Kyiv in May 2015. The unmistakable scent of Crimean cooking wafts from the kitchen, where a plov master conjures a magic stew in the kazan (traditional wrought-iron bowl). Apart from the usual Tatar dishes, they make excellent yantyk and Turkish coffee. The latter is served with lumps of sugar that you are expected to put straight in your mouth, rather than in your cup.” We walked back from our sightseeing and arrived around 20:30 to find a jam-packed terrace and an almost full restaurant, with a pair of musicians in full flow in one corner. They found us a table, which was a relief as I didn’t have a Plan B.
We ordered drinks, A opting for a Ukrainian beer, and I had a glass of Georgian red wine, a Saperavi, which was really, really good and took away the memory of the wine from the night before. A quick study of the menu and we opted for the hummus and what turned out to be a close relative of baba ghanoush, which came with a brilliantly doughy, chewy, flavoursome flatbread for dipping purposes.
For mains we both felt we ought to go with the Uzbek speciality, plov (pilaff to you most likely), and I’m so glad we did. It was lovely, comforting food, a hug on a plate if you will. The mound of rice was studded with onions, carrots, garlic and pieces of tender, tasty beef, and suffused with cumin, the seeds everywhere. It was a wonderful thing, and very filling too.
The tomato and onion salad was a nice addition, and the onions were mild, so it was pleasant as an accompaniment, but the plov really was the star of the plate. It would have been a shame to miss it. I didn’t need a dessert, but the idea of a piece of baklava with some vanilla ice cream was irresistible, and so I went for it. It was gloriously sticky, and just the right quantity that I didn’t feel overly full of food, and it made a perfect ending to a meal that was not in any way pretentious but that was just right for that night.
It was well worth walking halfway across the city to get to.
Thursday, 20th September – Lunch: Spirito di Italiano
Our last meal in the city was at the airport where we decided it might be a good idea to grab lunch prior to our flight. There’s not a great deal of choice at Boryspil but the Italian just past the duty free shop was perfectly adequate if not exactly exciting. A basket of rather dull bread – with the exception of the local take on grissini – was improved somewhat by a rather sparse coating of garlic butter.
The main courses were much better than the bread. A’s Greek salad was to his liking, at least.
I had a spaghetti carbonara, and while the ham seemed somewhat overprocessed and less like pancetta than I would have preferred, the taste was fine and they had not stinted on the Parmesan.
It was a lot better than many an airport offering I’ve encountered over the years, even if you wouldn’t go out of your way for it. It did the job and was more than enough to keep me going all the way home.