In a city where it’s possible to pay up to US$250 for a rib eye steak, it is no surprise that most feel daunted at the prospect of visiting the pricy Russian capital, Moscow. Yet there are plenty of quirky cafés, hidden restaurants and expat haunts that will not break your budget. Here is a selection of some of the city’s best.
Eat oxtail at Delicatessen
Opened as a joint project by four friends, Delicatessen quickly established itself as a local hangout where the owners manage the show as bartender, head chef, waiter and hostess. Set in a basement decked out in English handmade wallpaper, this little place has a lovely antique bar, piano and fireplace. The eclectic menu, which includes a range of delights from ceviche to oxtail, is casually scribbled on the walls, as is the excellent cocktail list.
Enjoy the warming atmosphere of Khachapuri
This laid-back café with a bright loft-style interior is named after Georgia’s best-known dish, warm bread stuffed with melted Caucasian cheese. Ingredients are sourced locally and the menu includes all manner of Georgian favourites, such as khinkali (dumplings stuffed with meat, cheese or mushrooms) and shashlik (shish kebab). The evening piano recitals add to the warm and welcoming atmosphere.
Try something exquisite but affordable at Chestnaya Kukhnya
It translates as “honest cuisine” and so it is – simple yet exquisite Russian food at affordable prices. The restaurant is similar to a dacha (country house), with wooden cupboards, plaid chairs and jars of pickle and jam lining the shelves. The open plan kitchen allows guests to engage with the chef, who spends weekends hunting his own game. The result is a unique menu, which includes succulent wild boar burgers, deer tartar with quail eggs and stuffed moose. And what better way to round up your meal with the chef’s very own homemade liqueur, which mixes whisky with berries, and chilli and tarragon gin with blackcurrant and nutmeg?
Enjoy food, wine and song at Kvartira 44
Tucked away off a little alleyway, Kvartira 44, or Apartment 44, is a secluded restaurant-cum-wine bar where young intellectuals mingle over long boozy dinners. The dark interior is reminiscent of a French bistro, with wooden furniture, tiled floors and scattered books. Weekends get particularly lively, with guests engaging in music sing alongs at the little piano until the small hours of the morning.
Dine on the veranda at DoDo
This sophisticated restaurant with a leafy interior offers international cuisine with a pinch of the exotic. The dishes are prepared using healthy, seasonal and local products, and can be enjoyed in the stylish interior or on the popular summer veranda in the warmer months. The menu includes red mullet roasted in grape leaves, and cloves and ginger meatballs served with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.
Sit in a Soviet setting at Mayak
This longstanding favourite located above a theatre attracts an international crowd of bohemian Muscovites, who revel until the early hours over copious amounts of vodka and endless cigarettes. The interior is set out like a Soviet drawing room with heavy wooden furnishings. Weekends get particularly lively, with singing and dancing, and guests taking control of the piano in a drunken state of euphoria.
Indulge in incredible views at Strelka
More of a bar than restaurant, this stylish place is located on the site of the former Red October Chocolate Factory – now home to some of the capital’s trendiest bars and clubs. The cocktails are superb and there’s a wide range of international dishes on offer. The summer terrace is undoubtedly one of the city’s best, with incredible views over the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and the Moscow River.
Get friendly with the chef at Ragout
Set out like a gastro-pub with a hint of French bistro, Ragout has a light and airy interior with an open plan kitchen where the chef can be seen hard at work. Twice a week there are “live kitchens” right in the dining room: on Sundays the chef interacts with customers while preparing Sunday roasts, while on Wednesdays the restaurant celebrates its very name by preparing a huge seasonal ragout. There are excellent breakfasts, too.
Sample American classics on the legit Black Market
As the name suggests, this restaurant is decorated to resemble a black market warehouse, with caviar and pickle labelled tins stacked along the shelves. The wide glass-fronted window provides a bright and airy interior. The cuisine is modern American, and includes classics such as burgers and rib eye steaks.
Sip French wine to the sound of jazz at Jean Jacques
This charming Parisian restaurant-café on one of Moscow’s prettiest boulevards offers French staples in a laid-back informal setting. The restaurant is popular with intellectuals who gather to sip on French wines and enjoy the reasonably priced bistro-style food to the sound of French jazz.
Make yourself at home at Baba Marta
This warm and welcoming family-run restaurant serves authentic Bulgarian food and offers an exclusive collection of Bulgarian wines. The interior resembles a traditional house, with colourful fabrics, cushioned seating and wooden ceilings. The banitsa, exquisite pies stuffed with spinach, feta cheese, meat, pumpkin and walnuts, are a must.