St Petersburg has a dynamic dining scene, with scores of restaurants to suit all tastes, from laidback cafes to hipster hangouts and sophisticated establishments. You’ll find traditional Russian restaurants serving up much-loved classics, from caviar and borscht to beef stroganoff, along with a number of places serving up New Russian cuisine that rethinks traditional fare in a creative and innovative way.
International restaurants abound, serving anything and everything from Mexican to Japanese. Not to be missed are the delicious cuisines of the former Soviet Republics, which make use of zesty fresh greens, grilled meats and scrumptious bread. The city’s nightlife is equally exciting, with lively venues for all and sundry, from literary cafes to intimate drinking dens and stylish cocktail bars.
In search of great food. Malaya Konyushennaya Street, St Petersburg © Pikoso.kz/Shutterstock
For a taste of Russian food
Rich and hearty, Russian fare started life as peasant comfort food, with an abundance of root veggies, dairy and stewed meat. You have to try borscht, a delicious beetroot soup traditionally served with a big dollop of smetana (sour cream). Other favourites include pelmeni, dumplings stuffed with meat, either served on their own or in broth and also enjoyed with a slathering of sour cream; and blini, tiny pancakes served with ham, caviar or cheese.
Gogol is a great spot to try some authentic Russian dishes, from pickled vegetables to hearty meat dishes – all in chintzy interiors reminiscent of a 19th century apartment. If you’re after something more contemporary, check out Taste to Eat, which serves quirky twists on Russian classics (think salad with Russian Far Eastern crab and avocado mousse; and Baltic pikeperch with seasonal greens, blackcurrant and potato foam) in trendy brightly-lit interiors with comfy leather seating and exposed brick walls.
Or try Hamlet & Jacks, which offers an eclectic menu choice: ‘Ours’ featuring avant-garde dishes prepared with Russian ingredients (Rostov duck breast; Murmansk salmon), and ‘Ours + Theirs’ combining food from both Russia and afar (smoked pike dumplings with foie gras). Cosy up in the dining room with its oak and steel interiors, or sit back with a glass of biodynamic wine in the outdoor courtyard.
Traditional borscht with porcini mushrooms and sour cream © DarZel/Shutterstock
Enjoy a taste of the former Soviet Republics
Make sure you sample a few of the tantalising dishes from the former Soviet Republics. Georgian, Uzbek and Armenian cuisines are all held in high esteem. Bursting with flavour, Georgian cuisine is rich and hearty, with plenty of fresh greens and succulent meats. Head to Chemi, an attractive Georgian restaurant with leafy rustic interiors, and tuck into mouth-watering khachapuri, a large roundel of bread stuffed with melted cheese that is served as an accompanied to most meals. Make sure you try pkhali (spinach and walnut balls) and khinkali, dumplings filled with spiced beef, pork or lamb that burst with succulent juices.
Equally flavoursome, Armenian cuisine is rich in meat, fish and veggies, with lamb, aubergines and bread featuring heavily. Erivan Restaurant serves authentic Armenian dishes such as kofta (sphere-shaped veal meatballs) and dolma (minced meat or vegetables wrapped in grape leaves). To round off your meal, don’t miss halva, a much-loved sweet confectionery made with flour and sugar that is similar to fudge.
Ajarian Khachapuri, a traditional Georgian cheese pastry with eggs © Sergiy Palamarchuk / Shutterstock
A laidback meal in the Tsentralny District
Cosy and welcoming, Zoom Café is a popular student hangout that has been serving great-value tasty dishes since the early 2000s. On the menu, you’ll find an eclectic mix of Russian and international dishes, from beef stroganoff to chicken teriyaki and pasta cacio e pepe. Sit back with a book, enjoy some food, or unwind with a cuppa over a board game with friends; Zoom is one of those places where you’ll likely linger for much longer than planned.
For a laidback meal and a catch-up with your mates, head to Social Club, a popular hangout where you can eat and drink while enjoying theatrical performances, live music and poetry readings. It’s a great spot to unwind in laidback surrounds, while tucking into reasonably priced international cuisine.
The Imperial Palace in the Tsentralny Town District © Dmitrii Iarusov/Shutterstock
For modern European fare
Sophisticated and stylish, Birch is all light wood, comfy grey bar stools and dim lighting. It’s a gastronomic bistro offering a contemporary European menu with Asian influences, with the likes of tuna ceviche, strawberry, tomato and yuzu featuring on the menu, along with veal cheeks served with mashed potatoes and pickled vegetables. Sit back at the long communal table or head to the tasting room to watch the chefs at work at the open-plan kitchen.
Best for vodka
When in Rome… You have to sample Russia’s favourite drink while in St Petersburg. Student hangout Chroniki serves up hard liquor to thirsty customers. With gilded Soviet chandeliers and white tiled walls, it’s designed to resemble a Soviet drinking den, and is a good choice if you’re travelling on a budget. Mishka Bar is also a popular spot, attracting plenty of youngsters who come to knock down vodka shots and sip on White Russians, considered to be among the best in the city. Alternatively, head to Russian Vodka Room 1, a restaurant serving Russian classics and zakuski, traditional delicacies that accompany the national drink, such as pickled cucumbers and baked marrow served on rye bread. With over 200 types of vodka, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Be sure to try the St Pete’s Sling, a refreshing vodka-based cocktail with a special relationship to the city.
Alternatively, check out the Russian Standard Vodka team’s pick of the top three bars in the city: Union Bar, a hip bar and grill playing contemporary and retro tunes that gets packed on the weekend; Siniy Pushkin, a popular resto-bar hosting regular gigs and serving up traditional Russian dishes as well as pickles and vodka; and Al Capone, themed like an American gangster bar from the Prohibition era, with dim lighting, bare brick walls, and regular rock and jazz performances.
Vodka being poured in a St Petersburg restaurant © Chubykin Arkady / Shutterstock
Best for snazzy cocktails
Tucked away here and there along the city’s elegant canals are stylish cocktail bars serving up imaginative drinks. At Poltory Komnaty, experienced mixologists shake up creative drinks served on wooden boards, while El Copitas is a small Mexican basement bar serving up excellent cocktails made with tequila and mescal that won’t disappoint (it was voted one the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2018).
Top Image: Panorama of Saint-Petersburg © Shutterstock
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