A group of expat women met at SYR on July 18th for their monthy exchange. Nice enough ambience and attentive service. What surprised me at the first perusal of the menu was that a small thin crust pizza with salami, tomatoes, pepper and cheese cost 270 rouble whereas a standard margarita cost 300 rouble. All of this was preceded by complimentary bread and whipped butter. Followed by olive oil toasted bread with tomato topping. Very generous and uber fresh.
After 3 hours of catching up on our respective lives, and addressing issues that are relevant to expats living in Moscow, it was time to address the damage. When the bill arrived, it was noticed that margaritas were charged at 400 rouble a pop. Upon summoning the menu one more time to verify cocktail prices, the manager's attention was inevitable. The first page of the menu listed "new" prices for aperitifs where margaritas were priced at 400 roubles. I however, had missed the first page and noted the "old" prices of cocktails some 6 pages later, where margaritas were priced at 300 roubles.
As expected, the manager defended his prices whereas the expats defended consistency and that we had based our decision to consume based on 300 roubles as the price data. The manager agreed that the same menu card cannot have two prices, both the old and new, and graciously agreed to give a 10% discount on the bill which was acceptable.
Moral in Russia: Don't get too drunk that you are unable to count your kopeks as counting your kopeks is de rigueur.
Tyubiteika is an Uzbek restaurant in western Moscow by the Grebnoi Canal. Upon reading a restaurant review of the same in The Moscow Times, we drove up there to check it out. Although the view is interesting, the quality of the Uzbek food sucked. We arrived around 3pm on a saturday afternoon and the place had a few customers, not-unexpected at this odd hour. It was the worst plov I have ever tasted and everything seemed to be leftovers from the night before and microwaved. As usual, the ratio of quality to price (our bill was close to 4000 rouble or 130 USD) is absurd in Moscow and while the service was attentive this is not a place where we will return.
It amazes me that these kinds of places continue to exist (assuming that a restaurant flourishes due to repeat customers) and patrons don't hesitate to drop outrageous sums of money on mediocre food. Given how closed the Soviet system was and that its citizens were not allowed to travel and experience the world, the only explanation I have is that Russians don't know better. They are unable to differentiate quality and don't have a reference for value for money.
Yet another example of a disppointment is the Chinese restaurant Kikaku on Begovaya Ulitsa, near Dinamo Metro station. Since we moved to Moscow from Hong Kong, we were craving to satisfy our Cantonese hankerings. Same story here: We arrived here around 6pm on Sunday evening, July 15th, to find not many patrons at this hour. Ornate surroundings, with hookahs which appeared incongruent since the hookah is a Middle Eastern and Central Asian tradition, not a Chinese tradition. Foodwise our expectation was deflated. Dimsum that tasted like fastfood, as it was stale and greasy and literally tasted like leftovers that were microwaved. It was not fresh and steaming. We were not exactly expecting dimsum being rolled in the carts as is traditional in China (this practice can also be seen in restaurants in Chinatown in the US). We asked for steamed rice but they gave us fried rice!! DUH!!! Who has fried rice except the tourists who are not adventurous to try anything new in their Asian adventures!! While the deep-fried carp was acceptable, the sweet and sour pork was again mediocre. The bill came to 3500 roubles or approx. 120 USD. This meal would have cost about 50 USD both in the US and in Hong Kong and once again there is no relationship between price and quality on the Moscow restaurant scene.
Kikaku listed Thai, Singapore, Chinese and Japanese cuisine on its menu. Given that there was such a diversity of cuisines, the chef is probably not a specialist in anyone cuisine but a home chef who can whip up some basic diverse dishes.
I consider myself to be a home cook. I regularly whip up all kinds of delicious soups, roast fish, leg of lamb, veal ribs, make vietnamese spring rolls, make thai curries and indian cuisine. For a home cook, who understands ingredients, makes things from scratch, has a discering eye on complexity of pairings, freshness, taste etc, Moscow does not offer exciting gastronomic experiences on a regular basis. The same elements continue to prevail in the restaurant scene: Ornate surroundings, inflated prices and mediocre quality food. There are more misses than hits and the point is that one cannot be assured of a fabulous meal even if one is paying 120 USD for a meal for two.
So far, Cafe des Artiste, Scandanavia, Propaganda, Uzbekistan restaurants in Moscow have satisfied my discerning eye and my gourmet inclinations. I felt Aist and Cantinetta Antinori had inflated prices for what they offered.
Just wanted to share our latest experience at Kavkazskaya Plennitsa, the renowned Georgian restaurant on Prospect Mira. In the last year, we have been there about 4 times, and consistently the food is excellent. On this latest visit, last Saturday, July 7th, the food was excellent but the ending left a bad taste.
The bill came to about 3500 roubles for dinner for two. We paid 3700 rouble thus leaving a 200 rouble tip. Our waiter returns immediately and says that we must leave a 10% service tip for him. Our Russian is not so good and he pretends that his English is suddenly weak. When I pointed out that on previous visits nobody insisted on a 10% tip, his response was that the policy has changed and now 10% service must be left by patrons. It didn't occur to me to ask for the manager but in the end we paid 350 rouble as tip.
Feeling frustrated that there is no restaurant discussion board in Russia where user experiences can be recorded. Thus, sharing it on this forum in case expats resident in Moscow refer to this resource!