Mari Vanna Winter Warmers:
There are moments when any idea of a diet (even one where ‘you can eat what you like on non-fasting days’ like the 5-2 diet) go completely out of the window.
One such occasion for me was an invitation to try a ‘Winter Warmer’ menu at Mari Vanna, that charming and kitsch Russian restaurant in Knightsbridge, London. And any thoughts I might have had about behaving soon went out of the window, probably helped along the way by cocktails followed by infused Vodka shots. I tried two of the shots – raspberry the obvious choice living up to my own preconception while cucumber and dill, which didn’t seem quite so intuitive turning out to be a lovely, refreshing and palate cleansing drink.
On to the food, our main reason for the visit, we started the evening in style with a whole range of starters including Pirogi, Traditional Georgian bread pie with suluguni cheese, Russian Oliver salad with Ox tongue and of course Borsch, the classic Russsian beef and beetroot soup served with pampushka (a kind of Ukrainian garlic bread) and sour cream.
I was particularly taken with the Borsch, which, terrified of the potential bloodbath effect in my kitchen, I’ve never dared try to make and never risked ordering in a restaurant. And the pampushka which was incredibly moreish.
The main dish was Goulbtzi, cabbage leaves stuffed with pork and veal and coated with a rather lurid tomato sauce. It really did live up to the description of winter warmer and was truly delicious. The kind of thing you can imagine your Russian grandmother serving up for you before you face the snow and ice!
Our blinis followed on and for me at least were unexpected. I’m used to small drop pancakes and these were much closer to crepes with piles of smoked salmon and salmon roe to fill them. Very lovely though for all that.
Now really I should have looked at the menu and chosen a sensible, light dessert. But, I’ve been to Mari Vanna before and tried the honey cake. And remembered it. And now I’ve ordered and ate it again enjoying it every bit as much despite the moment on the lips-lifetime on the hips effect. It is the most delicious, light, sweet, honey sponge filled with buttercream. And perhaps one between two of us might have been a better idea!
It does stand to reason that a Russian restaurant will produce a good winter menu. And Mari Vanna was no disappointment for me. A great place to visit for comfort food with style!
PS. If you don’t live anywhere near London and you’d like to try out those stuffed cabbage leaves, my friend Galina has just posted the recipe on her site so head over for a Golubtsy recipe
PPS. Another view of the evening and some FABULOUS photos over on Jeanne’s site