Once upon a time, T&B would fly to Paris or London for a breath of air, and our friends would take turns inviting us to all the happening places – surely one could not find the like in all of Muscovie… no longer! The last time we waltzed into the newest under-decorated, over-priced and profoundly hip eatery in London we found ourselves saying: “Nice, very nice…not Moscow of course, but not at all bad by European standards!”
It was New York in the 70s, Madrid in the 80s… but it’s Moscow today! Food, clubs, fashion, culture high and low, it is all happening in little Moscow. Despite the razzle-dazzle coverage in the press, it is not just about money. Yes, there is plenty of that! But some of the best places are priced quite reasonably – about on a par with Paris, and far cheaper than London.
Add to this a remarkably rich cultural scene (music, theatre, painting, literature) and the beginnings of what we expect to be the greening of Russia (yoga, Eastern religions, Chinese Tea ceremonies, etc.) there is now much to compensate us for the uniquely ghastly weather!
A small selection of our favorites – concentrating on the wacky or the merely excellent:
Widely written up in the press as the most expensively decorated restaurant on earth (upwards $50M) it defies ready description. 500 craftsmen and artists are reported to have worked for some five years to create the beautifully-crafted interior, lavish beyond reason – exactly what Louis XIV would have done at Versailles… if, that is, he’d had the money!
Under a huge dome, hand-inlaid with gold, with Chinoiseries standing in array at its base, and with every square inch of wall beautifully frescoed, there are two large dining areas plus an endless train of private rooms, each with its own theme, suitable for oligarchic dining at its finest.
The waiters are of course attired in 18th century costumes – professionally executed by theatre costumiers – not with zippers but with stays and laces! A chamber orchestra in powdered wigs perches atop a revolving platform playing historically-accurate 18th century melodies.
By now, perhaps getting hungry, the reader will wonder about the food. Take a guess…go ahead…with this décor, what would you think they serve?
Sushi, of course! as well as Chinese, Vietnamese, and some con-fusion. (and they say that Spain is the country of the surreal…)
Surprisingly, the food prices are not over the top, although abuse of the wine list could lead to some very material changes in the 200-wealthiest Russians list. Try the Peking Duck…one portion will serve four!
Aist is the new Novikov eatery in Patriarshie Prudyi (we refuse to write anything nice about Pavilion until they give us the da**ed discount card they promised!). If you thought that Galleria was just a bit over the top, try Aist!, a minigarch-and-model paradise, with a beauty factor causing us to suffer acute neck-cramps and serious difficulties in concentration.
Aist is the successor to the Soviet-style cafeteria where the Chechens occasionally shot it out in the mid-90s, and it still has a trace of that wild-East feel that one used to get at bandit-and-moll infested Marika, circa 1996 – though with rather less opportunity of actually getting one’s head blown off! Food is standard Novikov: good, but you aren’t really there for the food, are you?
For those who have grown jaded dining on the runway of a fashion show, and for whom coke-head models and minigarchs have lost their allure, Sky Lounge – located atop the Academy of Sciences (that high-rise along the river, with the great heap of golden spaghetti piled incongruously on its roof) is a refreshing change. Although finding it after a snowfall can be a challenge (several neophytes are reported to have frozen to death someplace on the esplanade) the 22nd floor restaurant is magnificent, with a beautiful view of Moscow, and an ambitious, well-executed menu. Our favourite for business dinners, since it is a bit easier to concentrate on the topic of conversation – or at worst the food – than at Galleria/Aist!
A born-again Buddhist (and lifelong surrealist), T&B cannot help but love this club which combines a bar, disco, restaurant, tea-room…and Tibetan Buddhist temple (ONLY in Moscow!). A rabbit-warren of rooms just below ground, one enters into the restaurant, to the left there is a tea-room with niches where one sits on the floor, followed by a gallery-cum-Buddhist temple with a real Mahayana Buddha and various Tibetan artifacts with no alcohol or cigarettes allowed (though, with some singular logic we will not seek to fathom, water pipes are served). For the less orientally oriented, there is a good bar, and a small disco area where the patrons sway gently to the trance music in a fashion suggesting that anti-doping regulations are not strictly enforced). Shanti is located off Miasnitskaya, right downstairs from Alfa Capital (if you are lucky, you can spot Alfa Cap CEO Bernie Sucher, sitting in a full lotus position sipping green tea!)
Moscow of the 1990s was a hard place. The real values were still greatly respected (as in: sex, money and power!) All matter of substance-abuse was rampant, excess was de rigeur, and lifestyles were challenging in the extreme.
It is now greening most remarkably. Within walking distance of our Chistye Prudy residence there are no fewer than 4 yoga studios. An extraordinarily high level of Yoga was brought to Moscow by Lena Ulmaebaeva who studied under the great Iyengar himself in Puna, India, before returning to her native Russia to bring a discipline which had been frowned upon during Soviet times. Anyone who feels that the notorious Russian lifestyle has done significant damage to their liver, their nerves or their morals would be well advised to go to www.yoga.rufor a list of the addresses.
T&B counts ourselves fortunate to share a century with the brilliant Bolshoi Prima Svetlana Zakharova! Yes, we have written of her previously, but we are increasingly fascinated by her development as a dancer. Some ballerinas have great lines, others can fly like birds, some turn beautifully, others have wonderfully expressive arms – Svetlana literally has it all – coupled with an iron will and a degree of intensity and focus which can verge on the maniacal. A poor girl from a small town in Ukraine, almost uniquely, Svetlana entered the great Marinskii (Kirov) company as a soloist, skipping the corps de ballet entirely. She left St. Petersburg to join the Bolshoi two years ago, where she is now the undisputed star. Her recent Bayadere was breathtaking. Though admittedly, as a dramatic actress Svetlana leaves something to be desired, and still only 25 and relatively new to the Bolshoi, she can at times seem a bit uncertain (in particular, during the Bayadere dance of the foulards) at her best – Zakharova soars above anything we have seen in Moscow since Nina Ananashvili left the stage. She promises to develop into one of the truly great ballerinas of the new century, continuing the unique Russian tradition. Do not miss her!
The preceding article originally appeared in Truth and Beauty… and Russian Finance, a monthly-ish bilingual publication produced by Eric Kraus, chief analyst for SovLink. SovLink was one of the first firms to operate in Russia’s young financial markets. Eric is known as one of those markets’ more colorful and respected authorities. Truth and Beauty, or just T&B as it is sometimes called, covers mostly financial market activity and political commentary but also contains information on modern Russian culture and particularly the culture of high-money.