EDITORIAL: Gagging on Russia


Gagging on Russia

Anatoly Komm in his Moscow restaurant, Varvary

Even when Russia gets something right, it’s still wrong. That’s Russia in a nutshell. And we do mean nut.

For the first time, Russia has placed a restaurant into the world’s top 50 as assayed by the San Pellegrino sparkling water company.  The place is called Varvary, and its chef is Anatoly Komm.  It even specializes in Russian cuisine! This ought to be a great day for Russia.

But here’s what Komm has to say about his eatery (which costs over $300 per person to explore):

The majority of visitors to Varvary are foreigners. Russian guests sometimes leave the restaurant in disgust at what I has done with traditional Russian dishes. The worst case was with high-level government officials.  They got angry and left. I’m talking about very high-level government officials. But then that’s always been the way in Russia. The great artists have been repressed. Haute cuisine is only for a small percentage of the population everywhere, but while in Europe or America it’s between 3 and 10 percent who appreciate it, in Russia it’s more like 0.001 percent.  My most valued customers are members of the emerging middle class who save up for several weeks. These are people who made their money themselves, they didn’t steal it, and these people are the reason I keep working here.


Oh and, by the way, the name of the restaurant means “Barbarians” in English.

The cost of eating at Varvary is comparable to eating at New York City’s Per Se, ranked as the #10 restaurant in the world (Varvary comes in at #48).  But the average wage in the USA is seven times higher than it is in Russia, which means Varvary is seven times harder for Russians to afford than Per Se is for Americans.  If it takes an American two months to save up for a world-class meal at Per Se, it takes  a Russian a year and a half to save up for Varvary.

But we have to wonder if the experiences are really comparable. Would you say this description of Varvary’s cuisine would make you eager to shell out $300, plus wine and tips, to consume?

An amuse bouche of rye bread and minced beetroot topped with a capsule of organic sunflower oil; pickled herring salad re-imagined as a sushi roll; and the stodgy Soviet-era dessert of “chocolate potato” engineered into a delicate mouthful to be slurped from the end of a silver spoon. Herring under a fur coat: slices of pickled herring, mixed with mayonnaise, and topped with beetroot and carrots. Kholodets: not for the faint hearted, this is cheap, minced-up meat suspended in a huge lump of aspic jelly.

Yikes! If this is the very best Russia can do, then do you dare to imagine the horrors of the gastronomic black hole that would constitute it’s worst?!

Instead of generating lots of wonderful PR for Russia, reports about Varvary end up being a nightmare.  And so it goes in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

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