St Petersburg has hundreds of cafes and restaurants, with new ones opening almost every day, but it has to be said that most of the food offered is of unremarkable quality.
Below are a few of my personal favourites (chosen not always for the sake of their food, but for other qualities which enhance the gastronomic experience).Chekhov (ul. Petropavloskaya 4). Russian cuisine (supposedly based on pre-Revolutionary recipes) served in an interior resembling a 19th-century Russian dacha – perhaps Anton Chekhov’s own. Be sure to order the Russian zakuski (salted mushrooms and cucumbers) and to try some of the home-made vodkas with flavours such as horseradish, and dogwood. Often wise to book in advance. Sup-Vino (‘Soup-Wine’) (Kazanskaya 24, 12.00-23.00). This tiny cafe on a picturesque street running alongside Kazan Cathedral has only a handful of tables, so quickly fills up at lunchtime and during the evenings.
To have a better chance of being able to enjoy the excellent soups, it’s best to drop by In the middle of the afternoon. The space itself has a curious history. It was originally the front entrance to the house (which explains the beautiful tiled floor); after the Revolution, it was converted to a branch of Sberbank, the state bank; then, at a later stage, it became the local breadshop, and must have existed in this guise through the difficult times of perestroika and the early 1990s.Ryumochnaya No. 1 (Konnogvardeysky bulvar, 4; 12-00-00.00; www.vodkaroom.ru) A traditional (mostly pre-Revolutionary) Russian menu of classic dishes at reasonable prices served in a memorable setting. ‘Ryumochnaya’ (рюмочная) means small bar, but this is a proper restaurant with a distinctly old-world atmosphere - vaulted ceilings; a well-worn beginning-of-the-20th-century dresser; unhurryingly efficient male waiters in starched aprons.
The white-mushroom (porcini) soup – actually a dense, almost-black, liquid that fumes with flavour– is the best I’ve tasted in a restaurant (also good are the marinated gruzdy – pepper-mushrooms). There is an extensive list of vodkas, but don’t bother with the more expensive ones (a ryumka or vodka glass of which can easily cost as much as a main course); stick with the perfectly acceptable selection of vodkas for around 100-120 rubles/glass.
Marketplace (Nevsky prospekt, 24, 09.00-06.00; and 7th line, 34 on Vasilievsky Island, 08.30-23.00) is a canteen offering Russian food for low prices in pleasant, light-filled surroundings where you might be tempted to linger. The clientele is mainly young people who work or study in the surrounding area. Try some of the traditional Russian soups (solyanka or borshch) or something from the grill bar.Mindal (
Almond; English Embankment, 26; 12-02.00). Excellent Georgian dishes cooked by the extremely hospitable Marina - and a good place to take refuge if you get caught on wrong side of the river when the bridges go up at 01.25 at night.