St Petersburg in winter can be a trying experience. Oh sure, the city looks a treat, like the best decorated wedding cake in history, its spires aglint in the raking beams of the low hibernal sun. But it’s bloody cold. A damp wind blows off the Baltic, through your coat and into your soul, and the roads are covered in some dubious de-icing chemical that can turn shoe leather into choux pastry in a trice. So as you schlep the streets in search of culture, history and a warmer hat, you’re going to need some comfort food. Lucky then, that when it comes lip-smacking, wallet-sparing food, St Petersburg has come on leaps and bounds. The Calvert Journal recommends the six best places to duck out of the snow and tuck into some grub this winter.
12 locations around the city; the most central is
You think you know pies? You don’t know pies. Unless, of course, you’ve been to retro pie emporium Stolle, in which case you’ll be well versed in the ways of generous, well-seasoned filling and intricately decorated, delicately flaky, subtly sweetened crust. The bilberry is delicious and the rabbit and mushroom made me weep with joy, but real pie pros will want to try the coulibiac, the iconic salmon, egg, rice and mushroom pie born in pre-revolutionary Russia and made famous by cordon bleu king August Escoffier.
Jerome is named after its chef, Jérôme Lorie, who hails from Lyon, the home of haute cuisine. Nevertheless, the new menu at this central restaurant is approachable both in price and content, with a decent range of Russian, French, Italian and high-end fast food that makes it perfect for lunch. Whatever you have, make sure you finish with the apple pie. Charismatic owner, Aram Mnatsakanov, aka “Russia’s Gordon Ramsay”, puts a rare emphasis on staff camaraderie, meaning service here is swift and warm — an almost bemusing experience in icy St Petersburg.
Potato and Mushrooms
If you just want a quick (and trendy) refuel, go to Potato and Mushrooms, a newly opened temple of the tattie that specialises in kapsalon, a recently invented Dutch street-food delicacy — fries, kebab meat, melted Gouda and salad. It comes in various incarnations; the bacon and mushroom feels a bit more Russian and a lot more wintry. The interiors are as minimalist as the food is artery-busting maximalist: local architects Rhizome Group have fitted the small space with tasteful wooden tables and stools.
Clean Plates Society
Not far from Jerome and bang next door to Potato and Mushrooms is Clean Plates Society, a cosy cafe-cum-bar with a Scandinavian feel and a good line in big, veg-packed salads. Equally popular here, like everywhere else in five-years-late-for-a-trend Russia, are the gourmet burgers, but as the sun doesn’t rise till 10am your body will be crying out for vitamins, so get the butternut squash salad instead.
Burgers again, this time tarted up with poached egg and asparagus or dorblu cheese. But they do come served on polished slices of tree-trunk, they are pretty damn tasty and they can be washed down with a wide range of imported beers and ciders, which is still something of an exoticism.
What? More burgers? Yes, but, honestly, this is a little different: the team at Pif-Paf (also responsible for Stockholm-chic bar Sever) are thumbing their noses at convention — and Russia’s insanely nitpicking business registration legislation — by combining a hairdresser, a bar and a burger joint. And the patties have personality too: vegetarians will rejoice at the paneer and seaweed number.