Growing up in the suburban Moscow district of Novogireevo, photographer Polina Kavardak did not always appreciate the one-of-a-kind architectural gems on her doorstep.
Like many others throughout Russia, her neighborhood was littered with suburban restaurants: independently-owned eateries, lavishly decorated in the height of kitsch to attract busy passersby. Often serving Caucasian food, these venues offer a magical ambiance that takes you far away from the busy life of the capital — and the often bleak architecture of its less central districts.
Existing outside the latest trends in the hospitality business, they have a loyal clientele, but are sometimes taken for granted. “I walked past them every day and did not pay attention,” says Kavardak. “It was not until a friend from France came to visit me and was delighted by the architecture of these places [that I really noticed them]. It’s like she opened my eyes and showed me the extraordinary in the ordinary.”
From then on, Kavardak travelled to other neighbourhoods to photograph their suburban culinary hotspots, often asking friends for their recommendations. She admits that at the start of the project, her gaze was somewhat ironic— but as she delved deeper into each venue, she began to appreciate the hearty food, cosy interiors, and fairytale atmosphere that these places offered. “These restaurants become a meeting point for the people who live nearby, and tell their stories, thus becoming neighbourhood sights,” Kavardak tells The Calvert Journal.
The restaurants also often have more longevity than their more upmarket counterparts, and some clients have frequented them from an early age, finding magic in their interiors. “When I came to visit my friends and they showed me where they ate, I could feel their pride despite the irony in their voices: pride for places strange, but dear,” Kavardak says.