Time Out Dubai profiles the Russian restaurants in Dubai, including Gurman in Media City, Troyka, Tchaikovsky in Dubai Marina, Nefertiti and Bolshoi
Caviar and a certain kind of drink are what springs to mind when one things of Russian cuisine.
But did you know they actually have plenty to shout about when it comes to some homecooked food. Sure, it's not quite the worldwide sensation of, say, Japanese, Chinese or Italian, but it's certainly an experience worth getting involved in.
If you can criticise Gurman – an unassuming Russian restaurant in Dubai Media City – for anything, it isn’t lack of authenticity. The interiors are sparse, not unlike the monolithic structures of Soviet suburbia. Small photographs of Moscow hang on plain white walls, a red bookshelf holds a few battered foreign language tomes and when we arrive (on a Tuesday lunchtime) it’s full of Russian chatter. A good sign. So far, so Russian.
The majority of the menu is made up of traditional dishes including herring under the coat, vareniki (dumplings) and borscht soup. The herring under the coat had serious potential. Each individual ingredient – the beetroot, the onion, the slightly rare herring – was beautiful and fresh, and the salad as a whole would have been lovely and light had it not experienced a classic Russian death by mayonnaise. Gurman embraces the nation’s passion for this condiment with vigour. If you share the enthusiasm, dive in. Connoisseurs of Eastern European cuisine will no doubt consider this dish to be nothing less than an expertly made salad, particularly when spread over the chunky slices of warm, crusty brown bread from the basket.
The solyanka soup arrived minutes later, nicely seasoned and hearty; full of finely diced pickles and lovely tender beef, without even the slightest trace of fat. But it was let down by the side of fried potatoes with onion and mushroom – greasy comfort food, chunkily cut and liberally seasoned.
At this point, there was still no sign of our second appetiser and main. But when they did eventually arrive, the vareniki were a stodgy, guilty pleasure worth waiting for. Perfect pastry stuffed with creamy mashed potato in butter sauce and crème fraiche on the side to dollop on top. Our chebureki appetiser – juicy beef (and not much else) encased in buttery, flaky homemade pastry – arrived last, just as we were poised to cancel it. Bigger than both our mains by far, we reccommend ordering this and the vareniki to share, if you’re feeling extra indulgent.
Gurman is perhaps not exciting enough to make a special trip for, and service, while pleasant, is a little haphazard. But if you’re in the area, give it a go. It’s refreshingly true to its roots, and the pastry dishes certainly won’t disappoint.
The bill (for two) 1 x herring under the coat Dhs30 1 x chebureki Dhs24 1 x solyanka Dhs36 1 x vareniki with potato Dhs20 1 x fried potato with onion and mushroom Dhs18 1 x French fries Dhs12 1 x sparkling water Dhs15 Total (excluding service) Dhs155
Slavic restaurant Vesna at the Conrad Dubai occupies the spot that was once home to Marco Pierre White Grill. The decor is opulent – chandeliers hang from the ceiling and Elizabethan-era sofas upholstered in royal blue and beige velvet are striking and luxurious, as well as quite comfy. The staff are confident when it comes to making recommendations from the menu, and can explain the origins of each dish in detail. The cold okroshka soup is impressively served in a bowl handcrafted from ice, with colourful flowers frozen within it. The forshmack is a dish of herring with diced red onion, sunflower oil and lemon juice bound by cottage cheese, with the flavour boosted by garlic butter-topped toasted soldiers. But by far the standout dish is the Russian beef stroganoff; creamy and rich, it’s made with a winning combination of premium Australian black Angus slow-cooked beef, diced mushrooms, onions and cloves, and is served within a well of perfectly mashed potatoes. Slavic cuisine won’t appeal to all, but the chefs at Vesna experiment with flavours to give it a wider appeal. And we like it very much indeed.
Tchaikovsky is the epitome of unconventionality in every respect, from the faux-opulent furnishings to the ballet and the doo-wop dancing. Book a table later rather than earlier unless you want to dine in an empty, surreal environment. The thick, leather-bound menu printed in English and Russian features page after page of Russian dishes, from traditional borsch to selyodka pod shuboy (a herring dish) and, of course, caviar. Though the black caviar might be tempting, consider the Dhs545 price tag before ordering.
A more affordable option is the ‘Russian Hunting Snack’ – halved boiled eggs stuffed with avocado and cream-cheese purée, dotted with red caviar, which is reminiscent of fashionable finger food from the ’80s – or the Tchaikovsky special, effectively two huge beef burger patties doused in melted cheese with a side of mash. Nil points for presentation, but the food’s actually not bad. The cabaret (the restaurant’s main draw) begins around 10.45pm – expect ballet, swing and goose-stepping to Russian marching music. Wonderfully bizarre and worth visiting at least once.
Trying its best to recreate Russia with snowy murals, traditional dancing, music and costume and the A/C turned up so high you can see your own breath, you can’t fault Troyka for effort. The staff are Russian (although this can make ordering tricky for English speakers), and the food is authentic, hearty and full of oil and butter. We recommend the vareniki starter (boiled pastry stuffed with cottage cheese and served with sour cream), as well as the chicken Kiev and beef stroganoff. It’s best to head to Troyka late in the evening, as the band doesn’t even come on until 10.30pm, and the entertainment of dancing and singing presumably only appears if there are more than two tables full in the restaurant. Hence, it’s best to call ahead to check if it’s going to be a lively night. Otherwise, despite the good food, it’s a pretty empty and cold experience.
The name of this restaurant could be deceptive as you would be forgiven for thinking that it served solely Egyptian food. This however is not the case, with Russian and Arabic fare featuring instead. Although very simply decorated and unassuming, the cheap food at this restaurant is definitely not to be sniffed at. It is in fact some of the tastiest Russian food around. The vareniki (stuffed dumpling) with sweet cheese was moreish to the point where you wish you had ordered another plateful, and riba pro-Russki (hammour encased in potato, dill and egg) was a homemade delight, if not a tad rich.
These two dishes are particular highlights, and are just a couple of reasons for making you want to return to this restaurant. The Arabic options available were the same as you would expect anywhere else. Nothing particularly stood out and was exactly what you would find in any haunt in Dubai. So if you do pay this place a visit then opt for the Russian options solely, as it is rare to get such tasty food, all for under a hundred dirham note for two. We say you should definitely give this restaurant a try.
Every buffet night is buffet night at Bolshoi and though it does feature a few Russian-Ukranian dishes (you guessed it, kievs), there’s a disproportionate amount of generic (often mediocre) ‘international fare’ littering the menu. However, as you’d expect from any restaurant in the Moscow Hotel situated in the old part of town, there’s a distinct Russian feel to the place – from the clientele to the traditional Russian polkas dancing.