Mari Vanna gives Russian home cooking a glamorous flavour

The oligarchs flock here for hearty Russian fare, friendly service and beautiful women

LAST UPDATED AT 09:20 ON Mon 2 Jul 2012

What you need to know Mari Vanna is the new London branch of an international Russian chain with sister restaurants in St Petersburg, Moscow and New York.  
 
It serves home-style hearty Russian dishes including cod liver mousse, pirogi, herring salad, Ossetra caviar and borscht. The setting is an ornate dining room in Knightsbridge, and the prices are high.
 
The restaurant is named after a mythical babushka (grandmother) who welcomed diners into her home. Aimed at affluent Russians abroad, it is reportedly Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s favourite place to eat.
 
What the critics like The welcome - once you're let in the locked entrance door - is very warm, says Time Out. The cooking is "very traditional, in the best sense". The blinis are exemplary, "as delicate as the lace doilies adorning the tables", as are the pelmeni (dumplings). Mari Vanna combines "great service, good cooking and a cosy, charming interior".
 
The "home-cooked" food is of extremely high quality, says Tim Hayward in The Financial Times. He would cheerfully crawl a mile to eat the buttered potatoes sprinkled with fresh chopped dill. The salt herring was "gorgeous". And the service is "cheerfully informal yet blisteringly professional", combining home comforts with Disney-style control – in a good way.
 
Hurrah for Mari Vanna, says Giles Coren in The Times. It is "the pleasantest of surprises". Like something out of Eastern fairytales – "all chintzy and cottagey", you imagine Rumpelstiltskin must be in there, spinning straw into gold downstairs. The food is good, but it hardly matters, I spend most of the time surreptitiously looking around the room at "the most beautiful women I have ever seen, anywhere".
 
What they don’t like Russian traditional cuisine is an acquired taste, says Jay Rayner in The Observer. For some it is "the very essence of homely, cupboard-love", for others its "death-by-carbs". It says much for the food that the fabulous pastries, made of cream, sponge, cream, pastry and cream were the lighter side of the meal. "Mari Vanna is completely bonkers, but in a sweet way."
 
It's not cheap, says Time Out, "but if you're one of London's growing number of émigré oligarchs, this doesn't appear to be a deterrent". A less expensive way to experience its charms is to take afternoon tea. A breakfast sitting is also planned. · 

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