Mari Vanna is a Russian restaurant in Knightsbridge, in front of the new Bulgari hotel and next to 1 Hyde Park, strategically placed, as this is an area beloved by the Russian community. Mari Vanna also has branches in New York, St Petersburg and Moscow. If you are Russian (or Russian speaking like myself) you will most likely really like this place, because it sort of reminds you of home, and most people that go there are Russian speakers or foreigners brought there by Russian speakers. You enter and the waitresses dressed in flowery aprons speak to you in Russian (all the waiters are Russian or Russian speaking, our waitress when we went there was Latvian), and it just feels quite surreal to be surrounded by this Russian atmosphere as soon as you walk in.
The interior is great, designed by interior designer Yuna Megre and is supposed to remind you of a Russian granny’s house, there are many different old artifacts around the rooms, like Russian dolls, Russian sculptures and bookshelves full of Russian literature and the bathrooms are also very cute and they play Russian folk songs there. They also offer you food that is very typical Russian, and something that you would eat at home in Russia or when visiting your granny. Despite this home cooking feel, they use great ingredients and the presentation is good. Russian food can be very particular, and there are some dishes I know foreigners won’t like, so go there if you can with a local that will help you with the menu, but in my view this is the best and nicest and most traditional Russian restaurant in London, and sometimes you can even see some famous Russians there and in general extremely well dressed Russians. Mari Vanna apparently also has cool Russian infused vodkas, and you can have vodka infused with Horseradish, Beets, Oats & Honey, Apricot, Watermelon, Cucumber & Dill and Pineapple, but unfortunately I have not tried these yet.
I went to Mari Vanna for the first time last year with my boyfriend and my friend Kristaps and I very much enjoyed it, although I did think it was quite expensive for what you got. You can see two dishes from this visit in the pictures below (the lower quality pictures taken with a blackberry), beef Stroganoff served with Buckwheat and Mushrooms (My non CIS bfriend thought this was the nicest dish there), and sweet dumplings with cherry filling.
This time I went there with my Latvian friends Anda and Diana, and still found the food enjoyable but prices quite steep once again. We had booked a table for a Friday evening at 7pm and we were seated downstairs in the basement area. There are 2 floors and you can either sit on the ground floor, which features more tables just for 2 people, and larger groups (like us) tend to sit downstairs. When we arrived and had ordered a lovely waiter brought us a board of bread that also had salt, butter and spring onions. The bread was delicious and had two different types of typical Russian dark bread, which I love.
I suggested to share all the food among the three of us and unfortunately I over-ordered and we could not finish all the food, which led to our bill being so high. We also had a bottle of champagne, so please do bear that in mind when looking at the price. We each picked a starter and then shared, Anda wanted to have the “kholodetz” which is a Russian typical dish which we also eat in Latvia and it is meat in jelly. This Mari Vanna “kholodetz” was delicious and much better than any of these type of dishes that I have had in Latvia. It was also very big, so could have easily been shared by two people as a starter. I wanted to have the assortment of pickles, which included pickled cabbage, cucumbers, mushrooms, tomatoes, and I loved it, but then again I always knew I would as I love pickles. Diana wanted to have Russian “blinis” served with sour cream, egg, red onion and herbs and these were also quite nice. As I said I over-ordered and in addition to these things that could have easily fed 5 people as a starter, I also ordered “pirogi” with beef and pork, Russian typical bread with meat inside of them, and they were delicious, some of the best pirogi I have had, and even though they cost £3, so much more than I would ever pay in any ex Soviet Union country, they were perfect with loads of meat and little bread. I also ordered “Megrelian Hachapuri”, which is bread with cheese, and it was extremely heavy and super super full of cheese, hence I only managed to only eat 1 slice, and it was too heavy for Anda so she could not even manage a slice.
As for the main courses, we ordered two portions of Siberian pelmeni, Russian typical dumplings with meat and sour cream and also Crab pelmeni, so a funky and modern take on Russian dumplings, as in the Soviet Union or Russia you would never have these with crab. But before we got our main courses I had sneaked in a borsch for me, and it was a huge portion they served. Huge, delicious bowl of borsch. After finishing it I was so full, I only managed to try 2 dumplings, one Siberian one and one with crab. Both were delicious, and the crab one worked quite well, even though as I had not tried this before felt quite unusual for me.
If you want to try Russian food, this is the best place to do it in London, the food is very good quality, they say they do home cooking but they do home cooking extremely well, with good ingredients, the sort that I have not seen anywhere else in Latvia. The food is not overpriced vs London standards but I think it is slightly overpriced vs Russian food and what it costs to make. Nevertheless sometimes I am happy to pay it, as I love the atmosphere, the Russian environment and I am happy to pay up for a taste of home.
Date: 20/ 09/ 13
Price for 3 people with alcohol and service charge: £222.19