White chocolate, Hollandaise sauce, caviar and gold. This is Fabergé Egg as imagined by Igor Grishechkin, chef at restaurant Kokoko in Saint Petersburg in Russia, in Voznesensky prospect 6, tel. +7.812.4182060 (translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso)
Cone with salmon ice cream
Borodinsky rye bread waffle, filled with sprat fish mousse
Freshly salted cucumbers soup with sour milk jelly
Cod with leek, fennel flavoured jelly and sea flavoured foam
Kasha isz topora (a dish based on Russian fairy tale "The stone soup"), with green buckthorn porridge, porcini and stewed beef cheeks. It is mixed with a melting axe made with butter and squid ink
Plum compote granite
Kokorn: pop corn at Kokoko, in the shape of an ice cream
Honey cake with wax ice-cream
Cranberry juice and vodka in a shell of sugar
The chef with Yulia Khaybullina, who designed the wine list
Having completed the overview of the best restaurants in Saint Petersburg, let’s see how and what the most interesting chef in town cooks. His name is Igor Grishechkin, he is 35 and comes from Smolensk, a sleepy town some 750 km to the south, on the banks of river Dnepr, on the border with Byelorussia.
Like many twenty year olds ignited by the sacred fire of cooking, he soon moves to Moscow. In the capital, he trains at the two dominating restaurants, then and now: Italian Casta Diva and French Ragout, the first gastro-bistro in town. Four years ago, the turning point in Saint Petersburg where he immediately takes on the helm of the elegant Kokoko, an appendix of the W hotel on Voznesensky, a calm intersection with Nevskij Prospekt, the famous street that cuts the centre of Saint Petersburg in half (the one where Franco Battiato met Igor Stravinskij by chance).
Conceiving creative or “fine dining” cuisine in a country that fell into a 70-year-long gastronomic lethargy is no easy task. Older generations are especially diffident of what for many years were foreign ingredients and the habit of eating out is still not popular: it’s still a special occasion. People go to the restaurant as often as they go to the theatre or to a concert. Not more than once a month. If anything, they go out to drink.
Igor Grishechkin, 35, from Murmansk
While the technical approach recalls an echo of the most contemporary Europe – and this had to be the case – the content is 100% Russian. Indeed the young man studies Czarist traditions until late, both the edible pre-revolution ones and the other symbols that defined the cultural identity.
The White chocolate Fabergé egg with caviar and gold recalls the famous Easter jewel that Alexander III would give to the queen each year. Kasha isz topora recalls the ancient legend of the Stone soup, in which a man armed with an axe (which in this case is made of butter and squid ink that melts in the bowl) cooks flying porridge; rye bread recalls the bloody Battle of Borodino in 1812; the wax ice cream cake is a tribute to bees, the most venerated insect from Saint Petersburg to Vladivostok.
And who cares if they serve porcini soup in July: «In the autumn and winter», says Grishechkin, «I must make a virtue out of necessity because earth freezes and there’s very little left to eat». Hence all the tricks that are typical among northern people, who when the right season comes, dehydrate, marinate and pickle. The sour notes are rather strong (cucumbers, dill, sour cream) and the chef balances them with an Adrianesque work on textures (salmon ice cream, fennel gelatine, a granita made with plum compote) which in the end add a nice overall roundness.
The short wine list is also interesting. It’s designed by Yulia Khaybullina, sommelière at Moroshka for Puskin: aside from owing to Old Europe (with Champagne and Barolo above all), it has a page illustrating the great wine potential of the area around Sebastopol, in controversial Crimea. «The calcareous soil is just like the one in Bourgogne», she says. Too bad they plant international grape varieties such as Riesling, Chardonnay and even Barbera and few local grapes like Sibirkovy, Sary Pandas or Krasnostop, which should deserve deeper explorations.
Exactly like the endless country, a basin of such varied climates and soils that it’s hard to imagine its potential. Possibly the longest zero kilometre in the world.
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born in Milan, 1973, freelance journalist, coordinator of Identità Golose World restaurant guidebook since 2007, he is a contributor for several magazines and teaches History of gastronomy and Culinary global trends into universities and institutes.