Text by Charles W. Borden
Photos by Alina Ganenko
Bolshoi restaurant is also known as Big. It is surprising that someone has not used this name yet for a Moscow restaurant but it has just opened at the southwest corner of Kuznetsky Most and Petrovka not far from the Bolshoi Theater. This is one of Arkady Novikov’s latest ventures and Grand would be a better expression, or Opulent to describe the first impression upon entering Bolshoi’s modest lobby. The colors are stark white and black accented with large, colorful, modern canvases throughout, the deep purple fabric and brown leather upholstery of the dining chairs, and a splash of greenery from the white orchids. A side hall is decorated with classic deep brown polished wood from floor to ceiling. Though the restaurant itself is not Big, the concept tries to be.
Ushered to our table, we discussed the design with the management and were informed that it was “Ralph Lauren”, though when we left we were still unsure if Ralph Lauren had been involved in the design, had supplied the furnishings, or was simply its inspiration. The description taken from the Ralph Lauren home website is a fair characterization of Bolshoi: “Lush, highly saturated colors always feel decadent, especially when set against the crispness of white foundational pieces.” I would have thought this design icon would be too tired for Moscow; the two Polo shirts I have come from American discounter TJ Maxx.
The cuisine is French/Russian. French chef Kamel Benamar shares his time between Bolshoi and nearby Vogue where he has served for some years. A wine list was not available, so we took suggestions from Pavel, our attentive sommelier, starting with a white Villa Russiz Sauvignon from Capriva del Friuli, Italy. Based upon the other wines we had that night, I expect the wine list will be well chosen. We were also pleased with Bolshoi’s nice Speigelau glassware, which helps bring out the best in expensive wines.
The menu starts with Russian traditional homemade drinks: cranberry mors, black current mors, cherry kisel and kvas (300r per half liter). The fresh baked, yeasty rolls came out with a plate of very thinly sliced Iberico de Bellota Gran Reserva (1000r), ham dried for thirty-six months from free-range pigs that only feed on acorns. The Olivier Salad (750r) was delightfully fresh and specially made with grilled baby chicken meat. The Borsch (450r) is made with fresh spring vegetables, very bright and flavorful. I tried a starter of Grilled Scallops with Sweet Corn Puree (1000r), a huge tender scallop nicely complemented by the sweet yellow topping.
The main course, a T-Bone Waygu 4-5 with Fried Potatoes and Mushrooms (3800r for two), served with Veal Stuffed Cabbage (900r), a Ukrainian dish called golubtsi with young cabbage, were presented on Russian Imperial Porcelain, designed for Bolshoi. The Imperial Porcelain Factory is a Russian treasure founded in 1744 in St. Petersburg. The Waygu steak certainly rivaled some of Moscow’s best and the golubtsi provided an interesting Slavic side. The presentation of all menu items was, as expected, lavish and impeccible.
A trip around the premises revealed more of Bolshoi’s stately layout and everything from the washrooms here is very well designed. It appears that the basement also holds a substantial wine vault. The main dining hall has a splendid grand piano, but the Yamaha electric piano lodged on top appears as one flaw in an otherwise serious design.
Bolshoi is not a trendy competitor to Novikov’s GQ Bar or Ne Dalny Vostok, but a rather formal dining venue, as if vying for Michelin stars. The menu and style make it a modern challenger to Pushkin Café, though I found the Ralph Lauren design a little too stark. We plan to go back to see if Bolshoi can lighten up a little.