Text by Charles W. Borden
Photos by Maria Savelieva
A business colleague invited us to try a client’s new Italian restaurant, Mamma Giovanna, located at the new Kadashevskaya Hotel, a boutique establishment with about 35 rooms, located on the embankment near the Old Stone Bridge and not far from the Tretyakov Gallery. With its separate entrance on Kadashevskaya Naberezhnaya, I did not realize Mamma Giovanna was a hotel restaurant until well into the meal, sparing me my predisposition towards such establishments. The problem with hotel restaurants is that they serve more than one master. For hotel management, the restaurant is one of many guest services, necessary to provide breakfast, room service, hopefully keep customers in the hotel for lunch and dinner, and certainly at least break even. Few hotels are able or willing to expend the resources to create an extraordinary restaurant that draws customers in from the city - independent of the hotel. That being said some of the world’s best restaurants are in hotels, and in some cities such as Las Vegas or Dubai virtually all top restaurants are in the hotels. In the right location, they can assist a nice romantic weekend.
We planned an early start, but Moscow traffic was again not obliging so guests arrived more than an hour past start time. Mamma Giovanna is in a bright renovated complex, well-marked from the street next to the south branch of the Moscow River (the Vodootvodniy Canal). It is small but smartly decorated with an emphasis on dark brown; the dark brown polished wood and tile floors are carried up the walls and across the ceiling. There is a long open bar and lounge area to the left and tables to the right, with a long wall of windows overlooking the embankment, though these are covered with dark brown wooden blinds.
A Slovak group, J&T Finance, which purchased the Baltschug Kempinski Hotel, owns the hotel and restaurants, and the management and chef also hail from Slovakia. Massimo Attanasio, the Italian head chef, shares his time between Mamma Giovanna and another restaurant that J&T plans in Bratislava called Mamma Lucia. Martin Kurmajec is in charge of day-to-day business in Moscow. Moscow has a number of excellent Italian restaurants so the bar is set pretty high for any rookies coming to town.
The Mamma Giovanna wine list is almost entirely Italian with a selection limited to about two pages. While we were waiting for the guests we ordered a bottle of white Allegrini Soave 2008 (1,900 rubles) and a Sicilian red Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali Nero d’Avola (1,800 rubles), both excellent wines and reasonably priced by Moscow standards.
The menu is also minimalistic but has interesting entries in every category, including pizzas. I started with the Mamma Giovanna Salad (380r), a substantial serving of arugula, cherry and dried tomatoes, large green olives, mozzarella cheese with parmesan shaved across the top and a balsamic dressing. We ordered two pizzas for the table: the Seafood Pizza (520r), covered with thinly sliced calamari, octopus and mussels and a layer of bright red flying fish roe, and the Pizza Prosciutto (480r), a simple pizza with Italian ham. The fish roe, which is the very small type that one usually finds on a California Roll, was a surprise and this pizza got favorable reviews around the table.
The pastas are listed by sauce, and the customer has a choice of pasta type: fettuccine, spaghetti, linguine, etc. I chose Penne Bolognese (450r). John Ortega ordered Tagliata di Manzo (680r), thin slices of seared beef with arugula and parmesan and drizzled with a balsamic sauce. We learned from the management that their beef comes from Argentina, and in this case the beef was very tender and delightful. We also ordered Scaloppine di Vitelo All ‘Aceto (660r), veal marinated in balsamic vinegar, which was also nicely done. As usual we skipped dessert and headed for the bar to relax with an iced imported limoncello.
We got a brief tour of the hotel and a look at one of the rooms, which were quite comfortable and out$ tted with the latest technology. This is generally a quiet quarter of Moscow despite the proximity to the Kremlin. The Kadashevskaya Hotel fits in well and appears cozy. Its guests should be pleased with Mamma Giovanna.
We were generally pleased with our meals at Mamma Giovanna, though it is no match for the substantial Italian restaurant competition in Moscow at the luxury end. But for its ambiance and quality, with wine and food at reasonable prices, Mamma Giovanna is well worth a stop if you are in the neighborhood - at the Tretyakov for instance. And it is definitely a worthwhile in-city romantic venue.