Charles W. Borden
Photos by Alina Ganenko
Shafran is a cozy Lebanese restaurant just a short walk north and west of Tverskaya Metro station. It’s on the same street as the European Medical Center, which might be handy if you need addiction treatment for the hummus that Shafran serves up. A plate of this creamy middleeastern chickpea and tahini (sesame paste) blended with olive oil, lemon and garlic, served with hot, fresh pitta bread (390 r) is alone worth the trip to Shafran.
Shafran (Saffron) is a Moscow veteran, opened seven years ago by Israeli restaurateur Dmitri Nemirovsky, who more recently brought Yapona Mama and Steaks to the city. Shafran stands as one of few, if the only Lebanese kitchens in Moscow. It’s a quiet and comfortable 80 seats or so, decorated with earth tones and saffron trim.
After a quick perusal of the slender menu, PASSPORT editor John Harrison and I ordered a mezze, the collection of small plates that is traditional in Lebanon and other middle eastern countries. In addition to the hummus, we selected baba ganoush (a seasoned eggplant mash), taratour (yoghurt and cucumber) and Beirut aubergine (eggplant cubes), each plate 180 rubles. We added a plate of falafel (360r) and were attracted to the Fried Goat Cheese with Strawberries (410r).
Our mezze came out with a generous plate of warm, fresh pitta and a firm flatbread, trimmed sesame seeds, either to be used to scoop up each dish. The baba ganoush bore the distinct, but mild smoky taste that comes with preparation on a grill. Tarator is a nice garnish, made with yoghurt, cucumbers, dill and walnut. The Beirut aubergine disappeared quickly. These simple eggplant pieces, were nicely spiced and very tasty. I folded one of the fried, spicy ground chickpea falafel balls in fresh pitta with some tahihi and hummus, a heavenly combination. The falafel comes with amba, a smooth pickled mango sauce. Five large, triangles of firm goat cheese came out presented in a small bowl of quartered, fresh strawberries.
The mezze was certainly adequate for lunch, but the imperative of a proper restaurant review compelled us to try an entrée. The waiter suggested the Assorted Lamb (1550r), a generous platter of lamb kebab, saddle steak, rib chop and cutlet, all apparently sourced from New Zealand. The waiter also recommended we order mediumwell, which was surprising since “medium” in Moscow often means well done. However, the rib chop and saddle steak came out just a little pink and were very tender and flavorful. The lamb platter was dressed with grilled zucchini, red sweet pepper and a piece of sweet corn, and sprinkled with ground, dried pomegranate.
Shafran has a large and very tempting pastry table, apparently a recent addition; most selections are not yet on the menu. The waiter set out a plate of about half a dozen different pastries, which we enjoyed with the house saffron tea.
Since it was lunchtime, we passed on the wine. Shafran has a relatively short wine list ranging from about 2000 roubles a bottle and up. The list includes a couple of Lebanese wines from Chateau Kefraya in the Bekaa
Valley. Le Dame Blanche 2007, a blend of five white grapes lists at 3200 rubles.
Shafran serves a Lebanese breakfast from 10 to 12 every day and a Lebanese lunch from 12 to 4. Shafran has free Wifi