Text and photos by Charles Borden
Spoiler alert: By the end of the evening, PASSPORT’s publisher had declared Megu served the best sushi in Moscow, which was, hands down, better than Nobu.
I had been itching to try Moscow’ Megu since looking over the New York website, which emphasizes “sophisticated organic dining”—Japanese cuisine with refined and finest ingredients. Megu opened in New York five years ago, and its two locations have garnered fine reviews, though tempered with a fair number of complaints about price. Moscow’s Megu is the first offshore venture, paired with Les Menus par Pierre Gagnaire in the Lotte Plaza Hotel on the southeast corner of the Garden Ring and Novy Arbat.
The décor is a contrast of light, brightly-polished wood and beige leather chairs against a backdrop of black walls and dark floors. We sat near the sushi bar, which fronts a large open kitchen where three Japanese chefs work their knives.
John ordered a round of Rojo Hana Ari (Bloom on the Path) sake from Nishiyama Brewery in Hyogo prefecture, which wine guru Robert Parker has called the best of Japan. Rojo is expensive anywhere, and at Megu was 3000r for a 150ml glass.
There are just a few wines on the Megu drinks list. When I asked about a wine list, the server presented a thick leather binder imprinted “Les Menus,” a surprise since the New York Megu brags about its 600 bottle selection. The Les Menus list has some decent wines under 3000r, for instance an Australian McLaren Hermit Crab Shiraz at 1950r. I searched for Antinori Cervaro della Sala, a Tuscan Chardonnay that I use as a “wine list price index” since it is ubiquitous on Moscow wine lists. At Megu, Cervaro lists at 8900r, a mark-up index of 4.45.
The New York Megu has been praised for its service, and our Moscow server, Daria, made a very good impression from the start. We learned from her that the pre-opening staff training was extensive, with an emphasis on knowledge of the dishes and ingredients, and that was apparent as the evening wore on. Megu relies upon fresh, organic and exclusive ingredients and it apparently arranges its own twice-weekly import of fish and other Japanese products.
The thin Megu menu is modest by Moscow standards. Daria recommended we order an Omakase dinner, the chef’s daily selection, but we struck out on our own. We opened with Megu’s signature dishes, first with Megu Original Crispy Asparagus (800r): two very large asparagus spears, lightly cooked yet still firm, with a thick crumbled rice cracker coating, served and displayed on a skewer - delicious. The Megu Oriental Salad (600r) consisted of shredded carrots and daikon, topped with a spicy dressing and very thin slices of madai (Japanese sea bream). The Salmon Toro Tartare (1400r) was a beautifully presented, a thick medallion of chopped salmon fashioned around a bit of black caviar and salmon roe set on a thin lemon slice surrounded by a citrus fruit sauce. It was topped with a dark soy mousse, which Daria melted at the table using a piece of hot charcoal.
From the starter list, we took Sauteed Scallops (1100r), three large, tender grilled scallops set over a very rich foie gras teriyaki sauce. I went for the Emerald Edamame Soup (500r), and John the Spicy Bouillabaisse Miso Soup (900r). The edamame soup, made from fresh soybeans, was bright green, slightly sweet, and lusciously creamy. I stole a taste of the bouillabaisse, a very creative take on the Mediterranean dish with a red, pungent broth and small chunks of shrimp and other seafood.
Megu’s beef signature is a river stone grill with “Hennessey Flambee” for Waygu steaks that range from 1600r for a tiny 80gram ribeye to 4000r for a 160gram filet mignon. We split a 240 gram Waygu beef chateaubriand, Australian beef so we understood, at 7000r for 200g. Japanese beef can be substituted for a 2000r premium. For rice, we chose Garlic Vegetable Fried Rice (600r), the sole forgettable dish of the evening.
One of the menu’s few pages is devoted to sushi and sashimi. The list has many standards, but it’s not the name that’s important, it’s the fish, and we were impressed with the small selection we tried. We tried sashimi slices from the six tuna offerings that range from Akami (300r) to Oh Toro (900r) The sushi page also has some intriguing items such as Soy Akami Tuna with Black Truffle (650r), or Crispy Chi Toro Tuna Roll (900r). We went for several rolls: Grilled Eel and Avocado (600r), Salmon and Avocado (550r) and Spicy and Crispy Shrimp (600r). With the sushi Daria brought out a surprise, a piece of fresh wasabi root and a small wooden board coated with dried sharkskin to grate the wasabi at the table. I have already given away John’s judgment on the sushi.
Megu offers a three-course lunch menu, which includes a red miso soup, an appetizer, and choice of entrée such as Megu Sushi Roll Combination (total 1250r) or Premium Waygu Beef Sirloin (total 1550r).
Dear reader, I already spoiled you already with the results of this evening, and I’m ready to return to Megu anytime you wish to invite me.