Mari Vanna SW1
REVIEWS, April 27, 2012
Overall Value
out of 5
  • Food
  • Service
  • Ambience
Mari Vanna, 116 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7PJ

A surprisingly charming Russian restaurant, in a kitschly-decorated townhouse; service is exemplary, but the cuisine displays the traditional tendency to heaviness, and prices fully reflect the Knightsbridge location.

So, you arrive at a new Knightsbridge restaurant to find your guest in one corner of the room and a splendidly-attired Russian Orthodox priest in the other. Turns out he is about to begin a Service of Blessing of the restaurant (and all who sail in her). What would you do? Short of shouting ‘I am a Satanist’, overturning your table, and storming out, there’s not much you can do.

So you just sit there quietly, fuming rather, until a sprinkling of the diners with Holy Water signifies that it’s all over. After nearly a quarter of a century in this business, it’s nice to know that restaurant reviewing can still harbour the occasional surprise.

In the circumstances, it hardly needs stating that this is No Ordinary Restaurant. It is, as it turn out, a member of a chain with outlets in Moscow and New York, as well as the mythical Ms Vanna’s spiritual home, St Petersburg. Having, courtesy of the internet, toured her empire, we can confirm that the kitsch – think the worst Victorian dusting-nightmare you could imagine – is laid on with the same trowel throughout.

The surprise is that such a standardised formula seems to ‘work’. Indeed, this particular cosy restaurant – perhaps helped by contrast to the bombast of neighbouring Candy Towers – succeeds in feeling quite a haven. The easy-on-the-eye staff also do much to sooth away the pressures of 21st-century London.

Our meal mainly consisted of the salads, pierogi and blinis you might expect – on the evidence here, Russian cuisine does not harbour many surprises.

Taken individually, the dishes were all pretty good – highlights included a crab with salad and poached egg, and the pierogi were tasty too. Animal fats,however, seem omnipresent, creating an overall effect which can just be rather numbing.

It did not help that the pâtisserie Napoleon with which we concluded turned out to be the richest sort of millefeuille-variant you could possibly imagine – tasty enough, but even a half portion was a source of some regret afterwards.

There’s another reason too, incidentally, to try to eat relatively lightly – drinking modestly, our protein-light lunch for two came to nearly £120. On our visit, no set menu was offered.

Image by Lisa Linder

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