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A Dining Adventure at White Rabbit!

Anyone familiar with Russian cuisine would be familiar with Moscow’s White Rabbit Restaurant.

For fans of the Netflix series, Chef’s Table, White Rabbit’s Executive Chef, Vladimir Mukhin needs no introduction. Featured in Season 3, his passion practically jumps from the screen. That passion is New Russian Cuisine.

While in Moscow for Xmas last year, we had the opportunity to dine at White Rabbit. Join us on a journey down the rabbit hole of new Russian Cuisine.

 

Russian Cuisine

When you think of Russian cuisine, what comes to mind? Borscht, caviar, blinis, and dumplings? They’re definitely stalwarts, but to appreciate new Russian cuisine, it’s worth returning to a few focal points in Russia’s culinary history.

The end of the 19th century saw Russian cuisine’s peak. Diverse flavours, regional produce, and creativity were the rule, rather than the exception. Decadent recipes called for unique ingredients, flavours were complex and experimentation was encouraged.

The revolution put a stop to that in 1917. International isolation, civil war, and famine affected the entire country. The communist regime insisted on one cookbook to be used in order for everyone to be the same, “The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food”.

Sadly, this recipe book promoted the use of unaffordable Russian ingredients that in some cases, no longer existed.

White Rabbit Moscow.

Over seven decades of Soviet rule producing grey, unremarkable food destroyed Russian cuisine. While the rest of the world’s cuisine was evolving, Russia’s remained stagnant.

Mikhael Gorbachev’s resignation in 1991 brought an end to 74 years of communist rule in the Soviet Union.

That’s when everything changed.

Fast food restaurants and international imports flooded the market. Everything previously forbidden was now available.

 

Chef Vladimir Mukhin

Lauded as the reinventor of Russian cuisine, Vladimir Mukhin follows five generations of Russian cooks. Quoted as attributing his love of Russian flavours to his father and grandfather, he realised his career path at a young age.

Vladimir’s father’s restaurant in Yessentuki, their home town at the base of the southern Caucasus Mountains, was well known for authentic Russian flavours.

Recognising early that to spend time with his father, he needed to be in the kitchen. Vladimir began working at the restaurant at 12 years of age. He wanted to be like his father, only better.

Pre-Soviet dishes graced the menu. Ingredients were locally sourced from markets, farmers, and artisans. Little did Vladimir know he was establishing what his own take on Russian cuisine would be in the future.

At 18, Vladimir qualified as a chef, the youngest in the area, if not the country.

White Rabbit Moscow.
#1 Scarlet Flower – apples, honey & radish

Having an interest in European cuisine, he began reinventing sauces, condiments and some of the traditional dishes on his father’s menu.

Mukhin Senior wasn’t happy with the modern twists and eventually, two menus appeared at the restaurant, the modernised dishes from Vladimir, and the pre-Soviet classics from his father.

Eventually, Yessentuki became too small for the two Mukhin chefs and after some serious discussion, Vladimir followed his instincts and moved to Moscow.

White Rabbit Moscow.
#2 Lardo – coco lardo, smoked black caviar & black bread

Aware he would need to begin again, it was a hard decision but stepping away from his father’s control was too attractive.

Numerous discussions followed. While Vladimir returned to the lowliest position in the kitchen, washing dishes and peeling vegetables, his father sent home-cooked meals to Moscow to entice him back.

Rather than return to Yessentuki, Vladimir went to Avignon France, to Restaurant Christian Etienne. This move brought about his “light bulb moment”.

White Rabbit Moscow.
#3 Ryazhenka – swan liver & rhubarb marshmallow

Christian prepared borscht for Russian new year, Vladimir wasn’t impressed and offered a taste of his own Russian flavours. The result allowed Vladimir to write a Russian menu. With a few changes by Christian, the restaurant’s French clientele embraced it.

It was then that Vladimir realised, the flavours his father had taught him could take their place on the world stage. True Russian flavours prepared in a contemporary way.

 

Russian Produce

On his return from France, Vladimir travelled Russia extensively.

Disappointed with other Russian chefs having turned to Italian and French cuisine, he set out to prove Russian cuisine exists and not in its simple form of dressed herring, borscht, etc.

His aim was to turn it on its head and deliver new Russian cuisine. To do that, it came down to the produce.

White Rabbit Moscow.
#4 Sea Scallops – eucalyptus, milk & milts

While he travelled, he studied regional cuisines, discovered local produce and developed his knowledge to bring back true Russian flavours.

It’s not just the cuisine he’s had a hand in redeveloping, it’s also Russian produce. Cheese, fish, olive oil, vegetables, fruit, much of it was imported. Vladimir knew they had to “grow” Russian cuisine.

By working jointly with beekeepers, artisan cheesemakers, fisherman, and farmers across the country, new products have appeared and old products have been revived.

White Rabbit Moscow.
#5 Noodle – buckwheat, seaweed & black caviar

Prior to the 16th century, Russia’s sweetener was honey. Almost everyone harvested their own until refined sugar was introduced. The convenience of sugar slowly replaced honey and drastically changed the taste of traditional Russian dishes.

Now bees are being nurtured again and the true Russian honey flavour has returned. This is the case with countless ingredients.

 

White Rabbit

In 2011, restauranteur Boris Zarkov was on the lookout for an executive chef to lead his new venture, White Rabbit.

It came down to two, Vladimir Mukhin and Anatoly Kazakov. Like-minded in their obsession of true farm to table Russian cuisine, Mukhin and Kazakov have since joined forces at Selfie (another Zarkov restaurant), but it was Mukhin who would lure diners down the rabbit hole.

White Rabbit Moscow.
#6 Uni – sea-buckthorn

Months had been spent in libraries discovering old recipes. Using contemporary techniques, many had been restored and reimagined, reviving old school Russian dishes.

From dressed herrings, borscht, caviar and blinis, a rediscovery of old recipes, and a completely new concept was created.

It wasn’t easy. At the time, Moscow had Italian, Japanese, and French restaurants. Russian cuisine was not the flavour diners were craving.

White Rabbit Moscow.
#7 Okroshka – salted milk mushroom & cucumber brine

White Rabbit’s menu was met with uncertainty. The customers didn’t really get it. When Russia’s Black sea oysters were served, diners wanted french oysters. While Vladimir’s passion was Russian ingredients, diners wanted European.

 

Sanctions & Embargoes

The conflict and violence that erupted in eastern Ukraine in 2014 produced another change to Russian cuisine. The USA imposed sanctions on Russia and in response, Putin closed the borders to all western imports.

Western products, already in the country, were burned and squashed by bulldozers. A ludicrous and extreme response causing food shortages all over Russia. Prices skyrocketed while memories of the cold war returned.

Out of something dreadful, something wonderful emerged. A new industry of Russia’s own products. Farmers markets eventually filled with artisanal produce, fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, cured and fresh meats.

White Rabbit Moscow.
#8 Cabbage Pie – baked cabbage & caviar

Already working with producers all over Russia, White Rabbit was ahead of the game and was about to explode.

Before long, international diners travelled to taste new Russian cuisine. Other chefs had no choice but to follow the Russian produce path. All of a sudden Russia was on the global gastronomy map.

 

Russian (R)Evolution

The seasonal tasting menu at White Rabbit says it all. Entitled “Russian Evolution” the graphics play on a food revolution and isn’t that what it was?

Fifteen courses introduce you to Russian and former Soviet Union products. Pork from Kursk, Halibut from Murmansk, Asparagus from Tver, mushrooms from St Petersburg, and Truffles from Crimea.

White Rabbit Moscow.
#9 Crayfish – bisque, seaweed & sour cream

Reimagined recipes emerged previously prepared for Tsars, peasants and the rest of the population. Some from regions where only fish is eaten, others from only meat-eating areas. Family recipes are also given a new lease of life.

On White Rabbit’s seasonal menu, you may be lucky to try the honey cake with sweet cherries & sour cream ice cream. White Rabbit’s contemporary version sits alongside Vladimir’s grandmother’s original recipe for comparison. This way the diner is educated in Russian cuisine’s evolution.

“Transformation” has become Vladimir Mukhin’s signature.

 

The Experience

Taking two elevators from the ground floor of Smolenskaya Square shopping mall, a corridor opens to a room out of a fairytale.

White rabbits adorn the restaurant. Some brass, some as portraits dressed to the nines in sumptuous finery.

Babushka dolls decorate shelves and if you look closely, they too have a penchant for white rabbits.

White Rabbit Moscow.

The theme plays out as you climb the stairs and are greeted by the incredible glass dome and 360-degree views of Moscow. The room is spectacular.

Plush velvet cushions are plumped by white-gloved waiters. Cocktails are presented and the performance begins.

 

The Flavours

Regardless of the season, the menu is sure to feature smoked black caviar, buckwheat, mushrooms, sea-buckthorn, honey wine, black bread, and lardo.

Seasonally, white truffles are the star attraction. Gooseberries, aloe vera, persimmon, sorrel, and eucalyptus are used to highlight and refine.

White Rabbit Moscow.
#10 Fish Porridge – smoked cod, Jerusalem artichoke & tangerines

Ryazhenka remains a signature with swan liver and rhubarb marshmallow. To those whose thoughts have immediately skipped to inhumane production of foie gras, rest assured, these swans are treated with respect and the whole bird is used.

From the sea, expect scallops, seaweed, milts (fish sperm if you’re curious), cod, and crayfish (in season).

White Rabbit Moscow.
#11 Honey Wine – & Antonovka apple

The unexpected use of wort (the liquid extract when making beer or whisky) combines with black bread persimmon & white truffle.

Flavour combinations are a constant surprise and emit gasps and moans from diners throughout the room.

White Rabbit Moscow.
#12 Barbecue – beef, sorrel & gooseberries

This experience may not be for the budget-conscious, but for foodies, it can only be described as “worth every Ruble”.

 

World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards

In 2014, White Rabbit debuted in the awards in the second fifty at #71. A fair effort considering the restaurant’s tough beginning.

It was the 2015 jump to #24 that really grabbed the culinary world’s attention. Since then, positions have been #18, #23 and in 2018, #15.

White Rabbit Moscow.
#13 Black Bread – persimmon, white truffle & wort

The World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards for 2019 were announced in Singapore the evening of June 25th.

White Rabbit’s position on the 2019 list is #13, ascending 2 places.

For chefs like Vladimir Mukhin, awards, while appreciated, are not the reason they do what they do. Reviving Russian produce, history and cuisine is his and his team’s reward.

 

The Final Course

Vladimir Mukhin and White Rabbit represent the breakthrough of new Russian cuisine to the international market.

Showing a completely different side of Russia on the international stage has encouraged other Russian chefs to appreciate Russia’s cuisine and its produce.

White Rabbit Moscow.
#14 Erofeyich – fried hazelnuts & aloe vera

When Vladimir left for Moscow, his father wasn’t pleased. He didn’t understand what his son was searching for. Now the two are reunited and Mukhin senior is incredibly proud. The two not only have a family bond but a bond through food and cooking. More like friends, they have returned to cooking together in their leisure time.

Vladimir Mukhin is now in cahoots with Boris Zarkov in more than 20 restaurants. When asked about his own restaurant, he doesn’t commit.

White Rabbit Moscow.
#15 Syta – sea-buckthorn (it’s the delicate gold-wrapped balls on the reindeer heads)

To Vladimir Mukhin, Boris Zarkov and all the Russian providores involved, for your passion and commitment to new Russian cuisine, we salute you.

New Russian cuisine and the Russian (R)evolution: it’s a thing we love….

White Rabbit. 16th Floor. 3 Smolenskaya Square. Moscow. Russia. +7 495 510 5101/ +7 495 782 6262.

White Rabbit Moscow.
«Antonovka» Gimlet Gin infused with green apple, homemade apple tonic, lemon foam

 

Getting there & getting around

Before you head to Moscow you’ll need a Russian Tourist Visa. Allow plenty of time, visas not only take a while to process, but the application takes time to complete.

You’ll need an invitation letter obtained from your accommodation.

A completed application form including (for Australians anyway) where you’ve travelled in the past 10 years.

The best advice we can give is to contact the Russian Consulate in your country to ensure you have every piece of documentation required.

Emirates Airline flies twice daily from Dubai to Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport with an additional service from Fly Dubai.

Qantas, British Airways, China Eastern and a host of other airlines regularly fly to Moscow. Check Skyscanner for options.

A fixed-rate of €22 is charged by most taxi companies for the 45KM journey from Domodedovo International Airport to Moscow city centre. This can take between 30 minutes to one hour. This is the only time we suggest using taxis in Moscow.

Regular taxis in Moscow cost a fortune so ensure your Über app has the latest update. You’ll be glad you did.

Alternative transport from the airport to the city, the Aeroexpress train ( one hour and €7 per person) and the Express bus (one hour & 30 minutes for around €1.50). Both connect to the metro’s green line to get to the city centre. (Prices include the metro and are correct at time of publishing)

White Rabbit is located on the rooftop of Smolenskaya Square shopping mall.

Enter through the ground floor cosmetics & fragrance department and take the first lift as far as it will go. Follow the signs to the second lift to White Rabbit, and prepare for an extraordinary dining experience.

Get there on the Metro by taking Line 3 (the blue line – Shchyolkovskaya/ Pyatnitskoye Shosse) to Smolenskaya. Take the shopping mall exit.

 

When to go

White Rabbits’ seasonal tasting menus ensure they serve delicious Russian flavours all year round. Take a look at the current menu here, it may help with your decision.

In our case, we visited Moscow for Xmas. You might call us crazy, but being based in Dubai, it was a tremendous novelty to pull out our snow boots, insulated coats and the rest of our essential cold-weather paraphernalia. (see what I did there 😉 )

As Russian Orthodox Xmas is early January, Xmas markets were open with a wonderful atmosphere, mulled wine, pulled pork and wurst.

However, to make the most of this fascinating city, our recommendation would be to go in spring. Full of spectacular architecture and beautiful gardens, spring would be the perfect time for river tours, cycling and general outdoor activities.

 

Booking.com

Research your Moscow accommodation below. Use filters for options close to Red Square, The Kremlin, and St Basils. Once you’ve decided, book through us, and don’t forget to arrange your invitation letter for your visa.

paraphernalia.co is a Booking.com affiliate. This means by booking through us you’ll still receive the same booking.com competitive rates while we receive a tiny commission to keep paraphernalia.co going.

We appreciate your support.



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