Step back in time at Kvartirka Soviet Café in St Petersburg and experience the dishes that defined the era in a unique setting
From a comforting dish of pelmeni to the wonderfully named ‘herring under a fur coat,’ Soviet-style dining is making a comeback in St Petersburg, with restaurants like Kvartirka Soviet Café allowing diners to travel back in time for the duration of their meal. With a name that translates roughly to “a small apartment” in Russian, Kvartirka has been designed to evoke the atmosphere of a typical Soviet home; the space has been decorated with genuine Soviet furniture, right down to the Soviet newspapers, with a traditional menu to match. Here, Alexandra Navolskaya, Brand Manager of Soviet cafes Kvartirka and Dachniki, explains the venue’s unique appeal.
How did the idea for Kvartirka St Petersburg come about?
When we opened the first café, we wanted to create a space that was really authentic but also comfortable and cosy at the same time. We also wanted to make sure that the theme was interwoven into every aspect of the venue, from the name to the interiors and the menu. The owners were inspired by their own experiences and memories to create a place based on their nostalgia for Soviet times.
Can you tell us more about food and restaurants during the Soviet era?
Soviet cuisine drew on influences from all over the USSR. The famous Russian pelmeni (dumplings) were originally from Siberia and the Urals, while Ukrainians brought pork lard, which had not previously been used in Russian cooking. Soup with noodles is a typical dish from the south of Russia, and this became the most popular soup in Soviet canteens. (In soviet culture, self-service canteens, called stolovaya, were common.)
Once a luxurious dish enjoyed the Russian nobility, Beef Stroganoff was eaten all over the country by the end of the Soviet era. The Baltic influence on Soviet cuisine came via recipes for syrniki (cottage-cheese pancakes), whilst the Ukraine gave us vareniki (sweet dumplings) and borsch, probably the most famous beetroot soup in Russia.
Due to the Soviet ideology and limited resources available, most cafes and restaurants served a very similar menu consisting of standard, simple dishes. Soviet dishes did not have any foreign ingredients or condiments. Hence why the majority of these recipes were so easy to cook at home, and also why Soviet cuisine is a point of nostalgia for older generations of Russians.
Can you talk us through the interior decoration of the cafe?
All the furniture and artefacts that you see in the cafe are authentic. From the old wooden wardrobe to the New Year tree decoration, we wanted to really recreate the genuine atmosphere of the typical Soviet flat. If you happen to have grown up in Russia during the Soviet era, you will certainly recognise many things from your childhood here!
Why do you think the cafe is so popular with visitors?
In spite of the fact that the Soviet period was not an easy time for our nation, it still retains a lot of warm memories and emotions in people’s minds. Therefore, our restaurants are about the positive memories of Soviet times for those who were born when the USSR existed. For visitors from other countries, or the younger generation, our restaurants are a way of experiencing a bygone era by surrounding themselves with authentic Soviet furniture, books, newspapers, technology and, of course, food!
Do you use traditional recipes for the dishes served, or do you like to give them a modern twist?
We try to retain all the traditional features of the dishes. Our chefs regularly draw inspiration and information from the original edition of the Soviet cuisine recipe book. However, we’re also mindful that we live in the 21st century, so we include a few more popular modern dishes and drinks on the menu too.
What more unusual dishes on the menu should visitors try?
The famous “herring under a fur coat” is one of the most traditional Soviet salads, but for many it sounds deeply mysterious and unusual. I’d also recommend trying the Vorschmack, which is a cold herring-based starter, and Solyanka soup, made with three types of meat, potatoes, olives, lemon and pickles. All of these dishes are pretty unusual, and very tasty.
What can visitors expect to drink at Kvartirka?
I would definitely recommend trying our homemade liquors. These are all made in-house, using only natural and high quality ingredients. Be sure to sample traditional flavours such as hrenovukha (horseradish), cherry, cranberry or chokeberry. You can order a single shot or ask for the degustation set and get four flavours of your choice.
As for the non-alcoholic drinks, our berry drink, Mors is nice, and of course, Grandma’s Tea, which is served in a real Samovar and accompanied with some traditional sweets.
How do you think Kvartirka fits into St Petersburg’s dining scene in 2018?
Our Soviet concept continues to delight both local people and visitors to St Petersburg. We had a great 2017 and we’ve got ambitious plans for 2018, so watch this space!