Being an ex-neighbour of this bar, it was bittersweet to be back in our old neighbourhood, amazed by how they transformed a run down cooking school into a lavish restaurant and bar. The dishes are designed to share with a modern Eastern European flavour, so think of warm soups, meaty dumplings and slow cooked meats; perfect for a cold Winter’s night. Much to my delight, it began to remind me of our memorable night at Borsh Vodka and Tears.
We wander through the brightly lit reception where bubbly staff greet us and our coats are taken and stored away in vintage closets. The feeling is intriguing with Euro trance beats pumping in the background, floral wallpaper, grey walls, antique pieces and persian rugs.
Appetizers roll out, beginning with soft blinis (pancakes) topped with a ribbon of beetroot & vodka cured ocean trout, roe and dill cream; and they were absolutely amazing with multiple flavour bursts. Next up are the meaty pierogi which are another variation of the Polish dumpling, uszka, but uses a slightly different dough. They’re filled with organic pork and roasted shallots with sprinkles of salty bacon pieces, mmmmm!
The borscht is next companied with mini bowls to share; a Ukrainian soup mainly made of beetroot and served with organic smoked ham hock and of course, a dollop of sour cream. It tastes like a beetroot puree with strands of ham, although my Russian counterpart is less impressed of its texture.
The “substantials” on the menu are the meatier and heartier dishes. The beef short ribs braised in dark beer sit on top of a soft white polenta and are served with buttered sprouts on a wooden block. The meat is slightly overcooked but with a few spoonfuls of the sauce, it’s salvable.
Alongside the pierogi dumplings being my favourite of the night, the ten hour braised lamb shoulder is amazing. Served in a red hot ceramic dish with field mushrooms, white bean puree and fresh mint jelly; it gets many nods of satisfaction across the table.
The Selsko Meso is a Balkan style slow cooked stew filled with pork neck, red peppers, tomatoes and spices aplenty. With pork neck being more muscular, flavoursome and fattier than the shoulder, being slow cooked, it’s as tender as it can get amongst the stew of spices.
Disappointingly, the desserts are not up the scratch. The Food Society’s take on the pashka, a Russian cheese dessert is a little bland and not as sweet as anticipated, despite the jam and almonds drizzled on top. As for the sour cherry dumplings that my Russian foodie was so excited about was another let down. Possible that our cravings for sweet ending tarnished our judgements, but hopefully more inventive desserts could blossom in the future.
It’s the beginnings of a great new restaurant with Euro ambience and flavour to match.
91 Riley St