In a small square adjacent to the Russian Embassy in the United Arab Emirates, there’s a one-room restaurant that could be your Russian grandmother’s kitchen or sitting room. If you had a Russian grandmother. Who lived in the narrow back streets of Abu Dhabi.
Welcome to the Russian Kitchen, Abu Dhabi’s only restaurant dedicated to serving homemade food from Eastern Europe.
The restaurant has half a dozen tables covered with dark fabric table cloths patterned with gold vines, which clash with the blue flower design on all of the dishware. Walls are covered with faux brick and decorated with a variety of nick-nacks – an oil painting of a forest scene, a wooden plate with sunflowers on it, a mini woven carpet, plastic ivy, and a functional community bulletin board with magnets for posting adverts in Russian. A television airing a Russian soap opera is mounted on a wall by the door.
The effect is a bit haphazard but charming.
The Russian Kitchen is definitely an “order something and see if you like it” kind of place. If you persist in seeking guidance, the recommendations may not be of much use.
“Why you ask? All good! Just pick,” barks one of the three blond hairnetted women working the kitchen, when asked about specialties on the menu.
It is solid advice, not least because that’s pretty much the majority of her English.
But beneath the no-nonsense brusque demeanor, these ladies aim to leave customers satisfied, and they certainly know how to cook.
The pelmeni are plump little meat dumplings of ground beef in unleavened dough, served with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkling of dill and cumin. The vareniki with cheese is the pelmeni’s smaller cousin – more tortellini-like and can be served either in a soup-like broth or on their own.
Dishes like “cabbage rolls” and “pancake with meat” are a bit more self-explanatory.
The cabbage with meat includes two tamale-sized packets of ground beef wrapped in stir-fried and wilted cabbage, which provides a nice slightly crunchy contrast to the rich meat, with yogurt sauce and dark beef broth alongside. The pancake with meat is heavenly – perfectly browned and chewy dough wrapped around just the right amount of seasoned beef.
For the beef Stroganoff, sauteed pieces of meat come bathed in a creamy mushroom and potato sauce.
All the dishes served here are heavy on the beef, dough and cabbage, but in the best way possible. There isn’t anything spicy on offer, but they do have plenty of flavors and textures to make up for that.
Desserts include a Russian cheesecake and layered honeycake, both proudly displayed in tupperware cases and made earlier in the day. They’re deliciously creamy, homemade sweets baked with fresh ingredients. There’s even a glass of cloudy kvass – a fermented bread non-alcoholic beverage – to wash it all down.
The restaurant is true to its name – as if part of a Russian home got pluncked down into Abu Dhabi and started serving people who wandered in off the street. It’s ideal for a hearty and fresh, if heavy, homecooked meal, especially for carnivores.
And not really knowing what will appear on the table after ordering is half the fun.
Russian Kitchen House Cafeteria: see the menu
Address: Near Russian Embassy, west of Al Salam (8th) Street and north of Hamdan bin Mohamed (5th) Street, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Telephone: +971 2 674 4342
Camels Fire: (nothing spicy on menu)