I’m told that in Moscow there are bearded burly Cossacks in fur hats and aprons establishing a gourmet city of culinary-bending achievements to rival anything else out there. Chefs who push the fusion-provincial thing beyond the custom caviar and kvass. Who twist and adapt menus into multisensory, flavour-pushing, territory-promoting culinary listicles in the finger-nipping “First Throne” of Russia.
In pre-Revolutionary Russia the Tsar’s children would begin the day with mashed banana and caviar
And so, I tiptoe across the slippy ankle-snapping ice to Twins, a restaurant that has played a significant role in promoting modern Russian cuisine. Inside, the room is a visual hodgepodge: art on the walls and a yellow tandem bicycle hanging from the ceiling. The menu confirms the assertions of lavish Russian grub – it’s a catalogue of all the customary ingredients you’d expect to see in a city with a reputation for extravagance. There’s sea urchin and king crab and red deer and caviar. In pre-Revolutionary Russia the Tsar’s children would begin the day with mashed banana and caviar. I was looking forward to similar profligate treatment.
At 16-courses the set menu is an impressive run through of food from the East. It is vibrant and contemporary, with all of the flicks and smoke and theatre you’d find from chefs who’ve worked under Ferran Adria and Grant Achatz.
But here’s the thing: even before the first caviar egg has popped in your mouth, you realise that it’s not food that’s the star here. So here’s the hook, the catch, the crook of it all, the PR wallop to which the restaurant is famed and really, it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. Yes, twins. Ivan and Sergey Berezutskyi – twins who opened a restaurant in 2014 called… Twins. Clever, huh? Maybe.
The Berezutskyi brothers create and cook together. For 80 Euros they’ll present the set menu to you, together. They deliver the plates to your table and go through the complexities of each. It’s captivating at first, but runs cold around course number six when they reappear from the kitchen like an animated Diane Arbus photograph.
The restaurant was commended in last year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants (making it into the Diners Club 50 Best Discovery Series), so I was anticipating something special. To begin there’s a duo (see what they’ve done there) of northern prawns served with a warm garlic dip. It’s straightforward and simply presented, showcasing the quality of the whopper prawns. Inspired, I imagine, by Sergey’s langoustine, artichoke and tomato dish, which won him San Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year in 2014. Then a selection of mini tartares (two ox, two plum) that demonstrate the interesting pairing between ox and plum (I was surprised too) that are designed to look uncannily similar on the plate.
“Beef Liver & Beet” is a Russian roulette of flavour, disguising two liver and two beetroot cubes (with apricot cream), for a blind surprise. You never know which one you’re picking up, but each is an equally appetising morsel of interesting fleshy flavour. It’s a creative plate and a good exercise in the manipulation of beetroot, which can so often taste like a scab dipped in chlorine.
“Pumpkin & Persimmon” is a thinly-sliced scallop wrapped around a pumpkin cube, over salted and unnecessary, while “Veal Brains & Walnuts” is a little too boundary-pushing for my tastes. It needs an accompaniment with bite – capers for instance – to cut through the squishy membrane. A vibrant green dish called “Potato & Apple” is as sour and odious as the Jolly Green’s Giant’s earwax and falls short of the refinery demonstrated in previous dishes. But there is more to praise.
A double crab serving of “Murmansk and Kamchatka” (from Russia and Alaska) is the crowning glory. It lacks the flair of other dishes, but therein lies its success. Source fine ingredients and apply a gentle hand and you’re rewarded in kind. The brothers should know a thing or two about crabs. They don’t share the same mistress (although I never asked) but run Wine and Crab, their second Moscow restaurant.
Calling a restaurant Wine and Crab makes the brothers an authority; they can’t wing-it on budget shellfish. “Murmansk and Kamchatka” are hefty cantaloupe-coloured crustaceans with sprawling legs. One of the brothers – I can’t tell which – dons his rubber gloves and picks up a pair of scissors, then, like an excitable surgeon with his first patient before him, goes to work. He cuts and snaps and breaks the beasts apart, tearing the joints and pulling the legs from the body. Inside, the sweet white meat is revealed. It’s grubby eating, but filled with sloppy excitement.
It’s grubby eating, but filled with sloppy excitement
Then follows “Sea Soil” and wonderful Borodinsky bread wrapped in muslin then baked in black soil, then “Mushroom Ecosystem”, “Honey Fungus” and “Pike Caviar”. The penultimate dish “Plum & Basil” is a suggested palate cleanser using Russian black basil, offering a hint of anise flavour that lingers too long. Then “Seaweed & Pineapple Guava” arrives in the form of a white guava marshmallow with dried grated seaweed applied by, yes, you’ve guessed it… Ivan. Or Sergey?
It’s a lengthy meal – each course punctuated with wine too lusty to recall – and a riveting examination into the pairing of familiar and unfamiliar ingredients from the Bloc. Admittedly the twin thing takes away from the skilled talents of the chefs, but it’s a valuable marketing tool that I’m sure will continue to entice guests and critics. If you’re in Moscow, go. This is modern cooking with clever interpretations of Russia’s regional food heritage – beyond the dried meats and buckets of mushrooms – and dishes that fly at you with their creativity and proficiency. C
Twins, Malaya Bronnaya Street, 13, Moscow, Russia, 123104
+7 495 695 45 10; twinsmoscow.ru