Photo by Nadia Feddo
When I read a review in a recent issue of Time Out Barcelona magazine for a Russian-Ukrainian restaurant, I knew I had to go and try it straight away. Borsch! Blinis! Pirozhki! The reviewer raved, he talked of old Russian cooking, Siberian ravioli, giant Ukranian meatballs, exquisite dishes, hearty welcomes... I could already practically smell the steam coming off the dumplings. After all, what could be better on a sub-zero February night than a hefty plate of piping hot Dostoyevskian rassolnik? Maybe we would even get a sable rug thrown over our knees and be served by a man with high shiny boots and a brush moustache!
Or maybe not. The first sign that all might not be as expected was when I called to make a reservation and the voice on the other end sounded audibly shocked by my request.
Naturally, we turned up and it was completely empty. And there were laminated photos of chips and baps outside. Oh, and it wasn’t really a Russian restaurant. Or a Ukranian restaurant either. It was standard by-the-beach tourist fare with about six Eastern European dishes in amongst the steak and chips. However, we were powerless to turn away because the waiter sprinted outside to welcome us in and had such pleading eyes that we couldn’t refuse.
Badio, the Ukranian waiter, turned out to be charm itself. Warm, informative and keen to extoll the virtues of the food on offer he almost had us believing everything was going to be okay. Then he switched the music on: a Euro-disco version of 'Back in the USSR' segued into 'Boys Boys Boys', 'Volare' and so on, ricocheting relentlessly off the peach-painted walls.
The wine list was a short run-through of supermarket favourites at a 300 percent mark-up so we asked him what the house wine was but he said he didn’t know because it came in large containers with no label. When asked to describe it he only said that, “nobody had ever complained”. I would venture to suggest that this is only because anyone who got through a whole glass of it did not live long enough to do so.
Seeing as we had come for an Eastern European experience we dutifully ordered from the Eastern dishes on offer. They were not great but nowhere near as indigestible as the soundtrack. A tapa of Russian salad was surprisingly light with plenty of cucumber, onion and gherkins but spoiled by the inclusion of nasty packet ham; the vegetable blinis were nicely crunchy and flavourful, if a little oily, and the borsch would have been a meal in itself, with big hunks of gammon sunk under scads of sweet red beetroot, cabbage and a globule of sour cream.
For the main course I had two vast golubtsi—white cabbage leaves stuffed with mixed ground meat and vegetables and topped with sour cream and a sweet and sour tomato sauce. My companion fared less well with some frozen sole smothered in an inedibly garlicky almond sauce.
The blinis and the almonds came out again for puds (it was that or the usual yogurt/ice cream/ fruit options): pineapple and whipped cream blinis paired with a non-alcoholic almond drink full of sharp nutty chunks. We didn’t finish it; indeed we finished nothing on our mountainous plates that night, and were admonished time and time again by our sad-eyed waiter who would shake his head and cluck like a Jewish mother, “I see that you don’t like this one at all! Two big pieces of meat you have left here!” So he wrapped it all up for us to take home.
Yalta Crimea, Carrer Salamanca 1-9 (Barceloneta), tel. 93 319 7527. About €25 per person for three courses.