Moscow has never been exactly well known for its health food restaurants. For many foreigners, this is a bit of a let-down as healthy eating has long been part of our culinary landscapes in our home countries. Enter the ‘Have A Nice Day’ healthy food café inside the Tsvetnoi Market, to where members of the Moscow Good Food Club were treated to an extraordinary non-meat meal.
Not knowing what to expect, we were happy to be addressed by Brand Chef Said Fadli who explained something of the concept of the ‘café’ as a whole. The tone of the evening was set by the ‘welcome dish’– the ‘Bruschettas Trio’ of carrot dough with a guacamole sauce, tomatoes, fig, maple syrup, broccoli and asparagus spread onto crackers. In general, comments were positive about this unusual opener, however there were one or two comments about a slightly overbearing presence of figs and parsley for this time of year. Nobody had anything but positive assessments of the first wine served: a ‘Black Label’ Sauvignon Blanc ‘Babich’ 2015 from New Zealand. Like all of the wines and most of the food served, this was produced organically.
The second course, a salmon, mango and avocado burger was appreciated by all as being a highly original and creative combination. Above all, it was very tasty, and by this time, most (but not all) members had forgotten that we were eating a non-meat meal! There was a range of opinions about the 2015 Chablis Viellis Vignes ‘Saint Claire’ wine. Some said it was a little acidic, young and served cold, however others thought it was well balanced, and adequately set off the sweetness of the avocado and mango tartar.
A Falafels Trio of sweet potato, beetroot and spinach caused intense discussion amongst members. Interestingly, our Austrian contingent had markedly different feelings about this dish. Some said that the spinach was too dry, and that the potatoes were too spicy, however all said that the sauces were excellent, in fact a universal desire was – more sauces please! One table exclaimed that the Gavi served with this dish – ‘Ottosoldi 2015, Piemonte, Italy’, was the best wine served so far.
The fourth dish, which could have been the main course as it featured a halibut filet with pelati, curry, saffron, curcuma sauce served with quinoa, dried fruits and nuts once again created a varied feedback. Members who were perhaps more familiar with non-meat cuisine found the delicacies available in these dishes exciting, whilst hard and fast carnivores were perhaps a little bored with all the subtle harmonies of tastes available. We were in fact, journeying into another world, and it was difficult to immediately discard all ones’ baggage in a situation of non-meat weightlessness.
The only discernible criticism of the Reisling Curvée served with this dish was that it was a little too cold. The meal was finished off with chocolate banana cake which was served with the best intentions but some members felt was a little too heavy after such a subtle dance of tastes. This was a pity because the chocolate is made specially in the restaurant, using and maple syrup as a substitute for sugar.
This meeting of the Moscow Good Food Club was noticeable for the seriousness and intensity at which members discussed the food and wines that they were so professionally presented with. In general, the impression created by the food, wines and service was most favourable. We wish the ‘Have A Nice Day’ restaurant well!
After an introduction by Maria Ushakova, David Oganesyan, the founder of the present day Voskevaz Winery’ very kindly contributed some wonderful, rich bottles of his Armenian wine to the ‘Moscow expat Life’ 5th Anniversary Party, and to the ELE end of year party. MeL caught up with David to find out some more about Voskevaz wine.
David explained that his winery in Armenia has existed since 1932, and Voskevaz was already a firmly established brand before he took it over in 1997. The main problem he has faced was how to overcome the Soviet stereotype that Armenia can only produce cognac. Wine was from Georgia and cognac from Armenia. “Since 2009 we have been working with a Russian distributer to and try to convince Russians that Armenian wine not only exists, but is actually pretty good. With their help, we are now able to distribute our wines at most large Russian retail chains.” Voskevaz is not the only Armenian wine on sale in Russia, however it is one of the most well-known. Voskevaz’s new red dry wine ‘Areni Noir’ was awarded a gold medal at ‘Mundus Vini 18th Grand International Wine Award’ in 2016. This is the first time in Armenian winemaking history, when a wine, made from an Armenian grape variety, has won this prestigious award.
Voskevaz’s wine, David said, is “one hundred percent created from local Armenian grapevines. We only use Armenian Karases (Armenian clay jars) for fermentation, and local oak for ageing. We know what we are doing; we have been making wine in Armenia for thousands of years; about 6,000. Armenia is very suited geographically and climatically for wine production. The water is just right and so are the amount of sunshine hours. The vines that grow at a relatively high altitude produce a slightly different effect. We are not trying to produce a huge amount of wine, rather we want to produce wine of excellent quality.”
Earlier, semi-sweet wines ‘Portvein’ were popular, because Armenia’s market was Russia. David explained: “Now the wine drinking culture in Russia is beginning to change, and people are beginning to understand that good wine actually is dry. Now, we sell about the same amount of dry and sweet wine, and we know that in the future, we will be selling more dry than even semi-dry wine. We are in the front line of telling the world that Armenian wines exist, we are engaged in marketing quite intensively or rather our distributors are, and all of this is a good thing because we really do have something that is worth trying. I think it is going to take about 5 years to achieve world-wide popularity.” In fact, Armenians are quietly, humbly doing great business. They seem to prefer to be slightly off-radar. In passing, David mentioned that his wines are already being exported to Russia, Belgium, Holland, Italy, China, America, and The Baltic Republics.
We met Brand Chef Said Fadli at the February 2016 MGFC at ‘Have a Nice Day’ restaurant in the Tsvetnoi Central Market complex. We were so impressed by his food and the concept he is trying to introduce we decided to interview him (editor).
Which country are you from?
I was born in Morocco, but I have lived most of my life in the States, so I am Moroccan/American. I have had quite a life, I grew up in France, then went to live and work in America. Now I am living in Moscow!
You are truly an international person!
Yes, I am multicultural.
How did you learn to cook?
It’s a long story. Like I said, I was born in Morocco. I started to cook for myself and for my family at a really young age, and I realised that I was happy when I was cooking. Cooking came naturally and I have always done this. Even when I was studying law in university I carried on cooking and realised that this was the main thing I was interested in. Later on, I realised that you can make good money from being a chef, and so that is what I do!
As you spent your childhood in France, you do French cooking as well?
Yes, exactly. Later when I went to the States I learnt a lot more, and expanded my skills. Then I started to develop my own style, but at the same time I kept my original way of cooking, and developed on that. I now feel that I have a sort of fusion style.
How did you come to be working here in Moscow?
I was working in a large restaurant called Rasputin in the USA. It was a cabaret restaurant, and a lot of famous businessmen and sportsmen used to go there. Some of the clients were Russians, and I got to know them. A couple of them invited me to come to Russia. That was in 2004. I came here for four days and I found out that Russia is like anywhere else in the world and has all sorts of different kinds of restaurants. I was quite surprised because I had thought that Russians are all poor, and the restaurant business is badly developed. But when I came I saw foie gras, truffles, and the most expensive dishes on sale, I realised that the reality is very different from what we are told about Russia. They invited me and some friends to come here and we opened a couple of restaurants. It was difficult to get the food products in at the time, because you had to import everything from outside, but after a while companies opened here which brought food in for you from Europe, from Israel, from Morocco, from everywhere!
How did you come round to the healthy food concept?
Having tried a lot of different styles of cooking here in Moscow, we settled on the idea that a lot of people like healthy food, but there is nowhere for them to eat such food here. We were thinking in the beginning of opening a vegan restaurant, but we changed our minds. Vegans may come here, but they might bring their friends who are not even vegetarian, so we have to be able to serve something that everybody will like. That’s why we have a fish section; so that we can make everybody happy.
What do you do here?
I am the brand chef for all of the eateries here at the foodmarket. We have three other restaurants here.
How do Muscovites take to vegetarian food?
A lot of people nowadays, especially young people, travel a lot. They see what is going on outside of their own countries. There are a lot of people now in Russia who like alternative lifestyles. They practice yoga, they do meditation, they like sport. We have free yoga lessons here in some of the restaurants in the mornings, and lots of people come.
So are your clients are youngish, like under 30?
Many of them are young, but by no means all.
You mean, when you get older you just give up?
More young people than old people are interested in keeping control of their health, that’s true. But older people do as well; those over 50, they don’t want to get to flabby. Some people have trouble with high cholesterols, so they do watch their food. People want to try more natural food, so we stay away from canned and packaged food, and food that has been cooked and preserved using chemicals.
June saw the dauntless members of the Moscow Good Food Club making their way to one of Moscow’s truly independent restaurants, Cafe Restaurant Michel located on Krasnaya Presnaya. With is authentic French decor beckoning, the Moscow Good Food Club made their way to the specially reserved tables on the first floor.
Cafe Michel is truly based on a Parisian style and often missed in Moscow is the exterior decoration. Next time you are stuck in traffic on Krasnaya Presnaya, just look at the detail of the external decoration.
We were welcomed with a light and refreshing Tribaut Brut Rose Champagne that perfectly accompanied the canapes of Salmon Profiteroles, Goat Cheese Profiteroles and a Macaroon with foie gras and mushrooms.
Once comfortably seated the impeccable staff introduced our first course of Scallops in fennel sauce, which was excellently paired with a M de Minuty Chateau Minuty from Provence.
As is tradition of the Moscow Good Food Club, even by the end of the first course the conversation flowed with new friendships being forged and old acquaintances being strengthened â maybe the excellent wine helps!
The next dish was a highly creative fresh tomato gazpacho served with an intriguing mustard ice cream. There was slight confusion with the wine pairing but still an interesting combination.
An interesting difference with the menu this evening was a first and a second main course. The first main course was a Surmullet Bohemian style and it was explained that CafÃ© Michel was serving a French style summer menu with an emphasis on fish. The Surmullet was succulent and excellent and admirably paired with a Pouilly Fume AOC Mademoiselle de T.
This was followed by our Second Main course, Zander with tomato fondue with sweet potato puree accompanied by a Chablis AOC from Laroche. Whilst the Pouilly Fume had been excellently paired with the Surmullet, the Chalis somehow did not work so well. However it could be noticed that all plates were cleaned and glasses emptied!
The Chef had excelled with his creativity and creativity but he had saved the best for last! A ‘Deconstructed Summer Dessert’ sounds somewhat obtuse or obscure, however as the name implies, the entire dessert is deconstructed into virtually its component forms and then displayed on the plate. The effect was wonderful and the taste amazing, receiving rapturous reviews from our members. This was accompanied by a Sancerre Compte Lafont Grand Cuvee which could have been sweeter!
As is customary, a spokesperson from each table was called on to provide the critique gathered from each table. These Critiques are always a form of positive criticism with most restaurants really appreciating the feed-back. This evening was no exception with a general positive mood signalling an excellent meal.
As is customary and to provoke spirited conversation during the meal, our members were asked to comment on a question. ‘The centre of Moscow is one big building site at the moment. Urban re-construction is changing the face of the city. Please name areas or streets that have been improved.’
Our members mentioned many favourites including Gorky Park and Sokolniky but others included Krimskiy Val, Nikolskaya, Pyatnitskaya, Ordinka, Museon and Pokrovka. All mentioned that they were eagerly awaiting the completion of Tvserkaya.
And so ended another great episode of the Moscow Good Food Club. Our grateful thanks to the management and staff of Cafe Michel for an excellent evening!