By Anna Jackson-Stevens
A few of my favourite pastimes and places, cosmetics and dresses â made in Russia. Hemlines rise, cyclists appear and pavements disappear as they are turned into terraces – just a few of the signs of summer in Moscow. Set up for the season starts over May holidays, one of my favourite times to be in town and with warmer temperatures comes a jollier mood, which might be measured in proportion to the extreme climate contrast: -30 to +30. Thatâs an exaggeration. It was once the case, even 25 years ago but Moscow is milder now and I think inhabitants are gentler too. The sheer length of the winter, including an extended filthy thaw contributes to the sense of liberation â a load lifted after shaking off that sheepskin, unravelling the woollies and stepping out of sturdy footwear.
So how to spend summer in the city? Well first you need a tan and Moscow has a selection of âbeachesâ to choose from. They are riverbanks of course; no long stretches of white or golden sand but watersâ edges have been developed sufficiently imaginatively to create the illusion of a seaside resort.
One of my favourites is Royal Yacht Club Beach Club, superbly located near Vodny Stadion, so if you scoot out of work punctually you can catch the evening sun in just over 20 minutes by metro from Pushkin Square. Arkady Novikovâs restaurant Vodny makes this a designer destination, loungers are for hire but not obligatory, you can recline on your towel to languidly admire luxury marina life.
Need to get back in shape before baring all? I like to run outside and kept it up in thermals for much of the winter on sunny mornings, when the pavements were clean. I vow to try VeloBikes this year but Iâll also play tennis opposite the Soviet Army Theatre in Ekaterinksy Park. The club has soul and well-kept clay courts. Dress code is taken seriously as are the refreshments, veteran instructors quench their thirst over well-deserved chilled beers in between lessons.
And what to wear now youâre toned and tanned? I canât get enough of Russian Fashion Roots in Modny Sezon; itâs like a dressing up box, full of frothy party frocks, beaded headdresses and irresistible stilettos in ice-cream pastels. Thereâs plenty for him too so you can bring your other half along for a perusal. Boutique owner Asya Ryazankina (pictured in dress) has an eye for local talent and is her own best brand ambassador.
Moscow rays can be raw so why not pop next door to Organic Shop in Okhotny Ryad and stock up on some potions to prepare your skin for its new golden hue. Inspired by the wildlife in Siberia, cosmetics by Natura Siberica are taking the world by storm. They donât yet have a range devoted to sun protection but Iâll start with a seaberry and honey body scrub and keep a bottle of oil for hair, soul and body â also from the Oblepikha Siberica line â handy in my beach bag. Iâm tempted too by Caviar Gold day cream made from northern black caviar and Siberian gold with a light SPF factor for decadent moments in the shade.
In Moscow we are quite spoiled for choice, with the wide range of restaurants and specialities at our disposal. So it was refreshing to receive an invitation for the Moscow Good Food Club to visit a restaurant that spoke of itâs family background, and with most produce coming from their own farm.
Before we introduce the restaurant let us introduce the farm. Located 130 kilometres from Moscow the family farm now produces most of the supplies for the restaurant including meat, vegetables and fruit. The family prefer to take the pick of their crops to their own restaurant in the centre of Moscow, instead of selling it at market.
With this background information, the intrepid members of the Moscow Good Food Club made their way to Nikolasâ restaurant located on Bolshaya Polyanka conveniently located directly opposite the metro.
Nikolasâ restaurant is named after the family patriarch, the Grandfather and many of the recipes are said to be of his origin. On the ground floor there is a cosy cafÃ©/bar that stocks some amazing German beers but our destination was the first floor. It is not a large restaurant; it seats a maximum of 40 people in a lovely Russian country style. Aperitif and canapÃ©s of Roast Beef, caviar of eggplant with walnut and salmon tartar were served to welcome us. As the guests arrived, friends greeted each other and new members were immediately welcomed to the fold.
On being called to our tables, we were served a generous helping of Beef Carpaccio with an ingenious carrot tartar. The Carpaccio was served a little too cold (almost frozen) but as it warmed to room temperature we were able to experience the deep taste of fresh beef directly from the family farm. Whilst the serving was most generous (almost large), our members know how to please a Chef and all the plates were clean when returned. The Carpaccio was served with an excellent Takun Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva from Chile.
Continuing with the theme of local specialities, we were next served a generous helping of Salad Olivier with crayfish and chicken. The Olivier was superb with crispy vegetables and a light dressing. The only comment from some members that whilst the crayfish was delicious, there was not so much of it! The Olivier Salad was paired with a Centine Rose from Italy, a very pleasant light rose that surprisingly complemented the lightness of the salad.
The veal kidneys in Madeira meat sauce caused some lively discussions with some loving the unique flavour of veal kidneys, whilst others could not overcome their aversion to offal. Nevertheless, those that enjoyed the kidneys also commented on the suitability of the deep Finca Nueva Crianza from Spain.
Sometimes Chefs and sommeliers are challenged when pairing to traditional foods. The main course was Pozharksky cutlets with potatoes Pushkin and mushroom sauce. Two massive, crispy cutlets were served on each plate but this failed to defeat some of our more tenacious members who proceed to polish off their plates in great style. This course suffered slightly from a kitchen challenge, resulting in many of the plates not being served as warm as they should have been and a rather weak wine; Gran Bateau Blanc from France which failed to breakdown the strong flavours of the cutlets. Despite the criticism it was an enjoyable dish of humungous proportions.
Veterans of the Moscow Good Food Club know to keep some space for dessert and this was a good policy as Honey Cake was served next. Layers upon layers of light honey pastry made the cake look even commercial, but the taste was original with the flavours of country honey permeating through the pastry. Paired with a Merlo Louis Galud, a semi-sweet from France it was an amazing combination!
To finish an interesting and traditional meal we were served with a home-made Cranberry liqueur that summed up the original flavours of a most enjoyable meal.
As always our erudite members are asked for their critiques of the meal. Whilst maybe not up to the haute cuisine of some previous meals, the Nikolasâ restaurant provided us with a memorable meal that was enjoyed by most. The service, whilst very friendly, struggled slightly with the numbers resulting in some meals being served cold, a small criticism that can easily be rectified by the young and talented team.
âMany changes have taken place in Moscow over the last years (most for the better!) List 5 things that have gone and that you now miss in this great cityâ â was the question now asked of our slightly inebriated members and their comments included: Kiosks, stray dogs, ladies in high heels, ambulance taxis, telephone booths (who needs these!), street musicians on Arbat, free parking and shawarma by every metro!
Our grateful thanks to the Aleksandrov family, to the staff of the Nikolasâ restaurant and to Juliana Titaeva their charming PR lady who arranged the evening.
Foodies love new culinary experimentation and we were eager to try the new Sever Yug Restaurant located in the newly opened Standart Hotel on Pushkinskaya. With Tverskaya and most of Pushkinskaya looking like a battlefield as work for the new pavements started, intrepid members of the Moscow Good Food Club made their way to Moscowâs first Design Hotel.
Located on the first floor, the Restaurant Sever Yug features large windows looking over Pushkinskaya and a bright show kitchen presided over by Executive Chef Angel Pascual. Angel comes from Catalan and arrived in Moscow speaking very little English or Russian. However he fell in love with the staple products of Russian food and as a culinary master he has taken some relatively simple products and breathed his magic upon them!
We were welcomed by a well deserved aperitif of Cava Catalonia âMarques de la Concordiaâ accompanied by canapÃ©s consisting of Mini Chicken Burger, Serrano Ham with white mushrooms & cucumber, roots with Smoked Salmon and cream cheese and Codfish a LâOrly with Sauce Bernaise. Old and new members were quickly meeting and talking in true Moscow Good Food Club relaxed style.
At precisely 20:00 we were called to our seats. A beautiful long table had been prepared for us and members eagerly awaited their culinary voyage. First course was the Chefâs signature dish, his own discovery of Buckwheat Humus with Sun-dried tomatoes. Having heard a lot about this dish, members were most inquisitive to discover what is was and how it tasted. Most agreed that it was a masterpiece of creative cuisine. This was perfectly paired with a Torres Mas Rabell Alquimia Catalunya DO.
To follow was Octopus on SautÃ©ed Cabbage with Ginger. Probably the most provocative dish of the evening it consisted of bite sized chunks of crispy octopus on a bed of relatively sweet cabbage with ginger decoration. This dish caused a great deal of discussion but in true style, all plates were cleaned. This dish was provocatively paired with a Hacienda Zorita Vega de la Reina, Verdejo. Surprisingly a red wine, a little young but a superbly well balanced complementing the octopus and sautÃ©ed cabbage.
The next dish again was greeted with anticipation, whilst quite simply entitled Quinoa with Champions it was a delicate dish bursting with flavours.
The main course was another sensation, not only for the beautiful presentation of the Lamb marinated with Pomelo, bread crumbs and Truffle Honey Butter served on hand crafted plated that more resembled the White Cliffs of Dover than a plate. The effect however was spectacular. Soft, fragrant lamb that melted in the mouth with a broad mixture of complementary flavours from the accompanying pickles and butter. The crowing jewel of this dish was the Hacienda Zorita Criado en Barrica a most perfectly balanced white. Another indication of Angelâs provocative style of recommending a well balance and mature white wine with the lamb.
Dessert consisted of a delicate Chocolate Pancake with Caramelised Buckwheat. This worked for some members but left others un-impressed.
After a delicious and controversial dinner, it was time to call out and thank the kitchen team who had worked so hard to prepare the meal. This was followed by the presentations of the Critiques from our eminent members. The comments were lively and constructive with Angel Pascual being able to offer his explanations of his reasons and choices.
The meal was excellent and the wines well above average. Some of the tastes and combinations were debateable but all were unanimous in their praise of the brave style from Angel. The service was extremely friendly but one can see that the restaurant is very new and that the slick teamwork that is so necessary for this style of dinner was lacking. With training and experience this will improve quickly.
Congratulations to Angel Pascual and his team, we wish you great success with Sever Yug!
However the evening was not quite completed as we had asked our erstwhile members to mention their favourite restaurants in Moscow. The recommendations included:- My Wifeâs kitchen(!), Bjorn, Mari Vanna, CafÃ© Margarita, Orangetree, Funny Cabany, Erwin, Twins, Donna Margarita, Zodiac, Baan Thai, Cantinetta, Mos, CafÃ© Pushkin, White Rabbit, Chicago Prime and Pinocchio.
It goes without saying that the professionalism of a service provider is the strongest argument in favour of working with him or her. This is especially true when it comes to difficult and complex services. Nobody needs an unqualified accountant or auditor. Furthermore, youâd be disappointed to be promised one thing by a sales manager only to receive something entirely different when the service is delivered. If thatâs the case, why not entrust sales to professionals â the experts who serve your clients? This is exactly what we do.
The approach in which a sales person searches for clients, guides them to sign a contract, and then the technical specialist or project manager delivers the service â has two main shortcomings. First, the KPIs of a project manager and the sales professional are different. The risk here is that there will be a mismatch between the expectations of the customer and the actual result of the services rendered, possibly leading to the loss of the client. Second, in accepting a client without the opportunity to develop a relationship and influence the model for how that client is served, project managers view their task exclusively as that of service delivery. For them, the customer is merely the beneficiary of their efforts and there is not a sense of responsibility towards the client.
In perfecting our service model, we rejected the idea of having a separate sales division and instead assigned sales roles among our marketing specialists and project managers. The former work to find prospective clients from among our existing business contacts and determine areas where they can benefit from our services. They also put together preliminary proposals. This information is then passed along to our project managers who carry out negotiations and sign contacts. While rending services, project managers become familiar with the customerâs challenges and take part in the search for an optimal solution.
Advantages of this approach:
â¢ Professional accountants or consultants can easily choose the optimal service model right away.
â¢ There is no gap between the expectations of a customer and the actual service delivered (all issues are resolved directly and âon the spotâ).
â¢ Project managers feel a greater sense of responsibility for fulfilling the terms of the contract.
â¢ A project managerâs area of responsibility is expanded (growth in status and powerful nonmaterial motivation).
As a result, the quality of service improves for clients.
The primary risks associated with this approach concern potential demotivation of project managers due to their lack of knowledge and skills to solve new sales challenges, as well as the absence of a transparent system to evaluate and compensate this work.
Understanding this, we have introduced a separate âteamâ bonus for our project managers that is paid based on the results of work with prospective clients to achieve the goals of the division or group. We have also instituted a training system that gives the project managers the soft tools required or the sales efforts.
Successfully combining the functions of an expert in providing services with those of a seller requires more than being a professional in oneâs field; one must be able to communicate with clients, be proactive, see a customerâs difficulties, help to generate demand, and offer the best solutions. Therefore, our training aims to develop the classic skills of a good seller: handling objections, leading negotiations, holding presentations, producing business correspondence, drafting commercial offers, etc. Both our own specialists and external consultants conduct training.
I note that the prevailing approach is supported by the HR functions (training, assessment, incentives and compensation, and orientation), a mentoring system and the companyâs top managers. For example, I personally conduct the orientation training that is devoted to the principles of customer service. I believe that our model can be successfully used by many companies from various service sectors.
In early 2015, an anonymous whistle-blower approached the SÃ¼ddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in Germany (SZ), and having requested and received certain security assurances from SZâs investigative journalists, proceeded to facilitate the largest data leakage in history. The leaked documents related to 214,000 so-called âletterbox companiesâ and contained 11.5 million files, including emails, pdfs, photo files and excerpts from the internal database of the Panamanian law firm and corporate services provider, Mossack Fenseca. Confronted with a task of almost unimaginable enormity, SZ approached the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), who had helped with the Wikileaks investigation and the Lux Leaks investigation. The ICIJ proceeded to share the investigative research amongst its member newspapers and broadcasters and, in April this year, over a year after the original whistle-blowing took place, information started to be made public and Mossack Fenseca announced to its clients that it had suffered a security breach. The leak has since received worldwide coverage and is commonly referred to as âThe Panama Papersâ.
Much has been written about the Panama Papers in the local and international media. Most of it focuses on celebrity use of offshore structuring and alleged tax evasion by footballers, film stars and businessmen. Now that the dust has settled following the original scandal, this article aims to look at the background to the papers and to see whether there is anything that we can learn from what happened.
Theoretically, Panamanian companies and the nominee directors provided by their corporate service providers, were supposed to provide anonymity to the real beneficial owners of such companies, which the Panama Papers suggest were often held through other offshore jurisdictions. Much has been written about the potential for clients being able to cover up illegally obtained funds and avoiding UN sanctions. However, there are a number of entirely legitimate reasons for an owner trying to hide his/her identity: inheritance and estate planning; securing assets from kidnappers and corporate raiders; and incorporating joint venture structures in a neutral territory. Indeed, it should be noted that Panama has not been blacklisted by the U.S. or the EU as a destination for American or European funds, although the French government did react by reinstating it to a list of tax havens.
In the meantime, Mossack Fenseca and its partners strongly denied claims of wrong-doing, pointing to their large compliance department and stating that their systems had been hacked from outside of Panama, indicating that the leak was not an âinside job.â Mr. Fonseca, one of the firmâs founders, stated that much of the information being cited was false and inaccurate and the firm appeared to push the blame onto its own clients, many of whom are themselves professional services firms, implying that the clients themselves should have carried out anti-money laundering and know-your-customer checks.
So what are the main takeaway points from this episode in remote Panama, which Russiaâs most famous expat, Edward Snowden, described as the âbiggest leak in the history of data journalism?â Firstly, whether the result of a hack or a data leak from an employee, the Panama Papers demonstrate an obvious need for all businesses to keep their IT programming and security up to date and under regular review, whatever it is they are doing. In the modern era, it is extremely easy for large quantities of information to be downloaded and stolen very quickly. Secondly, offshore structuring and tax havens are going to come under ever increasing scrutiny, which means that national governments are also going to have to review their internal tax legislation. This may be no bad thing.
You used to work for a large international commercial law firm, what made you set up your own, eponymously named firm?
I had always wanted to set up my own law firm, but, like many lawyers, I was probably a bit too comfortable with the status quo and the relative easy life of a salaried role. What I really needed was an impetus for change (for which read â kick up the backside). Then the sanctions hit Russia, followed by the rouble crisis and weakening market sentiment. These had a drastic effect on the M&A and finance sectors, two of the areas in which I specialised as a solicitor. Consequently, I suddenly found myself out of work, having spent many happy years in Russia and was faced with a stark choice: either leave Russia or somehow work out a way in which to stay here, but in gainful employment. After much deliberation, and speaking with several close friends and mentors, I decided to set up my own law firm.
What did your mentors advise?
They told me that they strongly believed that I would have far more success as an individual than within a large organisation. This was encouraging because none of the large organisations were offering jobs. They also advised that there is nothing quite like being your own boss, and that whilst it comes with its own stresses, it also has a wide range of benefits. In short, they were absolutely right, and I am glad that I listened to them.
So you set up Conner & Company?
Yes, I set about it right away but, obviously, the process does not take place over night. There was a lot of work to do with company incorporation, setting up bank accounts, work permit and visa applications, taking tax advice etc. Eventually though, I managed to get it all sorted and after doing some freelance work, I started working for my own company as General Director earlier this year.
And how have you found things since getting started?
I can definitely say there has never been a dull moment. Although, I would be lying if I claimed that it had all been âplain sailingâ, I have had an excellent response from the potential client base, from foreigners and Russians in Moscow, and even from further afield. I have come across some administrative and banking problems, the sorts of things that could, and do, happen in any country, but the experience has generally been very positive.
What sort of services do you offer your clients?
The legal sector has many components and subcomponents. In my view, especially in the large firms, lawyers end up over specialising in one tiny area. I have been fortunate enough to have a significant level experience in a wide range of legal fields and in a number of different business sectors. Consequently, I can offer my clients expertise in mergers and acquisitions (i.e. buying, selling and merging companies), in corporate finance (raising debt and equity financing), in banking and also in general commercial work. In recent months, I have acted on several corporate acquisitions for Russian and foreign clients. I have also acted for clients on a wide range of commercial contracts, particularly in the logistics sector. I recently assisted a Russian banking organisation with a complex financial process. And I have also helped individual businessmen with litigation matters and even with divorce proceedings in Russia.
How do you differentiate your law firm from competitor firms and what is your vision?
My vision for Conner & Company is to maintain a significant level of independence. By this, I mean not only that my firm will be separate and very different from the large commercial law firms in Moscow, but it will also have more of a boutique feel. What this means is that clients will always be dealing with the decision-making lawyer, directly. They wonât have to go through costly junior lawyers, just to end up eventually with a simple answer from an even more expensive, senior partner. Moreover, we will be able to deliver a greater level of privacy and confidentiality because far fewer people will be involved with each process. Further, the client will still be able to get expert advice, even on complex transactions and matters because we maintain a small, but closely managed network of partner organisations who can assist us, when required. For instance, we have already worked on a a number of complex structuring and tax projects for clients, and for the tax elements we used a private firm of accountants and consultants, set up with a very similar vision to our own.
How do you see Russia as a potential market for the future?
As a general economy and market, I see great potential for the future. It is just a question of the Russian people grasping that potential, and reaping the benefits. Unfortunately, the current climate is difficult and there is a risk that the economy will stagnate whilst business people postpone projects and investment, and foreigners steer clear of Russia for the time being. We need to remember that Russia is not in a vacuum and needs to react to the rest of the world, where unfortunately the outlook is also not necessarily entirely positive. However, I have great hope, and I meet investors every week who are coming up with innovative concepts and ideas, and are raising finance with some success. The legal market is a microcosm of the wider Russian economy. Lawyers face the same pressures as other business people, but they also have to deal with the inevitable changes that will be required to legal services worldwide. For instance, there is a lot of pressure on lawyers to modernise and innovate, particularly in the IT sphere, and also huge pressure on costs. These are areas in which Conner & Company will be aiming to deliver best practice for its clients.
Conner & Company LLC â List of services
â¢ Corporate finance: Â M&A, banking and financing, restructuring
â¢ Commercial legal services: drafting and review of commercial contracts
â¢ Onshore and offshore structuring and tax advice
â¢ Registration of Russian companies
â¢ Services for High Net Worth Individuals, including assistance with international property acquisitions and the financing of private jets and yachts
â¢ Intellectual property matters: trademark licensing and registration
â¢ International trusts and estate advice
â¢ Divorce and matrimonial services
â¢ General legal services: witnessing of documents, swearing of affidavitsÂ and statutory declarations, UK passport assistance
â¢ Providing assistance to Russian law firms on English law matters
OK, so summer is here â at last â and itâs time to get on the bike. But you donât have a bike, and donât want to buy one in Moscow. Maybe the cheap alternative to public transport is rather expensive in Moscow; it is almost impossible to pick up a reasonably priced second-hand bike here. Perhaps you are worried about your new two-wheeled steed being stolen, or donât have room to store your ecological personal transportation system during Moscowâs long winters.
Donât worry! You can still exercise those leg muscles, and show them all you care both about your health and the environment. 300 rent-a-bike points have opened up in Moscow and have been operating successfully for a few years now, which is nice for those of us who come from London, Paris, or just about every major city worldwide, which all have such schemes.
In Moscow, you have to pay a deposit first, then itâs pay as you go. You can register online, or at a terminal, which each pick up point has. In either case you need to pay a deposit of 1,200 roubles for a season (May 1st to 31st October), 600 for a month (30 days), or 150 roubles for 24 hours. Thatâs just the standard charge, then you pay an hourly rate on top of that, from 30 roubles for an hour, to 3,000 roubles for 48 hours. All the details are on the âvelobikeâ site, however only the registration part is in English.
To register on line, go to www.velobike.ru/en and hit the red button at the bottom that says âdirectly.â You register with your name, email and mobile number. Then you wait to receive your login and password. After that, you pay a refundable deposit and book your ride.
On line booking works faster than if you book at one of the payment terminals. Once you have your login and password and have paid your rental charge, you type them in (the login and password) on the keyboard of any of the bikesâ handlebars and you are away. So DONâT LOSE YOUR LOGIN AND PASSWORD! I did last summer and had to start all over again. See where the nearest pick-up and drop-off destinations are online first. You can download Apps for your smartphone, but they are not in English.
The bikes are a bit chunky, but feel solid and reliable. There are more and more cyclists on the roads now in Moscow and cycling here is probably as safe as in any other large city world-wide, although you may have to overcome a slight fear barrier the first time you head out into the open (crowded) road.
Enjoy the good weather whilst it lasts and get cycling!