Would I be blowing a week’s travel budget, just to get a few outrageously little servings, then need to fill-up on pizza anyway?
After a few days in St Petersburg we had formed a rule of thumb that the good, cheap restaurants were mostly Georgian. Something was going on there. In the bad old days of the 1990s, St Petersburg was infamous for its crime rate, at least some of that due to what the West like to call the ‘Russian mafia’. At that time, ‘business’ was rather free-wheeling, and so were the ways disputes were settled. But those days are well gone, with St Petersburg, in 2016, voted the best cultural destination in the world. But I suspect a Georgian mafia still operates – ruling their restaurant chains with an iron fist: “What? You dare charge more than 500 Rubles for a mouth-watering khachapuri with suluguni cheese? This is not a big enough serving of home-made fig-jam – Expect a visit from Da Boys!”
But I digress. There are the standard things to do in St Petersburg – visit the Hermitage of course, and any number of other Museums and galleries, and even the original log cabin where the czar lived when he ordered St Petersburg to be built. But what about something … different?
Well, I don’t watch TV, and if I did, it wouldn’t be celeb chefs. Nothing against them mind-you, just that I’d rather be eating than watching people eat. Anthony Bourdain meant nothing to me (sorry). But my travel companion did watch TV, and did know of Anthony Bourdain, and did know that one of his episodes featured St Petersburg’s Restaurant CoCoCo. So made the excellent suggestion that a visit should be on the must-do list.
In St Petersburg, pretty much everything is within walking distance. We wandered along canals and over bridges to find CoCoCo. Inside, it was spacious, well-lit, with plenty of window-light, and an interior design worth having closer look at, and the (when serving) gloved staff respectfully friendly.
We made a start with some beers, and then some appetisers. CoCoCo prides itself on producing meals from local, and seasonal, produce. There are traditional recipes, but they enjoy creative presentation. The featured image, looking rather like new plant growth popping up through an old volcanic lava flow, is their ‘Spicy salted Baltic sprat, poached egg and cream cheese’. We had caviar of course, with buckwheat pancakes, and a couple of pirozky.
Moving on to the next course, ‘Nettle soup with Karelian trout sorbet and willow-tea’ and ‘Leningrad rassolnik’ (pickled cucumber soup). Then the mains, Halibut with creamy spinach and goat cheese (mmmmmm!!!) and Cod with leek, fennel flavoured jelly and sea flavoured foam.
Which led us to the desserts. The choice being just too difficult to get the standard one-each, we got three: Sorrel, yoghurt and white chocolate, honey-cake with wax (!?) ice cream, and Halva Ice Cream with pressed nuts, seeds and honey.
CoCoCo gets a range of reviews, and although of course, you can’t please everyone, the overwhelming view is that it’s excellent, and we were thrilled with the place. The food and service was great, we felt it was well worth the price, and we left satisfied.
End of the evening – $US 42 each. If you’re on a real back-packer budget, it may be too much of a splurge, but balance that with at least some opinion that CoCoCo is Russia’s top restaurant. And it’s not Georgian….
Lots more photos of CoCoCo food on their Instagram site!