One of Beijing’s closest neighbours is a world away when it comes to food. If you’ve found your dumplings a little light lately or are craving some tongue on (ox) tongue action, get stuck in at one of Beijing’s Russian restaurants.
Little Birch Western Restaurant
is certainly a throwback, but not to anywhere recognisably Soviet. We avoid the braised kangaroo tail on account of basic geography, and kick off with a bolshy borscht (10RMB), which is tasty enough due to some robust spicing, but still faintly depressing.
Next, we have two missile-shaped slabs of chicken Kiev (42RMB), which splurt butter at us with more force than can reasonably be expected. At least the Russian red beer (28RMB) helps to wash everything down. Despite this, if you’re in the area we’d recommend Little Birch for its time-warp potential. If you’re after Moscow vibes by way of Twin Peaks, head here, but expect more in the way of mild unease than laudable examples of the kind of grub babushka used to dish up.
Located in the Russian stronghold by Ritan Park, Dacha
’s immense premises, gift shop furniture, enormous dancefloor and stripper pole make it perhaps the most confusing Ukrainian-Russian eatery in Beijing. The menu here – a wooden-backed flip board that honestly weighs at least 2kg – is diverse, spanning a great many culinary traditions with items such as 'Italian meat plateau' (168RMB) and 'Seafood assorty' (278RMB). We plump for the intriguing duck and pumpkin baozi
(three for 30RMB), which, accompanied by a gravy boat of sour cream, are a rich proposition at best. Indeed, they’re probably better suited to the inhospitable winters of deep Siberia, but are a playful and gut-warming take on the capital’s flagship fowl. In better news, the borscht (20RMB) here is gorgeous, and its modest-but-fair portion size will ensure you don’t over-dill yourself.
On our visit the ‘entertainment’ was on hiatus, taking some time out to learn a new ‘routine’, though we’re told it will be back later this month. Pro tip: like other Russian dairy products, Soviet sour cream is unbelievably rich. Go easy, comrades.
Opened in 1954, perhaps in honour of Nikita Khrushchev’s first visit to China as the USSR leader, Moscow Restaurant
was the first foreign restaurant in Beijing, and it does not mess around. High ceilings, elephantine chandeliers, gilded portraits of Mother Russia and gold everything – dining in this ballroom of yesteryear is about as kitsch as it gets. The food also has a vintage feel, although with less entertaining results. The chicken galantine stuffed with mushrooms in a 'Russian style' (78RMB) is a cold mélange of various brown meats, while the ox tongue (86RMB) – also cold, also brown – will have you reaching for the vodka in no time. It’s not all bad news – the borscht (68RMB) here is served hot and sweet with braised cabbage and beetroot, and the smoked mackerel (78RMB), with its incongruous wasabi dipping sauce, is exactly what you expect from fish that’s been cured to oblivion. In short, Moscow Restaurant is a taste of faded glory all round, although one that’s easier on the eye than on the tongue.
Modelled on a rural Russian log dwelling, or izba
’s snuggly interior and doting service softens our idea of Russian hospitality with a warm, bucolic atmosphere we can see ourselves hunkering down in during the winter months – all just 100m north of Dongzhimennei Dajie. A safe space for Muscovites and Russophiles alike, Traktirr’s menu runs the traditional gamut from a stodgy Stroganoff (56RMB), to potato and pickled mushroom dumplings (22RMB), to that rare sweet spot in Soviet gastronomy where its three central virtues – quality, value and terror – culminate in something called a Man’s Prank Salad (20RMB). Traktirr Pushkin is a favourite amongst the capital’s naturalised Russians and a revelation for anyone struggling to hold weight. Pro tip: a mug of Yanjing will run you just 7RMB.
Despite a political and geographical closeness and a consensus on ice cream
, it’s fair to say China and its prickly northern pal agree on little in the kitchen. Located a fiery breath north of Gui Jie’s 24-hour mala
crawfish haunts, White Nights
’ location and tranquil, welcoming environs hammer home just how divergent the evolution of Russian and Chinese cuisine has been. The outdoor patio is a gorgeous spot to while away a summer’s eve, and the textured walls and bushfire tones of its interior offer welcoming respite in the depths of winter. White Nights is by no means the swankiest Russian joint in town, but like its neighbour Traktirr
, its comfort menu is nourishing and affordable. We kick it off with a plate of Russian pickles (8RMB) and a creamy beetroot, mayonnaise and walnut salad (16RMB), before bringing it home with a portly yet surprisingly tasteful rendition of the world’s sleaziest dish: the chicken Kiev (38RMB). Pro tip: a bottle of Great Wall wine here is 50RMB and a steal at twice the price.