Sunday, August 16, 2015

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE AT VLADIMIR'S



 

My maiden encounter with Russian food was forged by Troika, a fine Russian restaurant in Jalan Raja Chulan yonks ago where its dark wood panelled confines set the stage for exquisite dishes befitting the czars. The lush deliciousness of its beef stroganoff and borsch remained indelible in my food memory bank till now.
So I was excited when a good food buddy roped us in to check our Vladimir’s Place recently. Ensconced in one of those regal colonial bungalows that are fast disappearing from our city’s landscape, the almost a year old Vladimir’s Place is possibly the one and only Russian resto in KL.
At the helm are Ukrainian chefs Vladimir Anuchin and Dmytro Koba (both too shy to appear on camera) whose stints in the US are serving them well here. Ornate multi-prong, gilt-trimmed chandeliers, heavy wine-red draperies and corniced ceiling lend the interior an opulent feel; the warmly lit dining room spacious and comfy enough to fit 70 diners or more.
Due to the country’s harsh weather conditions and sparse resources in the old days, Russian folks are ingenious when it comes to stretching available ingredients further. One of the more interesting dishes is Pork Lard (RM10), little square slices of fatty pork with a light dusting of freshly ground black pepper; a popular appetiser among vodka drinkers who probably can down more shots chewing on this.
Cut the fat by nibbling on classic Pickles (RM13) – a slightly tart and briny trio of shredded cabbage, cucumber (gherkins) and cherry tomatoes. Again pickling and curing of food stuff is common back when refrigeration was non-existent.
Much to our surprise, the show-stealers turn out to be vegetable-based starting with the Beetroot Salad (RM16.50). Strewn with swirls of pickled onions on top, the hodge-podge of diced beetroot, cucumber, potato, carrot and peas grabs us with its fresh, well-balanced flavour gravitas and delicate textures.
‘Herring under a fur coat’ is a more descriptive name for Shuba Salad (RM17) – a colourful, multiple tiered salad made out of potato and carrot cubes in creamy dressing, teamed with furry-cut hardboiled egg and beets. The trump card lies in the small amount of chopped pickled herring at the bottom resulting in a pleasantly agreeable combination.
Another timeless speciality is Olivier with Chicken (RM16.50) which consists of creamy potato salad tricked up with chopped pickles, chicken and peas. We are delighted by the cohesiveness of such humble, simple ingredients in the creation of such a mind-blowing dish.
Simplicity continues to rule with Cold Boiled Pork (RM11) and Chef Salted Salmon (RM15.50) taking centrestage – a stark reminder of how the adage ‘less is more’ holds true. The former has boiled pork sliced thin as paper touched with freshly ground black pepper while the salt-cured salmon is merely dotted with aged balsamic and sprigs of dill to serve.
Possibly the most luxe dish in the repertoire is Pancakes with Red Caviar (RM16). Harking back to the lifestyles of Russia’s rich and aristocracy where blinis came topped with pricey caviar, these hanky-thin pancakes serve as the blank canvas to flaunt the stimulating richness of salmon roe. Less damaging to one’s wallet yet delectable nonetheless.
The art of making do with vegetables is aptly demonstrated in the soupy offerings of Classic Russian Borsh (RM16) and Solyanka (RM17). Beetroot and assorted veges with bits of meat are transformed into a heartwarming broth to satisfy the soul. A dollop of sour cream blunts the tartness and rounds it off.
Likewise, the Solyanka which has a more assertive briny accent is a comforting stew of pickled cucumber, green olives, carrot, onion, lemon, spices and herbs. Equally hearty and just the kind of soup to hit the spot on cold, winter nights…in our case, cool rainy eves.
When it comes to getting more out of scant quantities of meat, Pelmeni (RM19.50) and Dumplings (RM18) are two ways to achieve that. The first – reminiscent of ravioli or even wantans – differs from the second in shape which resembles our curry puffs.
Inside their slightly chewy dough skin you’d find a mixed stuffing of beef and pork. While pelmeni is boiled in a herb-infused broth with a sprinkling of chopped parsley, the dumplings are sautéed with onions then served with some sour cream. Very back to basic stuff that’s amply satisfying despite the specialities’ plain Jane approach.
Not a trace of the smooth pumpkin mash was left after we devoured the Beef Cutlet with Pumpkin Mashed & Truffle Oil (RM28). In this instance, it nearly eclipsed the meat’s leading role although the two mini beef patties are up to scratch in the taste stake.
Beef Stroganoff with Forest Mushrooms Sauce & Potato a la Pushkin (RM28) is a truly classic dish which gained Russia a food hold in the world. Lightly seasoned with aromatic spices and covered in a woody mushroom sauce, the meat complemented by buttered potato and gherkins is something you’d never tire of eating.
Sea Bass with Vegetables Poached in Wine (RM27.50) also comes up trumps; the delicate sweetness of fish melding in harmony with wine and vegetables. 
 
Even non-adventurous diners will find timeless servings of Boned Chicken Kiev Cutlet (RM26) and Pork Steak (RM26) to their liking. Both dishes are deftly prepared with the meat remaining juicy and seasoned to tease the tastebuds.
Happy ever-afters of Apple Charlotte (RM12.50) and Cheesecake with Sour Cream (RM12.50) should bring your visit to Vladimir to sweet conclusion. I love the sweet stewed apple in the first cakey creation which comes with vanilla ice cream.
A touch more decadent is the luscious ‘cheese cakes’ which turns out to be round, creamy cheese-filled pancakes generously smothered in icing sugar. Paired with berry compote, the minimalist dessert tastes unexpectedly good.
For reservations, call VLADIMIR’S PLACE, tel: 03-2144-5636. The restaurant is located at 32 Jalan Inai, off Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur

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