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Russian Culture in London

21 August 2014

Yesterday, my lovely Russian friend, Natasha, and I met up for some Russian culture. I had found an inexpensive restaurant near the university - Assorti - and a short distance away was a Russian art gallery, Grad, that specialises in Russian arts and design with an exhibit running through the end of the week (24th of August) about "Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain".
Admission to the gallery is free and laminated guides are available which include thumbnails and titles of the main items on exhibit.
 Numerous miniatures of motors are on display.
 Additionally this scooter was displayed near the door. Doesn't it make you want to go out and buy a vesper and ride through the streets of London? Or perhaps not. ;)
My favourite item on display - this vintage vacuum cleaner. How adorable!
 After working up an appetite walking around the gallery - Natasha was grinning from ear to ear loving all the memories it conjured up about her childhood in Russia - we walked down to Assorti Cafe at 14 Riding House Street.  The cafe was sweet and intimate with a mom and pop feel.
 The menu boasted many popular dishes that had Natasha once again grinning from ear to ear. I let her do the ordering and it was fun watching her talk in Russian with our waitress. Made me feel like perhaps I was in Russia or at least a very authentic Russian restaurant.
 After ordering, we were served a dish of brown bread and sour cream.  Natasha explained that in Russia it is common to use the bread to help scoop up the food and that the sour cream would be used later with our dumplings so we sat back and enjoyed some great conversation and admired the art in the room that showed off Russia at its best.
 Our (shared) salad arrived next and was a true work of art - not your average salad in a bowl.
This is what they call VINIGRET (£4.95) that is made of boiled potatoes, carrots, beetroots and gherkins and pickled cabbage and peas (edited 22 Aug). Delicious and so very refreshing. Would be terrific on a hot day.
Our main arrived with the salad but was still warm after we'd finished our salad. We each had an order of the PELMINI (£8.95) dumplings that were made with minced beef and onions. 
 Following Natasha's example, I poured my sour cream on top (a bit apprehensively). What a great flavour - it added just the right amount of sweetness and moistness to the dumplings and they were hearty, delicious and again had Natasha nostalgia for her homeland.
 Lastly, our tea arrived with an order of BLINIS (£4.95) that we shared. The cafe offers your choice of strawberry jam, sour cream (sensing a pattern here!), and condensed milk. I left the decision up to Natasha who chose condensed milk (Sgushenka).  I was again a bit worried as it is not used regularly in my family home except in cooking. You definitely do not drink a can of condensed milk or use it as a topping. But what a delightful treat. The blinis arrived piping hot and we rolled up each before dipping it into the bowl of condensed milk. Yummmmy and not too sweet. When asked, Natasha said that usually the blinis are much thinner but we both enjoyed the hot pancake and found the meal to be a perfect treat.
Big thanks to Natasha for graciously picking up the cheque. This was a great treat and experience getting to learn more about the Russian culture and food cuisine. If you are Russian or interested in Russian culture, I would highly recommend a visit to both Grad Gallery and Assorti Cafe if you are in central London.
Nearest Tube Stations: Great Portland Street & Oxford Circus
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Thanks so much for sharing with me! Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated!
x Joy

 

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