16 June 2014
Here are some Russian stereotypes:
1) They live in a country subject to extremely cold conditions.
2) They drink more vodka than water.
3) They are grumpy.
Come on, ‘fess up if you’ve guilty of drawing similar parallels in your head at the mention of the word Russian. And guilty we were when we stepped into Buyan Russian Restaurant and Bar, slightly apprehensive of what Russian food entailed. Nestled in the eclectic Duxton Hill, we were greeted by a newly renovated Buyan that boasts wood paneled interiors giving a cosy, log-cabin like feel. Buyan’s well-stocked bar was, not surprisingly, filled with a variety of exotic vodka bottles.
When it comes to Russian food, most of us draw a blank. As explained to us by our hospitable host and marketing manager of Buyan, Katia, (who by the way, speaks with a slight Singlish accent!) Russians spend most of the year in extremely cold weather. Being subject to short days and long nights, their body clocks are attuned to the primary need to keep warm beneath thick furs and who then is able to smile in temperatures of -20 degrees?
However, Russian food is nothing like its weather.
Like Russian dolls, Russian salads have many different layers. The end result is surprises in every mouthful as we dug into our starter, the Salad Combo ($25.00), comprising of the Mimosa Salad, Olivier Salad and Herring under Fur Coat. While the Mimosa and Olivier salads were different versions of potato salads with cheese and mayonnaise layered between, the Herring was quite an acquired taste, even for someone with a preference for strong tastes. For those who are more risk-adverse, the taster serving of the Herring salad is just about enough. To keep warm, Russians also usually have the Borscht ($13.00), a soup with beetroot and cabbage in tomato rich beef stock.
“Herring Under Fur Coat” – A layered Russian salad of herring, carrot and potato
From Buyan’s list of main courses, we had the Beef Stroganoff ($30.00), Chicken Kiev ($26.00) and for vegetarian choices, the Baked Eggplant ($14.00). The Beef Stroganoff is the Russian’s participant in internationally recognised dishes, just like how Singaporeans and chili crab come hand in hand. Consisting of sauteed pieces of beef cut thinly and served with cream sauce nestled atop a bed of mashed potato, this is definitely a crowd pleaser. The Chicken Kiev looked like a typical fried chicken cutlet but the first bite saw the fragrant taste of butter bursting from the juicy chicken breast. Like the Russian version of the chicken cordon bleu (which has ham and cheese stuffed inside), we much preferred this version as the butter cooked with the chicken breast ensures that the meat is moist. For the vegetarians, don’t fret about missing out on Russian’s meat eating habits. The ever-thoughtful people at Buyan have crafted a menu dedicated to vegetarians wishing to try Russian food. Amongst this, we tried the Baked Eggplant that went perfectly with the tomato coulis.
Desserts at Buyan turned out to be the most surprising. The Napolean Cake ($15.00) is a rich layered puff pastry cake with vanilla custard served with fresh berries and vanilla sauce. Stories of its origin vary from being a celebratory dish of Russian victory over Napoleon in the Patriotic War to Napolean’s excuse to appease his jealous wife who caught him speaking to another woman. The berries and the accompanying chocolate shots helped to add balance to an otherwise sweet and richly dense dessert. Pastry Chef Nicholas Ng is also experimental when it comes to desserts and we were presented with the Popcorn Macaroon served in a glazed sugar bowl and his version of Apple Pie. Definitely a fairytale ending to our meal.
Napoleon Cake with Chocolate Shots
Pastry Chef Nicholas Ng with his experimental desserts
The Popcorn Macaroon – So pretty we had to take a close-up!
For the brave, Buyan serves a non-exhaustive variety of Russian-made vodka. Beautifully designed bottles storing the clear liquid deceptively hide the potency of each shot. Besides their in-house infused vodkas (think rosemary and cucumber, mango chili), stronger varieties with a higher percentage of alcohol have to be requested with staff and is sold by discretion. We understand that it was taken off the menu due to the number of merry people thinking they could outdo Russian vodkas.
Snow Queen Vodka – Not for the faint hearted
To describe our food experience at Buyan, it is rich, soulful and leaves a really contented feeling in our tummies – a direct contradiction from the Russian stereotypes. We’re sure that it’s the sure-win solution to get rid of any grumps. That, and a shot of Russian vodka.
This was an invited tasting. All prices listed above reflect Buyan’s menu as at 29 May 2014. There is no GST and service charge.