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Mari Vanna (Restaurant)

Picture of Mari Vanna in Knightsbridge, London

116 Knightsbridge, Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7PJ
Cuisine: Russian
Tel: 0207 581 5920 | Email to Mari Vanna | Transport: Knightsbridge | Write review

Mari Vanna Review

Best for: a truly authentic Russian Grandma experience; and quirky toilets.

Great: home-infused vodka shots; bottles of vodka iced next to your table; and London afternoon teas that aren’t British for a change.

Let’s say an itinerant alien is passing through our solar system one day when the fuel light on its spaceship starts blinking, forcing it to pull over at the London Earth service station to fill up.

Luckily, the alien’s space craft runs on unleaded. Unluckily, the card payment machine at the service station takes days to connect with Visa on the Planet Quark.

Whilst waiting for the transaction to be authorised, the alien takes up your kind offer to learn about the human proclivity towards quirkiness. As a Quark, the alien understands a little quirk and is reasonably impressed by the examples you present: the wooden interior and questionable mountain costumes of the Swiss ski lodge, Bodo Schloss; the peculiarly colourful indoor half-caravan and good times vibe of Latin American bar, Barrio East; and the two-wheel obsession of cyclists at Look Mum No Hands.

It’s only when you step inside the front door of Mari Vanna Russian restaurant in Knightsbridge. however, that your new intergalactic pal really begins to be amazed by humanity's strangeness.

The greeting you receive at the door is as friendly as you’ve both encountered, in any galaxy, and the staff retain a level of consummate professional cordiality, even when faced with a floating guest.

“Welcome to Russia,” you tell your guest, “in particular, Grandma Russia’s summer house.”

You go on to mention how every surface at the restaurant - table, chair, carpet, chest of drawer - is ornately decorated and how the authentic fine crockery, long white tablecloths, antique jars, chandeliers, lace veils, and walls made entirely of black and white photography all provide a sense of Russian occasion even before you’ve sat down.

Seats taken, you’re both offered a sipping libation of sweet honey infused vodka in crystal glasses whilst you peruse the lengthy, dual language menu of Russian comfort food. The liquid’s warming effect tickles the Quark’s internal language receptor and, in an instant, it has learned to understand Russian and is eavesdropping on the conversations of the mostly Russian-speaking, smartly dressed restaurant clientele.

“We must order the shuba and kholodetz,” the alien reveals, having garnered rave reviews from the cosy tables next door. And quite rightly too, as the explosion of colour and distinctly salty bite of the traditional layered shuba salad - salted herring, beetroot, apple, potatoes, mayonaisse and caviar - has you feeling quirkily salubrious after just one mouthful.

Meanwhile, and even though it looks like the inside of a pork pie, the gelatinous shredded meat, carrots, horseradish and mustard of the kholodetz (as seen on many a Russian table during annual celebrations) produces a peculiarly unique reaction in your guest which you assume must be a good thing, having never met a Quark before today.

Aside from an adverse selection of Georgian wine with your meal, the evening continues as a succession of revealing quirks and highs that complement your dinner chat about war, love and house prices on Planet Quark.

The hearty selection of breads; the between-course cucumber and dill down-in-one vodka shots; the satisfyingly rich calf’s livers with creamy truffle sauce and mashed potato; and the vareniki dumpling parcels filled with potato, mushroom and cucumber creme fraiche; all documented with the Quark equivalent of a mobile phone, immediately shared on the Quark version of Instagram.

By the time dessert options are mentioned, you’re already stuffed, which in itself is an authentic representation of life at Grandma Russia’s house. Cakes therefore ensue.

In perfect Russian, your guest urges you to visit the toilets, which are a museum of quirk all to themselves. Knowing little more than please (pajalusta) and thank you (spassibo) in Russian, you have no idea what the Quark is on about and so nod politely whilst continuing to enjoy your delicate, refreshing and dangerously cordial-like Sex On The Birch cocktail, remarking that it is quite possibly the best cocktail you’ve ever tasted.

In Russia, it’s standard practice to want the most expensive items on the menu as it proffers upward social mobility, and Mari Vanna’s cocktail list is wincingly steep at £13 a pop, despite the quality.

However, the (almost French) richness displayed on the often-changing food menu - a special lent version appears once a year, for example - is actually affordable, even for those not of human form. Evidence of this can be seen by the queue of people awaiting a table.

All in all, if you’re in the market for a remarkably alien, Russian Grandma summer house experience involving hearty Russian cuisine, vodka, furniture and music from 1970s USSR, then Mari Vanna Russian restaurant in Knightsbridge is out of this world.
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