Moose Lips, Sink Ships? White Rabbit Moscow
Restaurant: White Rabbit, Moscow
Location: Smolenskaya Square, 3, Moskva, Russia, 121099
Chef: Valdimir Mukhin
Cuisine: High Gastronomic Russian Cuisine
The minute Vladimir Mukhin, Chef at White Rabbit Moscow, appeared on the screen in the Netflix Series, Chef’s table, it was only a matter a time before a flight to Moscow was booked. Fate has it, this was December 2017 and with the restaurant confirmation and tickets in hand, we set off on the 22 hour journey to a blizzardy, snow white Moscow.
It was Mukhin’s singular focus on bringing traditional Russian ingredients kicking and screaming into 21st Century dishes that grabbed my attention. That and his unrelenting passion to put Russian food on the world stage. When Putin placed an incoming embargo on foreign food in 2016, it was the lightning road that propelled the White Rabbit into the stratosphere where it remains relatively untouched in the motherland. Ranked #23 in the world in 2017, Mukhin is a culinary hero albeit in an increasingly competitive city.
White Rabbit is designed to be wonderous and immersive, it’s even an adventure to find the rabbit hole (discretely located at the back of the shopping centre). In this instance, you don’t fall down it but are elevated high above Moscow with a 360 degree view. Walking through the three levels on Christmas Eve, it was a bustling, excited and harried pace matched only by the beautiful decorations and a stunningly lit tree.
The Tasting Set was three hours starting with snack-size nibbles which seems to have become the norm for degust menus. Unbeknown at the time, this course had my favourite dish of the night – ‘Swan Livers ryazhenka and Antonovka apple paste’ . The silky swan liver paired with the sweet apple paste was elegantly torched at the table. The top layer of ryazhenka (baked milk) bubbled until golden brown and complimented the dish beautifully.
There was a noticeable delay between the snacks and the start of the ‘Testing Set’ which would have been even more noticeable if it didn’t give me a chance to survey the surroundings and take in the decor’s lovely attention to detail including fresh orchids, 18th century style love-seats and a myriad of bright coloured fabrics enveloping the ceiling-height bar. It is a little magic aloft the Moscow concrete jungle below.
Language barriers are common in Russia where the phrase “Ty govorish’ po-angliyski” (“Do you speak English?”) strikes fear in waitstaff city-wide. This did affect the presentation at table where we mutually struggled to understand certain dishes and how they came to be, which is often part of the culinary theatre. A couple of highlights to note were the “Caviar of sea urchin, sea buckthorn and sea water” and “Cabbage and Caviar” closely followed by the addictive “Sea Buckthorn Pearls”. Sea Buckthorn is like the Sydney version of “foraged beach succulent” which suddenly appeared on menus post-Noma; it’s everywhere.
The food was true to its purpose – an elegant, gastronomised reinvention of old, home-style Russian cuisine. The wonderful story about the food on Chef’s Table that inspired the visit was hindered (I should have learned a little more Russian) which was a shame given Chef Vladimir is a great orator. I put that down to the language challenge and forgive all because the White Rabbit cocoon is a delightful embrace that continued until the very end.
In a surprise, one of the final dishes was a tray of porcelain noses (yep) which had been infused with central scents from the menu. A tray from which we selected our favourite, mine was celery, so I now smell like a winter vege stew. My dining partners selected truffle and boronovsky bread perfumes.
Our trip up(!) the rabbit hole was complete and that 22 hour journey from Sydney felt a long time ago. Moscow has really surprised and delighted and it is absolutely no shock that White Rabbit is powering up the 50 Best list in the World.
If you ever feel the need to do something completed different, buy that ticket and take the plunge … this Russian food is world-class.
NB: Moose Lips were one of the features on Chefs Table, but alas it was not on the menu this time. If it makes it back onto the menu, it will be a reason to return (and to try those swan livers again).