A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Published March 14th 2011
Russian cuisine is not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of fine European dining. French, perhaps. Or Italian. Rarely Russian. In accordance with this, even in a city such as Melbourne, which prides itself on having the largest number of restaurants and cafes per capita in the world, it can be difficult to find an authentic Russian restaurant.
Booking a table at St Petersburg Restaurant was a gamble. Not only was it located in Elsternwick, an area virtually unknown to me, but my experience of Russian cuisine was limited- consisting solely of a New Years' dinner, and a couple of bowls of pelmeni at the house of my Russian boyfriend.
It was, quite fittingly, a chilly Saturday night in mid-winter when we visited St Petersburg Restaurant. Arriving far too early, we found the suburb deserted, and decided to return to the city for a drink before the 7:30 booking. By the time we returned, cold, hungry, and a little late, the restaurant was open, and we were relieved to ascend the staircase to a warm and well-lit reception room.
As luck would have it, there was food already on the table- king prawns, smoked salmon, caviar, pickled fish, bread rolls, and a selection of Russian salads, many of which I recognized from the New Years' Eve dinner. As we tucked into this fare, we were soon brought some hot pirozhki (small meat-stuffed buns), blini (thin pancakes), and a huge tray of roasted meats.
It was a very generous spread for only two people, and very nourishing for a winter's night. According to my companion, however, it was not much different to what he was used to having at home- a comment that was at least a testament to the authenticity of the cuisine.
Located amid one of Melbourne's largest Russian-Jew communities, it was no surprise almost all of the patrons of St Petersburg Restaurant were Russian. Primarily a function room- something I was not quite aware of when I made the booking-, there were few solitary couples, with most of the tables being taken up by two large events (a birthday and a bah mitzvah). The musicians announced these events in Russian, before beginning the night's entertainment- which consisted mostly of Russian pop songs.
Although somewhat awkward to be on the fringes of these family celebrations, as well as being perhaps the only non-Russian in the room, I was left with a pleasant impression of St Petersburg Restaurant. Perhaps it was merely the novelty, perhaps the formal setting, perhaps the attentive table staff, or perhaps the positive effects of warmth, light, music, and heavy food, after much meandering in the empty streets of Elsternwick- in any case, I could think of worse places to spend a winter's evening.