St Petersburg: матроская тишина (Matroskaya Tishina)
I hadn’t realised how uncomfortable I would be in a really hot and sweaty Russian banya (spa…of sorts) with several women of all shapes and sizes in the nuddy walking around…like it’s normal. As I was so uncomfortable being starkers around loads of strangers I initially walked in in my 2 piece, and of course I was the wierdo “covering” myself up around all the other nudies…like I had something to hide. So I joined the gang. And oh em gee…was it awkward.
I was booked in for a massage with soap. What is that? Not a clue. The receptionist said it was the best thing on the menu so I must have it. So I was taken into a super bright room with 4 other nudies, plonked onto a cold tiled table face down on a broom made of birch leaves (note to spa: That’s not comfy!) and told repeatedly by my therapist to relax. I was not relaxed. I imagine my experience was similar to cattle being gutted at a slaughter house – naked amongst all other naked cows and being prodded and stabbed, except for the being alive part. Apart from being uncomfortable for obvious reasons and once I got over the wierdness of it all, the therapy, which involved being scrubbed top-to-toe, beaten by a birch leaf broom, washed and massaged, left me feeling very good and silky smooth.
As far as authentic Russian experiences go, I’m in no particular hurry to go back to a banya but the seafood in St Petersburg is to die for. Matroskaya Tishina, one of St Petersburg’s most highly rated seafood restaurant, is done up in a nautical theme with various maritime memorabilia, including a captain’s uniform, and serves up good grub.
Amuse bouches are a bit too fanciful and useless to me. There’s not much of it to get much out of! I’m also not a massive fan of cooked salmon so although the light fizzy texture of the salmon mousse was impressive, the strong oily fishy flavour failed to appeal as much to me.
Cooked salmon, no thanks. Raw salmon, yes please! Fish in St Petersburg is so fresh that even shady little sushi shops serve up fresh and firm sashimi (unlike paying a ridiculous amount of money even with a 50% off voucher at some of the large corporate sushi chains in London) so I had to have the tartare. It was dressed in extra virgin olive oil, onion, tomato and lemon juice and tasted of health and happiness.
My main pal’s (“MP”) starter of pan fried scallops, grilled asparagus and pancetta was the superstar of the evening. Juicy sweet white scallops lightly crisp on the outside, the fattest asparagus I have ever seen (where do they grow them so fat?!), and my first time ever trying something made of pig that’s not a sausage or rancid fried bacon from student halls – pancetta. Crispy, salty, non-greasy pancetta. I like. I like a lot.
My main, the pan fried fillet of sterlet with squid ink risotto, was a bit of a downer. The fish, sterlet, was overcooked. I’m not sure what “sterlet” should taste like but it shouldn’t taste like overcooked cod – dry, powdery, eukh. The risotto was just okay – I don’t think Russia is big on rice as the rice I’ve had here so far has been stumpy and grainy.
MP’s main, again, was super steller standout. The dover sole in lemon butter sauce was so tender, it slid right off the bone in buttery chunks and melted in the mouth leaving a slight nutty citrus-freshness. We ignored the potatoes that came with it as they were non-entities when paired with the mighty Sole.
I didn’t have much room for dessert, but as I was going to be hit by -4C on my walk back I was lured by the warm chocolate pudding with almond ice cream and Bailey’s milkshake. What a party in the mouth! The chocolate pud was oozing with warm gooey bitter-sweet chocolatey goodness which went so well with the almond ice cream – forget party, it was like a full-on electric techno rave in the mouth. The Bailey’s milkshake provided a good warming ending and gave me the strength to battle my way home in the sub-zero temperatures. Who needs a sweaty banya??