If you’re looking for a dinner with a difference, head to Shinok Restaurant (Ресторан Шинок) on Moscow’s Year 1905 Street. This Ukrainian restaurant first opened its doors in 1997 and, despite its modest red brick appearance, is one of the most iconic places to dine in the Russian capital.
On entering, you make your way upstairs and are greeted by traditionally dressed waitresses – complete with flower garlands in their hair. In traditional Ukrainian culture, this wreath – or vinok – is worn by girls and young, unmarried women.
All the staff were very friendly and welcoming and, even if your Russian is not that great, they are more than able to help you. Meanwhile, the décor of the restaurant is rustic and homely, yet somehow exudes a contemporary feel at the same time.
But this is where things start to get… well, a little bit different. Pan around the restaurant and you find a miniature farm within, complete with resident cow, and all that separates diners from the farm is a glass screen. Yes, you read that right – click on the video below to get a better idea. It comes as quite a surprise given you’ve come up a floor from ground level.
Apparently the idea behind it all is that it’s a mirror of a Ukrainian peasant farm. It’s home to not only a cow, but also a goat, peacock, chicken and various other bird life hiding among the trees. And there’s a lady (or peasant herder) on hand to care for them all. In short, the restaurant is a re-creation of what it might be like to dine like a Ukrainian peasant.
The peacock was even kind enough to put on a fantastic display for us, fanning out all of its feathers, at the time of our visit.
Apologies for the rather yellow glow to the video shot from my iPhone. Despite the peacock’s best efforts, the peahen didn’t seem wildly impressed, even pecking its suitor at one point (at 38 seconds in the video).
Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that the food is secondary to this unusual spectacle but this couldn’t be further from the truth since this is where the true highlight of visiting Shinok lies.
Borsch, of course, is the restaurant’s signature dish. Often thought of as a Russian dish, borsch actually has its origins in Ukraine. Legend has it that it was first cooked by the Cossacks in 1637 during a two-month siege of the Azov fortress (occupied at the time by the Turks) in Southern Russia, before becoming a staple dish in every Ukrainian household. If you try borsch anywhere during your time in Moscow, be sure to try it here – beautiful rich, yet sour and tasty at the same time.
Thereafter, the dishes kept coming and what a treat it all was! We were also given nalyvka to drink, with an option of a horseradish or blackcurrant variety. I didn’t quite know what to expect so opted for blackcurrant. It was quite sweet (unsurprisingly) but, in terms of its alcohol content, not as strong as something like a vodka.
Among them was Russian salad, freshly smoked meat and potato, baked sea bass with onion and potato, and beef stroganoff with mashed potato.
The Russian salad is by far the signature dish of all the ex-Soviet countries’ cuisine. At Shinok they use homemade pickled cucumbers, potatoes baked with onion, homemade mayo and sour cream. They also use quail eggs, baked chicken and beef tongue to produce a Russian salad like no other!
The sea bass was baked in homemade sour cream with potatoes and onions and served with potato bread. It is traditional in Slavic cuisine to cook this in cast iron as it significantly transforms the taste and aroma of the dish due to the special process of languor.
Among the dishes there was also an assortment of lard, or ‘salo’ as it is known in Ukraine: lard stewed in honey, salted lard, smoked lard, minced lard and so on. It’s been eaten in Ukraine since the 16th century. Traditionally eaten with black bread, it’s not to everyone’s taste but considered quite a delicacy in Ukraine. UIt was the only dish that, for me, left me still needing to be convinced!
The pigs’ ears that are also on the menu will have to wait for another visit. I’m told they are an acquired taste also.
The finale to the evening was when the samovar was brought to the table for herbal tea, and the goat made a brief appearance so that it could be petted.
In summary, Shinok is more than just a restaurant but an experience in its own right. Not only is the authentic Ukrainian food at Shinok very good, but this is also a fun and unique atmosphere in which to dine with family or friends.
Disclosure: My trip was sponsored by Moscow Seasons – a series of festivals held throughout the year in Moscow, with the support of the Government of Moscow.