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Restaurant review: Red, hot and Russian

AA Grill encounters a rare cuisine at St Petersburg. But is it any good?

Published on February 22nd 2008.


Restaurant review: Red, hot and Russian

NODDY has outlived his usefulness and, as Fireman Sam's shine begins to fade, the four-year-old is obsessing over Batman.

I saw three men grappling on the
floor at the top
of the stairs. It's kicking off, I thought, Batman-style, until
I realised they
were just playing

The 1960s film, actually, featuring a Russian femme fatale (it's Catwoman in disguise) who incites violence wherever she goes. "Pow!" "Bam!" "Thwack!" So when Our Youngest discovered I'd been carousing in a Russian restaurant, there was only one thing he needed to know: "Were they all fighting?"

No, I said. They were all dancing.

The fun starts early on a Friday night at the St Petersburg restaurant. Skulking somewhere down the side of Duke Street, you could spend half an hour searching for the place before it jumps out and surprises you. Once ensconced, you find a kind of exhibitionism not normally associated with the East Slavic race (Old Russian joke: How do you tell if a Russian is extroverted? His eyes are on your shoes instead of his own) .

Downstairs, the vodka bar was throbbing. Upstairs, it was 8.30pm and the music and dancing had started without us. My pal Andrew and I were given the choice of a sing-side seat or somewhere quieter. I pointed to a corner table from which we could monitor the action. "Yes," smiled our hostess with disconcerting ambiguity, "it is more intimate over there."

The painters have been in with the effect of accentuating the eccentric; a nice shade of bloody revolution red in the dining area; shocking (but not surprising) pink all the way up the stairs to the toilets.

Once, it was claimed as the UK's only authentic Russian restaurant outside London, then they opened a branch in Manchester. Certainly, there is nowhere quite like it in Liverpool.

A beautiful kind of madness inhabits the St Petersburg from the colour scheme to the antics of the customers. One minute the room is being wooed to the sound of Ochi Chyornye, a 19th century romantic ballad which sounds a lot better in Russian than it does in English ("veryily, I espied you in an ill-starred moment"); next thing you know, the whole of table six is risking serious injury with a passionate, if technically deficient, display of Cossack dancing.

The door leading up to the toilets is on the other side of an informal stage and, as I crossed the floor, I found myself briefly enacting a traditional Ukrainian folk dance.

If the food was rubbish, you could still have a good time here. As it happens, the food's great, beginning with excellent black caviar, (at £16 per thimbleful, it bloomin' ought to be) served on half a boiled egg; blini (£6.95) stuffed with meat and onions sauteed in a fresh cream sauce which put us in mind of a Findus savoury pancake, but in a good way, and russkiy raznosol (£12.95), a plate of pickles including soured white and red cabbage and stupendous pickled tomatoes.

Kypetcheskie pelmeny (£15.95), dim-sum-like minced beef and pork dumplings in a rich vodka, meat and herb bouillon, and cheese, topped with a soft, suety crust, is an ancient Russian dish that proves the old ones are the best. Shamora (£17.95), sea king scallops and king prawns with fresh herbs and nice fried potatoes on the side, came in a butter and garlic sauce that tasted like the word "velvet" would if you could eat it.

A bottle of Tamada Saperavi (£19.95) was as dry as a Russian election broadcast and grew on us by the glug. The only downsides were mammoth leaves of lollo rosso which were okay if you didn't expect to eat them, and dollops of synthetic cream that came with the pudding - an otherwise very good meringue with walnuts and dark chocolate gateau (£5.95) - and the coffee.

The service is pretty much faultless unless you want quick, in which case try McDonald's. They may be Russian, but they ain't rushin'. Having said that, when we pointed out that Andrew really ought to be on the last train back to Preston, they turned up the gas with no detriment to the food or the staff's easy charm.

As I started to the toilet for the last time I saw three young men grappling on the floor at the top of the stairs. It's kicking off, I thought, Batman-style, until I realised they were just playing. Five minutes later, the three were dutifully washing their hands in the gents.

For many, the night was only young but I was feeling my age. Safely aboard the 11.38, Southport-bound, the carriage rocked to the sweet tang of chip shop curry and the sound of a hundred people divulging their innermost thoughts at the tops of their voices. "I still love George," shouted the woman opposite.

Ignore the voices of doom. For all its big city issues, rough edges and column inches devoted to drink-fired bloodshed, Liverpool on a Friday night can still be a blast without you coming off worse than a tsar at a Bolshevik wedding.

And however much a rootin' tootin' Putin puts the boot in to Britain, a little bit of Russia in Liverpool is helping to keep the Cold War at bay.

Rating: 17/20
Breakdown: 8/10 Food
4/5 Service
5/5 Ambience
Address: St Petersburg
7A York Street
Liverpool
L1 5BN
0151 709 6676

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49 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousFebruary 22nd 2008.

Now who can't spell....

Stanley StreetFebruary 22nd 2008.

Stanley Dock old boy, I much prefer the Sibirskie Pelmeny which are the authentic taste of Siberia but they have been taken of the menu, presumably because they don’t look showy or exotic enough for British customers. They will serve them if you ask for them, with the traditional soured cream for dipping. A stomach filling fifteen-piece bowlful is about £11, hardly excessive for a man course!

Suave BuggerFebruary 22nd 2008.

You calling me a hillock, pal?

Lord StreetFebruary 22nd 2008.

If that is how you are inclined...

Midnight in MoscowFebruary 22nd 2008.

I do like St Petersburg and we have been going there for years. My main course arrived at 12 o'clock once.

HelpfulFebruary 22nd 2008.

What, do you mean this Nadia?

Mike TVFebruary 22nd 2008.

St Petersburg is boss for the atmosphere alone. I'd forgotten about it, actually. Too much vodka last time. Will be going back though, if there's a chance of wrestling on the stairs (esp with Nadia).

HopefulFebruary 22nd 2008.

What about just one free ticket to see Nadia then?

Sir Thomas StreetFebruary 22nd 2008.

The St. Petersburg serves until all hours, 2am in the week, 5am at weekends. And there's no pressure to get out once you've eaten to the point of fainting. I had a birthday dinner in there at 8pm, we didn't roll out until 1.30am. Absolutely blotto it must be said.

TV KellyFebruary 22nd 2008.

I refuse to have the honour of the Tsarina of Tottiness impugned. The St Petersburg to which my Nadia refers is the restaurant in Liverpool city centre, which is reviewed above by the boulevardier Grill, and not the former Leningrad. I have no evidence for this other than the words she actually wrote, which also appear above.

HopefulFebruary 22nd 2008.

Can anyone get me two free tickets to see the Australian Pink Floyd at the Arena?

Lord StreetFebruary 22nd 2008.

Oh good, I've forgotten my declensions.

SeamenFebruary 22nd 2008.

Russian restaurant has over 100 different priced dishes in the menu. Stanley Dock just looking for most expensive...Take away it still the best deal for him!

Stanley DockFebruary 22nd 2008.

funnily enough seamen i do!! I also know how to spell semen and chippy as well! afraid this is too much clutching at straws with the st. pete.if it was called the lenningrad it wouldn't be so bad and the cost might be more realistic as well as the food!

Suave BuggerFebruary 22nd 2008.

Pardon me for butting in but if Nadia fancies brushing up on her oral skills, I'd be happy to oblige. You seem like very much my type, Nadia, and I bet we've got lots in common. For a start, I speak a bit of your lingo. Why don't we meet up for a bite at the above-mentioned eaterie - I'll even have a brit before I arrive (that's Russian for shave, but you'll know that already)

Stanley DockFebruary 22nd 2008.

as in reveal! definitely THE END!!!!!!!!

Lord StreetFebruary 22nd 2008.

And 'Bugger' is Russian for 'hillock'.(The genitive plural is 'bugeroff')

SeamenFebruary 22nd 2008.

Looks like Stanley Dock don't know difference between take away and restaurant.Use a chipy and brawn sauce pal!

NadiaFebruary 22nd 2008.

I just return to computer and I find all this insolent talk and disrespect. I would like to visit St Petersburg again with rich man who show me, a hot lady, good time and I would tell him about country and show my Volga estuary.

Mike TVFebruary 22nd 2008.

I don't think Miss Nadia had that kind of Volga in mind. At least I hope not.

Recovering alcoholicFebruary 22nd 2008.

It's Friday afternoon and I'm sitting in my office reading this and thinking nostalgically about similar "early weekends" gone by when I would have been out on a massive bender by now. All this has made me think about Russian vodkas and am now eyeing up my secretary's bottle of computer screen cleaning fluid in a completely inappropriate manner

Suave BuggerFebruary 22nd 2008.

Yes, yes, but what has any of this to do with the above fine dining establishment and funhouse, not to mench Mr Grill's magnificent exposition thereof. And where's that Nadia bird got to?

Pauline's mateFebruary 22nd 2008.

I was very surprised to discover that a £1 bag of Cecci pasta is about £3.50 in the Italian Club.

NikolaiFebruary 22nd 2008.

"YOUR Nadia, Mr. Kelly? As you have made clear with your nomenclature you concede that she is a Tsarina or Tsar’s wife – Perhaps you meant an empress in her own right, which is a Tsaritsa? Never mind. In either case my burly henchman will assist you to the Polonium Bar…. (Snaps fingers)

AnonymousFebruary 22nd 2008.

Bare?

TV KellyFebruary 22nd 2008.

Crikey, Nadia, you sound like quite the popsy. I suspect Grill might bat for the other side too. I, on the other hand, am very much at home to the ladies and would love a Russian girl to look after me. Especially as my mum is quite elderly these days and finds it difficult to keep up with my laundry demands. Perhaps we can come to some arrangement that would be beneficial to both parties. I could introduce you to the joys of the decadent west and you could introduce me to . . . well, I'm sure we could tie up the details later.

Suave BuggerFebruary 22nd 2008.

I think you'll find you've just nicked my joke, Nikolai, old fruit. Come back when you've got some material of your own.

Stanley DockFebruary 22nd 2008.

Oh come on! It's over rated, over priced and sadly over here!

HopefulFebruary 22nd 2008.

I was going to ask for two free plane tickets so I could visit Russia next.

Stanley DockFebruary 22nd 2008.

sorry people, but me and mrs dock-who is less impressed and as bemused as i am at all this hoo ha think that 18 quid for an unexciting main is well over the top. the bill adds up! are you all estate agents or lawyers?

Lord StreetFebruary 22nd 2008.

No, I finished my class some time ago which is why I had forgotten.

NadiaFebruary 22nd 2008.

To AA Grill, you are perhaps straight man, but you take many mans out to dinner. So I do not know. I am Russian lady and have been to St Petersburg on many occasion. If you need lady to cook Russian dish, I can do many things for you with my beetroot and will show it to be good time.

Stanley DockFebruary 22nd 2008.

this has reached a level of dullness i'm unable to bare. THE END!

ColinFebruary 22nd 2008.

What exactly has this got to do with St Petersburg?

V. I. Lenin AirportFebruary 22nd 2008.

Hurrah! (or should that be 'Oorah'?) It's about time you reviewed the St. Petersburg, it's only been here about fifteen years! It used to be on Bold Street before it moved to York Street. It is a brilliant antidote to these lookalike trendy restaurants and bars, and we met an actor from Pobol Y Cwm in there too! Oh all right, he was also in Hollyoaks, but the point is that he was first recognised by a Welsh party at a nearby table. You see, people will travel some distances for the cracking food and unique atmosphere of the St. Petersburg. I'm sure even Fat Git could be sated here - but could he manage the stairs?

TV KellyFebruary 22nd 2008.

Not so's you'd notice here.

MikhailFebruary 22nd 2008.

Я буду русским гангстером

Stanley StreetFebruary 22nd 2008.

If you want expensive, try that ‘Italian Club’ in Bold Street. Nearly £14 for two sarnies and two glasses of water the other week! Worse, the comestibles had to be consumed from the A3-sized table whilst it was cluttered with gloves, handbag, hat and umbrella, as people brushed past! Despite the pseudo-rustic design there isn’t a single hat peg, coat-hook or hatstand in the entire place! Short of laying one’s things on the floor to be trodden on and to trip people, you have to balance them on your lap, unless you manage to claim one of the very few bigger tables against the wall at the back.You might have expected it to be sympathetic to the Italian ‘slow food’ movement, but ‘The Italian Club’ is very much an eat-it-and-beat-it sort of establishment.

Stanley StreetFebruary 22nd 2008.

Stanley Dock old boy, you're misinformed. The St. Petersburg's food is good and relatively inexpensive when compared to other restaurants in the city centre. It is drinking half-litre bottles of 8% ABV Latvian Porter all night at £4 a pop that runs the bill up and erases the memory.

George SmileyFebruary 22nd 2008.

Miss Nadia is sadly misinformed about her supposed homeland; St. Petersburg stands on the delta of the River Niva, the Volga empties into the Black Sea about three thousand miles away...

GordoFebruary 22nd 2008.

....am calling the bloody police again

NikolaiFebruary 22nd 2008.

Ah, Mr. Bugger. I suggest you leave before you make a 'hillock' of yourself! Ha ha! A little joke; you English are so fond of your jokes...

Suave BuggerFebruary 22nd 2008.

I am rarely inclined and never, ever declined

NikolaiFebruary 22nd 2008.

Not so fast, Englishman! I think you will find that Nadezhda here is my wife, a little wayward, perhaps, but my wife nonetheless. Are you familiar with the working of a nail-gun, Mr. Kelly?

AnonymousFebruary 22nd 2008.

Oh this is hilarious!

TV KellyFebruary 22nd 2008.

I'm glad to see your high-spirited fellow diners were fastidious in their ablutions. There's nothing I can abide less than the filthy mongrels who don't feel they need to wash their hands after a tinkle unless they actually widdle all over their fingers. I spit on them, or I would if that wasn't disgusting too.

HelpfulFebruary 22nd 2008.

Phone the leader of the Council. he seems ace at getting freebies.

Suave BuggerFebruary 22nd 2008.

Fancy leaving home without putting your plate in. Have you no class?

TV KellyFebruary 22nd 2008.

Eep!

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