Given the considerable number of Russians living in Knightsbridge, it was not surprising that an upmarket Russian restaurant has opened here. Nearby Borscht n’ Tears is, after all, more peasant fare than oligarch. Running since March 2012, Mari Vanna has décor intended to evoke a mythical Russian family, all wooden dressers, chandeliers and objets d’art. It is in fact part of a chain of restaurants stretching from St Petersburg to Los Angeles. When booking and confirming I was told repeatedly that I had my table for 90 minutes only, though in fact the restaurant was half full, and the service was quite brisk.
There was a three-course lunch available at £25. From the a la carte menu, starters were £9 to £15, main courses £16 to £24, side dishes at £5 to £6 and desserts £8 to £10. The wine list had Norton Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 at £30 for a wine that you can find in the high street for around £12, The Georgian wine Saperavi Kondoli Telavi Kakheti 2005 at £45 for a wine that retails at around £12, and Donnafugata “Mille e Una Notte” 2007 at £116 for a wine that will set you back £68 in a shop.
I chose the set lunch menu. Bread arrived perched on a wooden board, the white slice being dry and tasting stale, the black bread dense, the fruit bread better and quite pleasant. My starter of beetroot, potato and peas was a dish heaped with just those three ingredients. This was pleasant enough, though there was minimal intervention from the kitchen here, and no attempt to present the salad, though its elements were decent (11/20).
This was better than cabbage stuffed with minced pork, beef and rice. The cabbage leaves were soggy, and the mince filling was lacking in seasoning (10/20). Honey cake was better, though with quite a heavy texture, served with sour cream (12/20).
Service was efficient though unsmiling. The bill for this, with just water (£4.50) to drink and no coffee, came to £33. This seemed to me an awful lot of money for a bit of salad, mince and cake, especially given the deals available for lunch at most Michelin starred restaurants around London. A typical bill, if you went a la carte and had a modest wine, would be around £70 a head. To use a literary analogy, Mari Vanna is not really The Gift, but not Crime and Punishment either, and there is not much to Envy. I cannot see a Michelin tsar in its future.