Moscow gains first Michelin stars as Russian restaurants feature in guides

By Thomas Bywater

Thirty years since Russia lost the red Soviet star, Moscow has gained its first Michelin awards.

Nine restaurants were given the prestigious culinary award during a ceremony at the Zaryadye Concert Hall close to the Kremlin, putting them on par with the world's top dining destinations.

Moscow has made history as the first former Soviet city to be included in the French dining guides. Critics have said it is an emblem of a "culinary rebirth" for the city, in which eating out still has grim memories of the 1990s.

The panoramic White Rabbit in Moscow received a Michelin star. Photo / Supplied

The Mayor of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin thanked the assembled restauranteurs.

"There are a lot of stars in Moscow, but there have not been any Michelin stars yet," he said.

The Michelin Red Guide announced that the Russian capital would feature in the latest books in December but not which restaurants would make the cut. There's no shortage of high-end eateries to pick from, which is a far cry from just three decades ago.

Crayfish at the two-starred Twins Garden restaurant. Photo / Supplied

Among the Michelin-awarded restaurants was White Rabbit, whose roof-top diner provided eye-level views of the Krasnaya Zvezda stars of red square, and a menu of baked cabbage with caviar.

Guides praised the use of ingredients from across the country including Borodino bread and king crabs all the way from Vladivostok, on the Pacific sea border.

Restaurants Twins Garden and Artest were awarded two stars each, narrowly missing out on the top tier of three Michelin stars.

Owners of Twins Garden, identical brothers Ivan and Sergey Berezutskiy were recently featured in the World's Top 50 Restaurants for their farm to table restaurant, where food is grown within the Moscow outer ring roads.

A total of sixty-nine restaurants were given a recommendation by Michelin.

Michelin Tsars: Eating out in Russia

In the early 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union caused shortages of ingredients, unpredictable menus and prices that would make even Michelin-starred restaurants seem reasonable.

American critic Maurice Hindus described the Stolovayas as serving thin roast chicken and hunks of potatoes drenched in grease.

"Cooking schools do not attract ambitious young people," he wrote.

A Stolovaya in Moscow in 1970. Photo / Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

In spite of access to exotic cuisines from Georgia and Ukraine, restaurants in Moscow, in particular, were suspicious of importing too many dishes from Soviet republics.

By the mid-seventies, the Obshchestvennoe Pitanie Soviet Food Service had stopped printing recipes from specific destinations. There was certainly no 'Cordon Bleu' in the USSR.

By the late 1990s tastes had changed. McDonald's first Moscow restaurant served a reported five thousand customers on opening day on 31 January 1990. However, fine dining was not as quick to get established as fast food.

"This is a new era for the Russian restaurant industry," food critic Gennady Josefavichus told Reuters.

The first Michelin guides were active in pre-Soviet Russia, writing reviews of the country before being shut out following the 1917 revolution. However, they did not begin handing out the star awards until the mid-1920s.

The Michelin guide inclusion is a huge moment for the city's hospitality. It remains to be seen if it will increase the appetite for Russian holidays.

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