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Moscow on the Thames at a downright Volga price

Published 1 April 2012
News Review
975th article

Michael and Geraldine outside Novikov with Marios Louvaris and 'Ginger' Zerbetto (Richie Tom)

On the website for his Mayfair restaurant Novikov, Arkady Novikov, the owner, has a photo of himself posing like a 1950s movie star. We’re informed that he "has more than 50 restaurants throughout Moscow" and that his clientele in Russia "includes everyone from Vladimir Putin . . . to Naomi Campbell". A strange double act if ever there was one.

I phoned Novikov. A hostile receptionist asked for my first name four times. Then I phoned again to tell them Geraldine couldn't eat gluten and asked for Marios Louvaris, manager of their Asian restaurant. They have an Italian one on the same premises.

The receptionist said: "I'll put you through to Marios." I got Russian piped music and a phone rang. No one answered. I phoned again and was told: "We're not sure Marios is coming in today."

On another occasion I rang and asked for the assistant restaurant manager, Stefan "Ginger" Zerbetto. First I was told Ginger was in the building and would call me back. When I rang again I was told he'd be in at 1pm. When I rang again I was told he'd be in at 4pm. If Putin had to go through this, Arkady Novikov and his non-merry reception staff would be sentenced to 43 years' hard labour in Siberia.

Geraldine and I got there for lunch (Berkeley Street, not Siberia). Ate nothing luxurious: no caviar, no wagyu steak; alcoholwise just two bellinis and a glass of wine. For three courses the bill came to £266.06 for two, including the usual 12.5% service charge. A bit on the high side.

The room is cafeteria-like: wooden tables, no cloths. Well, for £266.06 for two people, how could they afford tablecloths? There were also vast bowls of flowers and ghastly piped music. No sign of Vladimir cosying up to Naomi.

We had excellent crudites and the best cherry tomatoes I've eaten. They came from a massive market-style display in front of interior windows to the kitchen.

I started with a dim sum dumpling of coriander shrimp and Thai yam bean. Also black cod roll with mango sauce. This was fish covered in what looked like shredded wheat. Both good.

For my main course I had yuzu-scented miso black cod. A mere £39.38 including service. It's a piece of cod, for heaven's sake, the sort you get in fish'n'chip shops. It was, I admit, one of the best main courses I've ever eaten. I also had some vegetarian Singapore noodles.

Geraldine had a vast plate of sushi beautifully presented on ice, and then some sashimi resting on rice. She declared it the best ever.

My dessert was poached pear in aromatic red wine served with Sicilian cassata ice cream and almond and pistachio biscuit. Geraldine had "green tea brulee" with berries and guava sorbet. Both desserts superb. The food at Novikov is fantastic. Service first rate. Lunchtime atmosphere nil. Prices beyond belief.

My friend Jeremy King says they’re planning a cheaper set lunch menu - £266, I guess. Sixpence off for the plebs.

When I went to Moscow in 1991, statues pulled down in the August coup lay on the ground by the Tretyakov art gallery: Stalin with red paint daubed on him; Khrushchev's head; Dzerzhinsky, founder of the KGB, still upright but stained with yellow paint. There was only one free-enterprise restaurant, the Kropek. Incredible atmosphere, crockery and cutlery, totally historic fried sturgeon, everything brilliant. I didn’t keep the bill but it was pennies compared with Novikov. We have advanced backwards.

  • A few yards from Novikov is my favourite London restaurant, the Wolseley. Far be it from me to criticise . . . but the Wolseley gives its customers linen napkins. Doubtless very posh. But little specks of white come off onto your clothing. If I'm wearing a black cashmere jacket, for example, that is immaculate when I sit down to eat, by the time I leave I look like a zebra. Some may consider that an improvement. I don't.

  • You should follow me on twitter, @MrMichaelWinner. It's more nutty and robust than I dare to be in a family newspaper. Great fun. I've been amazed by how many famous people suddenly send me tweets. I won't tell you their names, because I'm very discreet. I will mention Colin Hobson, of Sheffield, who tweeted: "Have you heard about the new restaurant on the moon? The food is great, but there's just no atmosphere."

  • From Dennis Pallis, of Kent. Hymie goes into Victoria's Secret to purchase a negligee for his wife, Becky. He's shown various negligees; the more sheer they are, the higher the price. Hymie opts for the sheerest and pays £400.

    At home he presents it to Becky and asks her to go upstairs and model it for him. Becky thinks: "Oy vey! This is so sheer, I won't put it on. I'll model naked and then take it back tomorrow and get the £400."

    She appears naked on the balcony and strikes a pose.

    Hymie says: "Good grief! For £400, you'd think they'd at least have ironed it."

    Michael's missives

    You objected to having a menu chosen for you in New Fortune Cookie. What if you're invited to an at-home dinner? Do you insist the host makes endless dishes so you can be shown a menu rather than being force-fed what other guests have to endure? If you demand that, the few invitations you get will surely cease.
    Lillian Simpson, Cheshire

    You're fading away. It's clear from last week's photo your bride will soon have to shake the sheets to find you.
    Tom Perry, Buckinghamshire

    In prison (for crimes that never took place) I asked for avocados. I was told they were "luxury food for gays". Recently in Morocco I saw local avocados sold cheaply in tiny shops next to potatoes, onions and tomatoes.
    Ken King, London

    At C London for my daughter's 16th birthday the food was average at best and they tried to overcharge us by £50. Yet the place was packed. Compare this with our local, Giacomo's in Childs Hill: fantastic home-cooked food, great service, all for less than 25% of the cost of C. Expensive does not mean better.
    David Leigh, London

    At the Chichester Festival Theatre restaurant the children's menu was a brown paper bag with a carton of baked beans inside plus swizzle potatoes and a dry roll with a pale sausage. It would take too long to describe the adult lunch.
    Caryl Matthews, Hampshire