Decline and fall

The St. Petersburg Times
#1010, Friday, October 8, 2004


Decline and fall

By Matthew Duncan

It’s a tough old game, civilization. No sooner does one empire set itself
up, than another one comes along, knocks it off its perch and sets up shop
in the ruins. The same ruthlessness seems to operate in the world of dining
out. If you had ventured behind the ornately carved doors of the
recently-opened Armenian restaurant about the same time last year, you would
have found yourself in a recently-opened African restaurant. Like most
conquerors, these ones haven’t bothered to do much with the décor. You have
to assume that the new management were either working within a limited
budget or thought the African theme, with pots half submerged in the walls
and wattle roofing over the cloakroom area, too good to waste.
We took a table by the large street windows and listened to the acceptably
pitched ballroom synth-pop. We asked for an English menu, but they didn’t
have one, and, happily, each dish has a photograph alongside sit on the
Russian-language menu they do have.

There is a good choice of soups, fish, prawns and so on in the 60 to
150-ruble ($2 to $3.44) range. For starters I ordered a vegetable dish
called “Adjab Sandal” (80 rubles, $2.75). My companion chose an ‘assortment
of fish’ (100 rubles, $3.44). The Adjab Sandal was a disappointment. Roughly
the same size as the photo in the menu, it tasted just like cold pizza
topping (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in other circumstances). The
assorted fish was no better and, staring at the bits of fish lying flaccidly
on the plate, one can only conclude that not much thought was given to its

Choosing a main course was tricky. Everything looked extraordinarily, some
might say suspiciously, appetizing. There is a page of fish and a page of
meat, a range of kebabs, some things called tavas and some tempting looking
pizzas at the back.

Most items are priced between 150 and 250 rubles. My companion ordered duck
breast (220 rubles, $7.60). It looked great. Succulent slices of duck breast
were temptingly nestled on a bed of fried potatoes with a row of ripe
raspberries lying alongside like a discarded item of clothing. On the other
side of the plate, a limp green salad looked jealously on. It was tasty, and
the raspberry actually worked. We demolished it in seconds. My main course
came with a weight of expectations upon it. I had ordered the biblical
sounding Tava “Ararat” (220 rubles, $7.60), a tomato-based stew filled with
peppers and beans and mushrooms and promisingly large chunks of lamb.
Regrettably, upon closer examination, the meat was mostly fat or bone, so we
were left with what was essentially a vegetable casserole.

The place was starting to fill up with underdressed girls. The barman was
working so frenetically that I thought the president had arrived while I
wasn’t looking. I asked if the barman could make a Singapore Sling. After
two minutes agonizing with his conscience, he decided that he could.

At that point we were joined by an unexpected visitor: the bill. A bit
premature, perhaps? Our efficient waitress, Nadezhda, informed us that it
was “the system.” You can’t fight the system. But could one order dessert?
She went for the menu. Let’s see: ice cream, “night and day cake,” banana
split, all priced between 40 and 100 rubles ($1.30 and $3.40). What should
we have? Maybe it was already written on the bill. No, the bill had vanished
again. My expensive, inevitably ghastly cocktail (240 rubles, $8.20)
arrived. I decided to go for the banana split (90 rubles, $3.10), because I
was still hungry. It wasn’t bad and at least had plenty of ice cream.

The bill came back for an encore. By now the music was loud and it seems
there is a Latin disco here on Saturday nights. Behind our table at the
entrance, there was now a cash register – people were paying to get in! We
paid and got out. It wasn’t that good and it wasn’t that cheap. I wondered
how much it would cost to bankroll an African revolution.

Armenia, 3 Ulitsa Lomonosova. Tel 310 2230, All major credit cards accepted.
Menu in Russian only.
Dinner for two with wine: 1,340 rubles ($46.20).

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress