Recently Sarah suggested I check out Mari Vanna, a Russian restaurant that has been successful in New York, Moscow and St. Petersburg. They’ve magically appeared in Knightsbridge and she said the afternoon tea is one of the best she’s had without having to take out a bank loan.
I was expecting something good but I didn’t expect what we got – Mari Vanna is one of the most atmospheric places I have ever eaten and quite frankly the place I’m now going to take guests who are in town and want something different. It is exotic, dark, full of pictures, stunning decor, fabulous service and excellent food.
When you arrive you’re presented with a bread board that contains this fantastic oniony butter, radishes and different breads (including a very good rye), great to nibble on while you decide what to have. Naturally we went straight for the afternoon tea and blinis with a selection of jams though we were tempted by all sorts of incredible sounding savoury and sweet options.
The afternoon tea was absolutely fabulous, really fabulous. The savouries included pirogis, salmon wrapped in blinis, more blinis topped with caviar (I’m still not sure I’m a fan of caviar! So uncivilised, tut tut~) along with rye bread topped with beetroot and salted herring.
We took our time on the savouries then tucked into the main event: honeycake. There were other cakes and fruit presented too but this was stunning, one of the best cakes I’ve ever had and a total surprise. I enjoyed the others too (chocolate/caramel cake, a nice giant marshmallow and a custard pastry which was excellent). If you go and don’t want too much in the way of sweets then I’d advise just to go for the honeycake – I’m considering going back there just to have this, probably several servings. It’s just so light yet sweet, but not too sweet, oh, just a very memorable cake!
If you can’t make it all the way to Knightsbridge, Gary from Big Spud has a recipe for it here.
We also ordered blinis that came with an assortment of jams. They were delicious – even better than French crepes (quelle horreur!). I don’t know how to describe them but they were filling, not too sweet, the jams were very fresh and we nearly fought over who was to have the last one.
The atmosphere was something else. The staff were so friendly (even sent us some complimentary champagne, thanks!), knowledgeable, didn’t act superior in the slightest and probably would have let us stay for hours more. I also want to get hold of one of their great dresses, I love a good blue tea dress. The decor was outstanding – I can imagine a young Russian version of Miss Havisham living there in the late 19th century with chandeliers throughout the house, Russian dolls, pictures of the staff and their families dotting the walls, bits and bobs of decorations everywhere. It’s a bit dark but in a really stunning way. Basically, there is something to look at on every single surface of this restaurant. When you visit, make sure you visit the loos – they are weirdly remarkable.
So I think you know my verdict by now. It has become my new favourite spot for afternoon tea for lots of reasons. I want to quit my day-job then go and spend my days sitting in Mari Vanna writing in a notebook, sipping on Rare Tea Company tea (yep, the good stuff!) and eating honeycake. See you there?
Between the two of us, the bill came to £49.50 and included afternoon tea, blinis with jams, the delicious bread board, spectacular decor and excellent service. Mari Vanna can be found between Hyde Park and Harrods at 116 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7PJ.