Outcome: Majority Verdict.
Ratio decidendi: Worth a visit to sample some traditional sweet and savoury Russian offerings even if some items may not have universal appeal.
Salient features: Izba cake* ($9.50), kvass* , salmon pie ($7.50)
Scope of discovery: minced beef blini ($11), honey cake ($9).
Case note: Given this is my first Russian experience, it’s hard to comment on Izba’s authenticity. And even though I wasn’t blown away by the food, I was still glad I visited to try something a bit different.
Distinctive things I’d call out would be the Izba cake and Kvass. The signature cake is a combination of sweetened sour cream, amarena cherries wrapped it biscuit dough and is what I’d imagine a hypothetical Russian baked cheesecake might taste like. The bitterness of the cherries and the density of the sour cream may not have universal appeal but is distinctive enough in terms of taste to be worth trying.
Kvass was described to me by the friendly waitstaff as Russian coca-cola but I’d describe the experience as one closer to my first taste of Dr Pepper – very love/hate. It’s a sour-tasting drink created from soaking Russian brown bread in water and then adding yeast amongst other flavouring elements and left to ferment for a few days. Interestingly its popularity was driven by it being more accessible than clean drinking water – not too dissimilar from the story behind beer’s popularity in medieval England. I can’t say I’m a fan of the drink but again am glad that Izba introduced me to the taste and the story!
The salmon pie also deserves an honourable mention for not only being extraordinarily generous in terms of serving but also because it tastes pretty good too! Can’t be compared to the flaky buttery pies out at Gordon’s Bakerie but worth trying for the novel use of buckwheat to balance out the sharpness of the cottage cheese and salmon.
The savoury minced beef blinis were a simple dish – effectively mince encased in rolled up Russian pancakes, served with a side of sour cream. Not as good value as the salmon pie both on size and taste but perhaps the mistake was in ordering the savoury (as opposed to sweet) version in the first place.
The honey cake is a light-tasting combination of honey, sour cream and layers of nutty crumbs. Although it’s most likely to be the most crowd-pleasing of the lot, it’s also likely to be the least distinctively Russian cake and hence might be worth giving a pass if you’re after something different.