The Russians are a darling lot. They are apt to be disarmingly rude yet bashfully imperial, to drink like pigs, dance like oafs, have fond memories of their mothers humming to Raj Kapoor tunes, and love cooking just the way their grandmothers did.
Or so has been my experience from staying with a Russian roommate and interacting with her swarm of friends in the US. Russian cooking is geared to help you survive through extreme cold and poverty, so you could say it was ideally suited for us graduate students in Chicago. Slabs of pork, fillets of tilapia (which I loved precisely because they didn’t smell like fish), dumplings, mashed potatoes, and generous amounts of sour cream and soya sauce figured prominently in my roommate’s cooking, and it was only thanks to trips to the gym that we kept our weight in any control.
So last week when I went to Bline, a cosy four-table affair tucked away in Anand Niketan, it brought back many memories of good food, better company, and excellent parties. For Bline is probably the only Russian eatery in Delhi, a home away from home for the embassy crowd and expats who have found their way here from Eastern Europe.
As we came upon the glass door, a notice informed us that the place was “Cloused” due to a birthday party, but would reopen by 7pm. Fortunately, it was just a few minutes past that hour, so the four of us, including one — shall we say, ebullient — kid, barged right in.
Only to stop dead in our tracks. The atmosphere in Bline is a world away from the boisterous Punjabiness that is the average Delhi restaurant. Here people speak in hushed tones, inaudible even at the table abutting theirs, and the only sound that is allowed to carry is from the TV, which plays a constant stream of Russian soap operas and films. The owner and chef, who comes over himself to take your order, has the unperturbed air glaciers aspire to, and you get the feeling the only recklessness he’s ever allowed himself, is with the spellings on the menu.
Which brings us to the fare. The first thing we ordered was some Kompot, a sort of reddish-coloured mixed fruit juice that reminds you of rhododendron squash. At a jugful (which was enough to fill all our four glasses) for Rs. 20, I’d say it was a steal.
Aniket decided to start with borsch, a hearty red soup originally from Ukraine. The red colour comes from the beetroot base, into which are thrown chunks of various vegetables and meat, and just before serving, the mandatory sour cream. While the restaurant serves the soup hot, in case you don’t feel like having it there, you can get it packed for home and refrigerate it — it’s delicious cold as well.
My main course, on the other hand, was Beef Stroganoff, which has strips of the meat cooked in sour cream and other sauces, and is traditionally served with rice. The version on offer here dispensed with the rice, opting instead for mashed potatoes and some fresh sliced tomatoes and dills.
The specialty, I imagine, is their range of Blines (pronounced blini), the Russian take on pancakes, or on the French crêpe if you will. They come with different accompaniments — eggs, jam, chicken, and honey, to name a few. We tried the latter two: the chicken bline came as a delicious triangular wrap of minced chicken, while the honey bline would have been ideal as a dessert — or as breakfast — being served exactly as pancakes would be.
Of course, no Russian meal is complete without vodka, and for a hundred bucks we got ourselves a particularly virulent strain of the drink in a small glass. A small swig was like liquid fire down the throat, and hitherto-teetotaller Saumya practically sneezed after her first sip.
On the whole, a very warm, hearty and homely meal. Just like the Russians I got to know in Chicago.
Location: in the DDA Market which has the State Bank of India branch, opposite C block of Anand Niketan. Anand Niketan in turn is close to R. K. Puram and Moti Bagh. Map Location.
Timings: Open noon to 11pm everyday except Tuesday.
Prices: Expect to spend about 200-250 per head without liquor. Much cheaper if you stick to blines rather than the main course dishes.
[for you, Yuliya. Spaceba! 🙂 ]