Martin Klein meets Vladimir Mukhin

Alice, the rabbit and the Queen of Hearts

The ultra-modern shopping centre is actually closed. Vladimir Mukhin meets me at the entrance. Under the watchful gaze of the security guards, we walk through the deserted jewellery section until we reach a lift, which takes us up to the fifth floor, where long corridors and another lift then lead us to the White Rabbit restaurant. Pictograms with rabbit ears point the way. The restaurant covers three floors on the roof of the building. The route to the top really is like a maze from Alice in Wonderland. The restaurant’s fairytale interior is inspired by the story of little Alice and her encounter with the white rabbit. There’s lots of gold, plush velvet sofas, modern icons, and a fantastic view over Moscow that extends all the way to the Kremlin. When we meet in the Russian capital, Vladimir has only just arrived back from New York, where he’s been celebrating the publication of a new world ranking of chefs together with the superstars of the culinary world.

Still a little jet-lagged from the long flight, Vladimir explains his concept: only the finest produce from Russia makes it to the table. Siberian mussels, Volga parmesan, raw-milk curd from Moscow, or fish and forest fruits from the local region. The 32-year-old was already cooking Russian cuisine when most top restaurants in Moscow were still serving their wealthy guests French foie gras. When Putin introduced his foreign food embargo, Vladimir saw it as an opportunity rather than a problem.

Although his dishes often sound traditional, they are anything but heavy and stodgy. Such as his trout with beetroot and horseradish: We pickle the fish fillets just before the evening service begins. The marinade is made from puréed beetroot, blackcurrants, salt, sugar, lime, dill, horseradish and... a generous shot of vodka! The alcohol brings out the red colours, which instantly turn the surface of the trout fillets a deep violet. We then prepare some pieces of sashami from single slices of trout on sour cream with horseradish juice and chives. The dish is garnished with diced gherkin and grass-green dill oil, along with some mini sorrel leaves that an old lady has picked for Vladimir. I’m introduced to her the following day during a trip to the Danilovsky market. From above, the futuristically shaped concrete shell of the market hall looks like a sun. I realise straight away why Vladimir concentrates on Russian produce in his cuisine – the diversity is astounding. After all, Russia stretches from sub-tropical regions all the way to the Arctic. And for many Russians in rural areas, collecting herbs such as wild sorrel pays off – even if it does take a long time to pick the very small leaves which Vladimir uses in his cooking. The porcini mushrooms that we buy at the market for our main course are also exceptionally beautiful, each one a supermodel.

Vladimir slow-cooks the mushrooms in oil before wrapping them in long strands of onion spaghetti and caramelising them in the oven – this makes the small mushroom parcels crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. And the onion jacket unfurls the full flavour of the mushrooms. But just what is onion spaghetti? Quite simply, the onions are cut into long, even strands using a spiralizer. We serve the parcels with very slowly cooked short ribs. The highlight here are the smoked pear chips, which give the sauce a hint of sweetness and a BBQ aroma. Kvass, a fermented drink made from germinated rye, gives the sauce a slightly bitter flavour and also makes the meat super-juicy and tender. To add some crunchiness, Vladimir tosses a spoonful of almost raw broccoli sprouts in a green sauce made from baby lettuce and parsley juice. A wonderful combination!

Kvass, the favoured drink of Russian crop farmers, also plays an important role in the dessert. Vladimir simply calls it “black bread”, as he takes his inspiration for the dish from famine food. When making a biscuit crumble with whole coriander seeds and dark chocolate, we boil down some Kvass until the fluid looks like treacle – shiny, thick, and almost black. It has a malty – but also slightly liquoricy – taste. It’s a really unusual flavour. We top the crumbled biscuit with an ice cream made from Moscow raw-milk curd, drizzled with a foamy, white chocolate ganache. The dessert is rounded off with a tonka bean marshmallow and an almost black cocoa bean wafer stick.

At the start of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the little girl asks the grinning Cheshire cat for directions. But the cat can’t help her, because Alice has no idea where she wants to go. Unlike Vladimir, who knows exactly where he’s heading: right to the top! And he’s on the right track: In 2015, Vladimir and his White Rabbit restaurant moved up to 23rd place in the ranking of the world’s best chefs. When we meet in Moscow, he’d recently been celebrating his ascent to 18th place on the latest version of the list.

Recorded by Hans Gerlach

"White Rabbit"

3 Smolenskaya square, 16th Floor
Moscow
Russia

Tel.: +7-495-66-33-999

Email: follow@whiterabbitmoscow.ru
Web: www.whiterabbitmoscow.ru

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