Bloc Party

Arts & Culture

...with the arrival of Russia’s elite, Russian-backed and owned restaurants have made an impact...

When most people think of the ethnic weave of London, most thoughts inevitably turn to the South Asian populace who have made it home, the Caribbean and Chinese immigrants who set up businesses, shops and restaurants from Kensal to Soho.

Recently, however, due to the expansion of the European Union and the increasing wealth of the East, Eastern Europe has been an ever-increasing influence in the daily lives of Londoners. The populations of Polish and Lithuanian living and working in London has grown and added a new depth of diversity and awareness to the city, but undoubtedly among the most high-profile arrivals are the Russians.

The influence of Russian culture – powered by the ubiquitous cashflow of wealthy businessmen capitalising on the nation’s newly free market post-Soviet collapse – has become more and more noticeable in everyday life here, from signs on the Underground and ads on popular websites like Time Out, and on menus across Central London.

London’s theatres were an obvious place to start for wealthy Russian patrons of the arts to promote their native culture. In Spring, the Lion and Unicorn will be hosting A Russian Play from February 14th to March 4th, and an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s Anna Karenina will be running for two weeks from the 21st of February at Baron’s Court Theatre. In terms of the larger venues, The Barbican is scheduled to host The Master and Margarita from 15 March, while the Globe Theatre is running a brief run of a Russian-language Measure-for-Measure in April.

Eastern European and Russian food has traditionally been woefully underrepresented in the capital, but with the arrival of Russia’s elite come their comforts – Russian-backed and owned restaurants have been making an impact in London’s food scene, and none more so than Goodman, which, though a steakhouse and hardly serving traditional Russian cuisine, is one of the only places in London serving USDA-grade beef and is reputed to serve one of the best burgers in the city. A brace of hyped arrivals in Bob Bob Ricard and Novikov further gild the top end of the restaurant chain; the former a gorgeous brasserie-style affair (though a very opulent and extravagant one, at that) with Russian touches, and the latter the first London venture from Moscow’s arch-restaurateur Arkady Novikov. Confusingly serving pan-Asian dishes, Novikov has firmly planted itself in the category of glamorous night spots, offering a wealth (literally) of people-watching opportunities.

For a broader and more family-friendly experience, opt for the Maslenitsa, a weeklong Russian festival in London taking place from February 19th-26th. Occurring to mirror the traditional Russian and Ukrainian religious festival, Maslenitsa literally means “pancake” in Russian and blinis are naturally accompanied by delicious Russian vodka and caviar. The week incorporates a fashion show (perhaps not coincidentally during London Fashion Week) of new Russian designers at the V&A as well as a kid’s production by the Moscow State Gogol Theatre. If you were to bookmark just one day, however (and most of us will), save the date for the Sunday when Trafalgar Square hosts a sprawling Russian bazaar selling traditional arts and crafts alongside traditional street food, while Russian musical performances take place on the main stage in the square.

Main image Flickr credit: Neal Fowler