Manchester isn’t exactly over run with Russian or even Eastern Block restaurants. Working as I do with Russians, Ukrainians, Latvians and Poles, means that those that the restaurants we do have are subject to strong criticism.
So when Baltic Cellar invited me to their opening, I was curious – their food is a mix of Latvian, Polish, Lithuanian, Estonian, and Russian. Would this meet with colleagues’ approval?
I needed to investigate.
We arrived to glasses of fizz and platters of nibbles circulating – olives wrapped in bacon, little hunks of cured pork sausage, caviar, rye bread, two kinds of delicious cheese (one Latvian, one Lithuanian) and delicious puffed balls of choux pastry filled with smoked salmon and cream cheese.
The venue is the baby of Alex and Elena Bogda – Elena’s Latvian roots and the influence of her grandmother, who taught her to cook are evident in the menu and the treats we tried at the opening. Alex’s own Russian/Nigerian heritage have also made impressions on the menu.
After a beautiful performance of flexibility from contortionist Beth Sykes, we were ushered to our seats, where a bottle of Polish Klosowka vodka sat on the table. I could get used to this Baltic hospitality.
We were drinking to Russian rules – and those of us aware of just how often this would mean that the glass was raised to our lips, ensured we didn’t drink anything else from now on. I’ve already learned that lesson the hard way.
Each table had a leader, identified by their headgear (though we had two leaders, because we like to be different).
Two shots down and the zakuski (Russian tapas) started to arrive.
Time for another shot and another round of food.
Beef goulash and pork stroganoff, tender chicken with wild mushrooms and chicken in a creamy sauce with pine nuts vied for our attention, , and along with my personal favourite of the night, bigos – slowly stewed sausages and sauerkraut, pork ribs, mushrooms and cabbage form a salty, smoky dish.
More vodka? Don’t mind if we do.
The chicken shashlik, served with spicy rice, made it’s way around the tables, along with a different vodka, served from a Kalashnikov shaped bottle by a handsome chap in a ushanka.
It’s hard not to love somewhere that is confident enough to not take itself seriously.
Still we hadn’t finished.
There was dessert – a vast platter of cakes from creamy cheesecake, the many layered Napolean cake (kremowka or napolyeon tort), crisp biscuits and a thick heavy chocolate cake.
We were all feeling a little wobbly, but we had enough room for one more sip of vodka. This time the Debowa vodka which has a hint of oak (and a sliver of oak in each bottle) served from a birdhouse. This Polish rye vodka is creamy, toasty with a hint of vanilla from the wood. Delicious and the perfect note on which to end our visit.
Whilst this isn’t a review, I know that everyone on our table had a fantastic time and we all want to visit again. I’ll admit I’m no expert, but my experiences of Baltic food suggest that this is the most authentic I’ve come across (barring home made) and I’m intrigued to know what my work colleagues think.
So I’ll see you in there for a vodka or two?
All the food and drink consumed by all guests at the launch was provided by the host venue.