Eating Out in Togliatti.
When you visit a place, you don’t really want to start cooking do you? So restaurants are going to feature. However, in my experience, this is something Russia hasn’t quite got to grips with yet.
We went in two places that had been previously OK that now have insect issues. One had beetle type things creeping around the corners, and the other some insect ran out of the menu at me as I opened it. The staff apologised and explained that the place next door had just been fumigated and all the insects had ran away into their restaurant. Swell.
Service is the main problem in any Russian restaurant; they just haven’t grasped it. It isn’t unusual to see staff on telephones or sending SMS’s instead of doing their job. They prefer to sit on their arse rather than wait tables, so often you are craning your neck and waving your hands about to get some attention. When you do catch their gaze, they often do this before they come reluctantly sloping over to see why you have the temerity to disturb their relaxation. No service ethic at all really.
Added to which, they don’t grasp basic stuff. No I don’t want warm white wine. No I don’t want red wine from the fridge. Getting an ice bucket is always worth a try. The wine will be room temperature by the time it arrives. Always insist having the wine opened at your table. An old gag they use is to arrive with it opened, and the contents have previously been substituted for something far inferior.
Tips, as the seasoned traveller knows are not historically expected in their culture. However, they are doing their best to encourage the practice, but haven’t yet figured out that only good service is likely to get you a tip. In Russia, the non-American will seldom be tipping in restaurants.
Americans who insist on tipping for bad service there – importing their culture – only spoil it for the rest of us and in my opinion are rewarding bad service – so nothing improves. Thankfully, American tourists and women-hunters are seldom spotted outside of Ukraine.
Again here though, I do see occasional green shoots of progress. As the average restaurant going Russian is well heeled, he will also be one of those who travels around Europe. This means they should get a feel for how it should be. Sooner or later – as with many other things – importing European and American service levels will be a no brainer for any restaurateur who wants to get it right.
For not much longer will all these guys tooling around in big Audis and Mercedes with disposable income accept a bowl of tepid borscht, some fatty pork or something questionable from a freezer served by people who simply don’t give a tiny rats arse. Some places are making more of an effort now, but really most are still way below the mark.
The other thing that they haven’t yet grasped is when people go to a restaurant, they expect to eat together. In Russian restaurants it is common for one guy to still be waiting for his starter as another is finishing his dessert. They look at you dumbfounded if you suggest that perhaps the food will arrive together. If you can talk them into the idea, half of it will have been sat on the counter and be cold.
Learn to live with the fact that food will arrive sporadically. Not even necessarily in the correct course order.
If you like hot sauce on your Shashlik, forget it. They wont have any. Russian taste doesn’t do chilli peppers. I take my own bottle of Franks Red Hot Chilli ‘n’ Lime Sauce with me now.
Of all the times I have visited Togliatti, I have only really found three places that I can call good.
One is the semi outdoor restaurant adjacent to the Park Hotel, I think called “Happy Place” or some such thing (food arrives totally randomly though).
One is a Shashlik place just into the forest with some animals and a kids zoo at the back (which I forget the name of) and the other is my personal favourite, the Orient Express (Восточный Экспресс, Тольятти). There, they get everything right.
Here are a couple of interior shots of Orient Express.
And being in the free world, they still have these on the tables.
Despite the alleged smoking ban that came into force earlier this year.