24 Mar Simple – Minsk
We often speak about how Mozart’s music looks simple on the page but in actual fact is some of the most difficult music to perform. The dichotomy between working hard to make something effortless. How does that translate into food, what does Simple mean?
One can turn to Masterchef for answers. More often than not the classic, ‘simple’ dishes have to be executed flawlessly. Show perfection in its composition. Being simple is no joke. For the chefs at Simple, their singular ethos is to showcase local Belarusian produce using modern cooking techniques alongside the best wines in the world.
The restaurant’s Scandinavian look makes the most of its top floor view across Minsk. I would love to have an open kitchen/lounge exactly like this – clean steel lines, mid-century dark wood furniture and cool lighting keep it contemporary and elegant but not too formal. By the wine fridge is a raised counter reminiscent of entertaining around a kitchen island. Here you can chat, graze on food and wine all night without a second glance at the rest of the restaurant around you. This is the feeling at Simple – have a great meal and enjoy yourself. Smart but not stuffy.
We decided to go with bubbles, specifically Cremant d’Alsace Brut from Domaine Muré. Wheeled over to us on a trolley by the sommelier, we were both given a little to taste (not just Mr Munch, hooray!) while she explained where the wine came from and why she thought it was great. As with all the staff we encountered at Simple she had a friendly, positive manner and gave us really interesting information about the produce.
Then came the bread ?Two types – one malt and raisin, the other a crispy flat bread with pumpkin seeds. Their homemade butter is heavenly. Whipped to the fluffiest of consistencies, it’s the kind of butter that inspires you to only eat homemade butter. Nothing else will do anymore! Chopped chives were scattered on top for an extra savoury note. I am obsessed with the butter. I will go back for the butter. Paired with the dark bread it brought out the sweetness of the raisins. On the flatbread it emphasised the seeds’ nuttiness. Even better, when I checked the receipt later I realised this was complimentary! Best bread and butter I’ve had in a long time.
Belarusian cuisine has a wonderful cross over between Scandinavian, Baltic and Russian food. The menu hints at this with smorrebrod, trout gravlax, pumpkin (remember that pumpkin course I had in Riga?) and offal. We need to fall in love with offal again, I know it’s not for everyone but there are so many types I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised. For my main dish I chose veal sweetbreads (brains) with oyster mushrooms and spinach. The most common way of cooking sweetbreads is to dust them with egg and flour before shallow frying them. Here they were done to perfection – seasoned well, crispy on the outside, super creamy on the inside. Seasoning is important as the brains themselves do not have much flavour, it’s more about their softness. Oyster mushrooms and spinach therefore work well to complement the sweetbreads, not overpower them.
Our other main dish was turkey with parsnip cream and raspberry gel. The combination of poultry and fruit seems to be a popular one in Belarus. Root vegetables are also celebrated both here and in the Baltics, represented in this dish by the parsnip. This is a far cry from your annual Christmas turkey. I don’t know how they cooked it but it was super tender and juicy. Like the veal, this dish consisted of three elements, all executed to a high standard and harmoniously balanced.
On the menu were three desserts, all intriguing – I’m tempted by sea buckthorn but what is a bird cherry cake? What is grillage?? (I have since googled and bird cherries are dark bitter cherries and grillage are candied roasted nuts). In the end the winner was beetroot cheesecake with pine cone jam. Our waiter explained that pine cone jam has a long history in Belarusian food culture and everyone’s grandmother has her own recipe. I couldn’t wait to try it, I love tasting produce that has a strong connection to the region and its people. The jam is made up of whole young pine cones in a loose syrup. These small cones have a toffee-like chew to them. As you chew, the ‘pinier’ it tastes. We managed to buy a jar at a Wholefoods type hypermarket and I intend on eating it with pancakes or drizzled on top of a fruity cake. The beetroot juice in the cheesecake is mainly for its beautiful fuchsia red colour rather than imparting much flavour. This works well with the pine while dots of soft goats cheese provide a hit of sourness to prevent the dish from being overly sweet.
Simple is a Minsk must eat. As a tourist it was great to sample local ingredients in a young and fresh interpretation. More than that, I think Simple has created a special atmosphere. Sometimes in the effort to be pared down minimalism can read as boring, or modern cooking as gimmicky on one side, too high brow on the other. Here it feels comfortable and natural. Innovative cooking alongside handed down recipes, select ingredients but remembering decent portion size. Balance has been achieved and the result is Simple.
Total receipt (2 people): 85 BYN (£27.75)
1 x Veal sweetbreads 15
1 x Turkey 18
2 x Beetroot cheesecake 11
2 x glasses Cremant d’Alsace Brut 15
Rating: ?10/10? Delicious foray into contemporary Belarusian cuisine (not to mention the bargain price!)
Thanks for reading this post, please give it a thumbs up if you liked it! More Minsk posts will come soon – something to read in your many spare moments. Check out my instagram for more food obsessions. Stay safe!