Novikov Bling bling, all aboard the sparkling Novikov machine. Zeren Wilson sees a powerful Russian stroll into town.
rkady Novikov. Russian Big Dog and owner of over 40 restaurants in Russia. Two restaurants in one behemoth of a site off Berkeley Square is how he has announced himself with his first opening outside of Russia – he’s not messing around. The Asian restaurant occupies the front of the building, a hefty 130 covers, while the Italian restaurant sprawls behind even larger. We tried the Asian restaurant where Head Chef Jeff Styler has been installed, carrying solid experience from the Mandarin Oriental group, Roka in London, and a period in Japan honing his sushi and tempura skills. The room looks like the love child of Hakkasan and Zuma, with a nod to Roka, all melded into one. Shamelessly derivative but not a bad place to start when it comes to restaurant design. Somehow they manage to pull it off without appearing like a sham imitation with zero class.
A large display of seafood on ice sits in front of an open kitchen in view behind glass, around 20 chefs furiously wokking and chopping – it’s an impressive sight. Cutesy baby bok choi are brought out unbidden, served with a couple of punchy palatesharpening chilli sauces, an elegant and measured start. The menu is intimidatingly large, the kind that leaves you umming and ahhing for an age before a decisive waiter will help you choose by pointing out their favourites. We found service to be unerringly sweet and smiley, particularly our tirelessly enthusiastic Portuguese waiter Tiago, who endured our hesistancy and faffing over the sprawling menu with grace and patience. It’s pricey, there’s no hiding the fact, but hey this is Mayfair and if you feel squeamish about the prices, then you really should have known better. We start by plundering the dim sum menu, a great place to gauge the
quality of a machine like Novikov with such lofty ambition. Very decent har gau and coriander and shrimp dim sum are teeny tiny, and probably the most expensive in London at £6 a pop for four pieces. A foie gras and beef dumpling is prepared in the ‘Pot Sticker’ style, the edges crimped and fried on one side. Heavy, clunky and no better for playing games with foie _ oozing, watery grey matter seeping out of a dumpling somehow ruins the romance. “New Style Sashimi” is a wow dish, thin slivers of sea bass perked up with a tricksy little dressing of yuzu and soy _ £15. Crab, avocado and cucumber salad sounds plodding, but again the transforming power of yuzu lifts everything, an intense citrussy charge cutting through rich crab and creamy avocado. Maki roll of prawn tempura and avocado, resting on a slick of sticky sweet soy is wonderful and would never get tiresome _ if someone else is paying. Braised pork belly comes out lacquered with a spicy sweet and sour glaze, and is the pauper’s option on the menu at £12.