The rumour goes that there are now 1/4 million Russians living in the South East, served by an increasing number of food shops, Russian-language newspapers and club nights featuring the best of cheesy Russian pop. On the restaurant front though, thing remain a bit underwhelming. There are a few expensive places in richer parts of west and north London, but no consensus about any of them being any good. In the city, there is just Potemkin, which brands itself as 'restaurant and vodka bar' and thus manages to lure in a more varied crowd. The restaurant bit is hidden away in a windowless cellar, and lacks atmosphere unless its full. But you can also eat in the livelier street-level bar section. The menu is reasonably short and unchanging. You can splash out £35 for some black caviar, and/or opt for a more normal starter for about £5. The herring covered in a "fur coat" of yummy Russian salads (selyodka pod shuboj) is delicious, whilst the mushrooms julienne are covered in a rich, bubbling cheese sauce. Beware of the liberally proffered bread though, it's not that nice and they will charge you 75p for each slice. The mains are less impressive than the starters. Stuffed cabbage leaves with buttery mashed potato fell firmly in to the 'nice but nothing special category' and at £9.50 a tad overpriced. The £11.50 beef stroganoff featured over-cooked meat and, according to my companion, not enough mushrooms. On a past visit I enjoyed the Siberian pelmeni dumplings, but for £10.50 you can buy three huge bags of the frozen version from any of the many Russian food shops. The portions are good-sized though, the service is friendly and for many the attraction is the huge list of vodkas. For me, this is the nicer Russian restaurant I've sampled in London - so far. But I'm still looking...
Potemkin, 144 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1R 5DP. Tube: Chancery Lane or Farringdon; Tel. 020 7278 6661; www.potemkin.co.uk
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