The concept of the pub is a popular one in Russia and often associated with English culture. You won’t be ordering pints here, as Russian establishments use the metric system (so, instead you’ll go for a 1/3 or a 1/2 liter). However, you can count on the menu offering hearty, beer-friendly food – with some Russian traditional foods on the menu as well.
If you’re with a group of people who can’t decide on a place to eat, SPB may be a pretty viable option. This is for two reasons. One, this bar-restaurant is everywhere. For every monument in town to a beloved author or national hero, there’s probably an SPB. Second, the menu is all over the place. Western style appetizers, like wings, cheese fries, and mozzarella sticks? Check. Russian bar snacks like smoked string cheese and fried bread? Yep. What about a bagel and a latte, a cheeseburger, short ribs, or a margherita pizza? Waffle fries, shawarma, boiled shrimp? SPB can serve you all of these things, though hopefully not together.
Our tour guide described SPB to our group as “the place young people go to in St. Petersburg.” This seems to be mostly true. The place is always full of college kids, young professionals putting their feet up, trendy types, and burgeoning beer snobs. (The only thing rivaling SPB’s extensive food menu is its drink menu, complete with histories and detailed descriptions of each brew.) The atmosphere reflects this. Seats are sleek-looking black leather couches and arm chairs, bartenders and waitresses usually sport some trendy haircut or body modification, club music pumps through the sound system, and flat screen TVs on every wall show loops of music videos. (Here it should be noted that European music videos can be much more raunchy and possibly even uncensored compared to those of the Western variety. You may expect your first few minutes at SPB to be spent gawking at the TV screen, mouth agape, looking upon the flashing images with wonder, awe, and maybe a bit of shock. The locals, however, are usually pretty indifferent to them.)
As mentioned before, SPB’s menu is like a Russian novel of menus. With so many options, however, you can’t expect everything will be top-notch. In addition, portion sizes here – and in many other restaurants around the city – are much smaller than most Westerners may be accustomed to. When ordering an appetizer of French fries, one may expect a basket stuffed to the top, but will actually receive a small plate with a smattering so small you can count the number of fries on the plate by just catching a glimpse of it in your peripheral vision. While your meal won’t be served with handfuls of fries, the ones you’ll get are still pretty tasty. Here, 99 rubles will get you a plate of fries with your choice of dipping sauce (tomato, mustard, cheese, horseradish, mayonnaise). Potato wedges called “Idaho potatoes” are also on the menu, and are 139 rubles. They’re a bit more hearty and numerous than their French counterparts, and come sprinkled with garlic and basil. Idaho potatoes can be served a la carte or as part of a meal, say, with pork and bacon shish kabob for 199 rubles.
Fried food dominates the appetizers section of the menu, and can be ordered separately or as part of a platter. 389 rubles will get you a platter of snacks to share with friends that includes waffle fries, calamari rings, fried bread and cheese, and three dipping sauces of your choice.
There’s also an extensive pizza menu. You can go standard and get pepperoni, or be a bit more adventurous with the salmon, anchovies, and mushroom. “The Mexican” comes with ground beef, green peppers, cheddar cheese and red onions, and the “Marinara” comes with shrimp, octopus, and mussels. Pizzas can range from 109 rubles to over 500, depending on the size.
And to drink? Pretty much anything you can think of is on the menu. Kvass, Lipton teas, juices, Pepsi products, mineral water, and coffee are all available, as are an assortment of light and dark beers, stouts, wines, and various hard liquors. Half a liter of the house lager is an agreeable 79 rubles. Desserts are, of course, also offered, though are limited to cheesecake, apple strudel, and ice cream, ranging from 100 to 180 rubles.
For groups and faculty-led tours, it’s probably also not the ideal place, given the loud overhead music. However, for a catch-up with friends over a beer and a salty snack, SPB is an easy-to-find spot with a lot of options to please a variety of appetites. And, as you can gather, save for a few Russian beer snacks, SPB is not the place to head to for national fare.
Tolstiy Friar (The Fat Friar) is a chain of Petersburg pubs. With six different locations and a very extensive menu, Tolstiy Friar is a great place for a group looking for an after-school snack or even a full meal in a decidedly pub atmosphere.
Walking into the restaurant is a bit like a step back in time, though to what period is not quite certain. The interior is reminiscent of an old-time pub, with dim lights, low ceilings, crude wooden tables, and benches in lieu of chairs. Beer and kvass is served in giant steins, smoked fish is on every table, and old Soviet posters hang on the walls, reminding customers to say “no” to alcohol. All of this of course is in contrast with the giant flat screen TVs hanging on the wall next to the old Soviet newspapers and the clientèle browsing the Internet with the Tolstiy Friar’s free wifi.
What’s unique about this particular chain in comparison with other competing pubs is that the menu is light on Western food. So, you won’t find mozzarella cheese sticks or loaded quesadillas here. What you will find, though, is an extensive menu of soups (cabbage, mushroom, borscht), salads (more combinations of beets, pickles, ham, peas, potatoes, mayonnaise, horseradish, and more than you could ever imagine), appetizers, and sandwiches, which is where the menu really shines. You’ll forget all about the quesadillas when you try the smoked mackerel, pork ears, and assorted beer snacks as mentioned above (first round is free!). You can also get an interesting assortment of boiled eggs and rye bread with butter.
And then there’s the sandwiches. Selecting just one was difficult, but they are cheap enough that sampling is definitely recommended. Ever wondered what a lard sandwich tastes like? A few rubles will afford you the chance to try a slightly toasted rye bread with a smear of salty lard on top. It may initially sound unappetizing, but studying abroad calls for trying new things and preserved fat (salo) is traditional Russian food. Other options are the salmon caviar sandwich, and sandwiches of smoked pork and pickled cucumbers, salted trout, and beef tongue with horseradish. All sandwiches are open faced, except for the “Soviet Hamburger” sandwich – a heartier sandwich that includes a beef cutlet, cheese, tomatoes, and mixed vegetables.
The Tolstiy Friar also has a few regular specials, when we were there, this included 20 percent off after 5 p.m. and a free half liter of beer with any meal totaling 500 rubles.
The atmosphere at the Tolstiy Friar is also very relaxed and informal. Don’t be surprised if other patrons come up to your table and start friendly conversations, usually out of curiosity about where you’re from. They might try to practice English with you (or even Italian), they might ask you about your favorite Russian authors and American pop stars, and they might even invite you to the opening night of their mom’s art show in town. You never know who you’ll meet at such an easy-going place.
ул. Белинского, 3
This wonderful English Pub is located right next door to the Georgian restaurant I previously reviewed, Lagdize. Months ago, when I first began my internship at the Theater Academy, I discovered Oliver Twist; my first experience there sealed my fate to become a regular. It was maybe a Thursday night, and the restaurant was packed full, probably because it’s quite small (only 8 tables!!). Thus, my fellow SRAS student Justin and I decided to sit at the bar. Here we had a great conversation with the barman, ate some excellent pasta, and enjoyed the unique atmosphere. I really cannot give enough praise to the overall aura of Oliver Twist. It has the true feel of an English pub – wooden booths and tables laden with English paraphernalia. The staff is absolutely fantastic; they are extremely friendly and were so patient and helpful with my Russian.
The one downfall to Oliver Twist are the prices, which make it perhaps difficult to include this restaurant as “Cheap Eats.” They offer five different pasta dishes that will definitely fill you up. There are a few fish entrees too. If you want a side dish, such as fresh veggies, mashed potatoes, or rice, you must order and pay for that separately, as is common in Russia.
However, the friendliness of the staff and the fact that there can never really be masses of customers inside means that a trip here can almost be considered a two-in-one package: a meal and a language lesson. I was quite surprised that this English-themed bar did not have a larger number of English-speaking clientele and staff. At Oliver Twist, as far as I know, only one waitress actually speaks any English and I’m not sure if it’s even any good, as we’ve only ever spoken Russian together. In my conversations with Oliver Twist employees, I learned a lot about salaries, especially in comparison to other occupations, and other cultural things regarding their own personal lives. These conversations helped me learn new vocabulary and practice talking about my day-to-day occurrences. I really came to know them well, as they did me, and I felt so comfortable stopping in just to say “hello.”
Assuming that you are gaining practice and local relationships, the prices, which are reasonable considering the size of the portions as well as the quality of the food and service, seem that much more affordable.
I’ve had various meals at Oliver Twist. They offer a great variety of entrees ranging from traditional Russian pelmeni and solyanka to more standard western fare such as club sandwiches (served with fries!) and pastas to more exotic meals like tiger shrimp and steak. The fried pelmeni are especially recommendable: super tasty and unique.
I’ve also had a few great pasta dishes here, including one the other night with salami. They even adhered to my request and added mushrooms. Most Russian restaurants refuse to change the items as listed on the menu but Oliver Twist’s kitchen is run by a chef from Nepal, which might help explain the added friendliness.
Most unique to Oliver Twist – a legitimate, authentic English Breakfast that includes two eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, tomatoes, toast & jam, and a drink of your choice. It’s a fantastic deal! Unfortunately, it’s only offered on Monday-Friday from 12-5pm, but not on the weekends. However, it is a great “business lunch.”
If you’re on a tight budget, come in and have some smoked salmon or a “beer plate” with meat and cheese, grab a refreshing pint of English beer or cider, and have a good chat with the bartenders. Tell them Rikki sends her greetings from America!