Rasputin restaurant review: 'We'll be Russian back'
PUBLISHED: 08:05 19 October 2019 | UPDATED: 09:51 22 October 2019
It's known as East Anglia's only Russian restaurant, but does Rasputin live up to the formidable reputation it has built up over the past decade? Stuart Anderson went to find out.
He was a wild-eyed peasant with a mystical ability to heal the Tzar's hemophiliac son and he took a famously long time to die when the assassins moved in.
What Grigori Rasputin would think about having a restaurant in the middle of Swaffham named after him a century after his stint at the Winter Palace is anyone's guess, but I can't imagine he'd be upset with the food.
Said to be East Anglia's only Russian eatery, Rasputin was opened by Estonian-bed Irina Spezeva in 2009 and 10 years later is still going strong.
After we were shown to a table with a commanding view of the town's Market Place I ordered the soup of the day (£5.25) - a signature Slavic dish, Borscht.
This was a beefy stew with cabbage and beetroot giving it a deep, red colour. The soup was very easy to lap up and it came with a few slices of black rye bread, smothered in cream cheese.
The bread was so yum I'd wished there were a couple more slices, but this was just a starter after all.
My wife, who was trying to stick as closely as possible to her new vegan diet, opted for the Blini (£5.25) as her first course. This was essentially wild mushrooms parcelled in thin pancakes which were fresh and juicy and really well done.
We didn't have to wait too long before our mains came out: a Pelmeny (£10) - Russian-style ravioli - for her and a lamb dish (£14) for me.
The meat was amazingly tender and although these was a fair heap of it I found myself savouring every slice. It was served in a thin, minty sauce with a hint of rosemary and a bed of broccoli florets and fried new potatoes.
There was also a trio oversized cherry tomatoes so bursting in flavour I thought I'd died and gone to Red Square.
I'm not sure if they were a special variety I'd never tried before or simply the way they were cooked, but they were out of this world.
The Pelmeny usually comes with mince pork filing, but she went for the vegetarian option of cheese and potatoes. Sharing the plate were the same broccoli and tomatoes I was served with (don't you love it when ingredients are versatile?) as well as a big dollop of cream cheese and a shower of parmesan.
I thought the ravioli was all right but my wife declared it "a bit bland", so perhaps a spice or two could be used to liven up the meatless version.
Already thoroughly satisfied our thoughts turned to pudding - there's about half-a-dozen choices on the menu, all for £4.95.
She's a sucker for meringue and went for the strawberry pavlova. This was two stacked nests buried in a vertical swirl of strawberries and whipped cream, towering over the table like an angry bride.
Although I didn't sample any I was reliably informed it passed muster.
I had the multi-layered Russian torte with alternating layers of cream and sponge, much like my all-time favourite cake, the Bavarian Prinzregententorte.
The Russian version was topped with chocolate, tasted of honey and was surprisingly light and fluffy.
This was one of those cakes that must be far harder to make than it is to eat, which is to say, not difficult at all.
It was only when paying I realised that Rasputin was cash only. This isn't a major inconvenience as there's an ATM two-minutes' walk away but seems a bit behind the times in this day and age.
My wife enjoyed what she'd ordered, but wasn't too impressed with the lack of vegan options, so maybe that's something they could explore in the future. I thought it was altogether excellent, and look forward to 'Russian' back very soon.
How does it measure up?
Rasputin's decor is homely and nostalgic - there are deep red walls, plush sofas and a perplexing antique world map on the ceiling.
Bevies of babushka dolls bunch comfortably around a model of the Kremlin on one table, while on another there's a cascade of much-deserved framed TripAdvisor accolades. Black-and-white snapshots in the staircase give glimpses of everyday life in Soviet Russia - family dinners around the table, youngsters sledding in the snow, old soldiers relaxing in the grass. The images are at once understated and full of warmth and character, reflecting the venue as a whole.
There's a short but punchy wine list which sticks to the regional theme with drops from Hungary, Moldova, Bulgaria and Georgia. You can also choose from a selection of vodkas and Russian beers, but since I was driving, I went for a glass of Kvass for £1.50. Described as Russia's 'summertime drink of choice', this is a fizzy, dark brown beverage made of rye bread leaven.
It's very malty and not sweet at all, a kind of hardcore palate cleanser between courses.
You can also finish with a pot of Russian caravan tea for £3.50.
Impeccable. The staff were prompt and polite and made sure we had everything we needed.
There's one flight of stairs and then it's all on the same level.
Elaborately decorated with still life paintings which jut out of their frames, which are worth a look.
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There's plenty of free places to park in and around the Market Square - we were there on a Saturday evening and had no problems at all finding a spot, although I imagine it's a different story at busy times of the week.
Our total bill came to £50.15 for two three-course meals and two drinks. For the high quality of the food, that's excellent value for money, but if you want to make your roubles stretch even further they've also got a wine-and-dine deal where you get a large drink and a main for £10.
Broadly speaking, starters and puddings are around £5 a piece, mains are £8-£14.
From an altogether excellent meal, the Russian torte was the stand-out. It was both light and reassuringly dense, and the combination of honey, cream and chocolate was the definition of moreish. I just wish I knew how to make it, or at least, knew of a place I could buy it on a more regular basis.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, Rasputin is fine fare wrapped in great service inside cosy surroundings.
*Our food reviews are always independent. They are the opinion of the reviewer based on their experience of the venue when they visited. The establishment is not aware of our visit,
is not informed we intend to write a review and bills are paid by the reviewer. The choice of places reviewed is also independent and is not based on venues which do or do not advertise in our publications