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Moscow’s Ukrainian restaurant… complete with resident cow!

If you’re looking for a dinner with a difference, head to Shinok Restaurant (Ресторан Шинок) on Moscow’s Year 1905 Street. This Ukrainian restaurant first opened its doors in 1997 and, despite its modest red brick appearance, is one of the most iconic places to dine in the Russian capital. On entering, you make your way upstairs and are greeted by traditionally dressed waitresses – complete with flower garlands in their hair. In traditional Ukrainian culture, this wreath – or vinok – is worn by girls and young, unmarried women. All the staff were very friendly and welcoming and, even if your Russian is not that great, they are more than able to help you. Meanwhile, the décor of the restaurant is rustic and homely, yet somehow exudes a contemporary feel at the same time. But this is where things start to get… well, a little bit different. Pan around the restaurant and you find a miniature farm within, complete with resident cow, and all that separates diners from the farm is a glass screen. Yes, you read that right – click on the video below to get a better idea. It comes as quite a surprise given you’ve come up a floor from ground level.
YouTube video
Apparently the idea behind it all is that it’s a mirror of a Ukrainian peasant farm. It’s home to not only a cow, but also a goat, peacock, chicken and various other bird life hiding among the trees. And there’s a lady (or peasant herder) on hand to care for them all. In short, the restaurant is a re-creation of what it might be like to dine like a Ukrainian peasant. The peacock was even kind enough to put on a fantastic display for us, fanning out all of its feathers, at the time of our visit. Apologies for the rather yellow glow to the video shot from my iPhone. Despite the peacock’s best efforts, the peahen didn’t seem wildly impressed, even pecking its suitor at one point (at 38 seconds in the video).
YouTube video
Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that the food is secondary to this unusual spectacle but this couldn’t be further from the truth since this is where the true highlight of visiting Shinok lies. Borsch, of course, is the restaurant’s signature dish. Often thought of as a Russian dish, borsch actually has its origins in Ukraine. Legend has it that it was first cooked by the Cossacks in 1637 during a two-month siege of the Azov fortress (occupied at the time by the Turks) in Southern Russia, before becoming a staple dish in every Ukrainian household. If you try borsch anywhere during your time in Moscow, be sure to try it here – beautiful rich, yet sour and tasty at the same time. Thereafter, the dishes kept coming and what a treat it all was! We were also given nalyvka to drink, with an option of a horseradish or blackcurrant variety. I didn’t quite know what to expect so opted for blackcurrant. It was quite sweet (unsurprisingly) but, in terms of its alcohol content, not as strong as something like a vodka. Among them was Russian salad, freshly smoked meat and potato, baked sea bass with onion and potato, and beef stroganoff with mashed potato. The Russian salad is by far the signature dish of all the ex-Soviet countries’ cuisine. At Shinok they use homemade pickled cucumbers, potatoes baked with onion, homemade mayo and sour cream. They also use quail eggs, baked chicken and beef tongue to produce a Russian salad like no other! The sea bass was baked in homemade sour cream with potatoes and onions and served with potato bread. It is traditional in Slavic cuisine to cook this in cast iron as it significantly transforms the taste and aroma of the dish due to the special process of languor. Among the dishes there was also an assortment of lard, or ‘salo’ as it is known in Ukraine: lard stewed in honey, salted lard, smoked lard, minced lard and so on. It’s been eaten in Ukraine since the 16th century. Traditionally eaten with black bread, it’s not to everyone’s taste but considered quite a delicacy in Ukraine. UIt was the only dish that, for me, left me still needing to be convinced! The pigs’ ears that are also on the menu will have to wait for another visit. I’m told they are an acquired taste also. The finale to the evening was when the samovar was brought to the table for herbal tea, and the goat made a brief appearance so that it could be petted. In summary, Shinok is more than just a restaurant but an experience in its own right. Not only is the authentic Ukrainian food at Shinok very good, but this is also a fun and unique atmosphere in which to dine with family or friends. Disclosure: My trip was sponsored by Moscow Seasons – a series of festivals held throughout the year in Moscow, with the support of the Government of Moscow.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. That is something else Paul. I have never seen a replica of a farm inside of a restaurant. I did however enjoy a most stunning peacock a few months back in Thailand. For some reason it was strutting through the mountains. Came out of nowhere. What plumage!

    1. It was a new one on me also! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a peacock in the wild – that must have come as quite a surprise, Ryan! :-)

  2. This post is just for foodies, who love to eat this type of great dishes. Thanks for sharing this post, upon my visit to Moscow I will definitely make a visit to this restaurant.

    1. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the food. I didn’t go with high expectations (I’ve seen how much mayonnaise goes into a Russian salad!) but I was nevertheless quite impressed.

  3. I must admit I have never experienced Russian food and it looks and sounds delicious. I love the history too that comes across in the restaurant even down to the waitresses head dresses. The sea bass dish sounds lovely and the peacock display was fantastic. The delivery of the herbal tea looks so grand and a great way to round off the night. This seems like a great place to visit and I love that it sounds so welcoming.

    1. This is actually a Ukrainian restaurant in Russia, Hilary; although I’m pretty sure there are lots of similarities between Ukrainian and Russian cuisine, I understand there are lots of cultural and culinary differences, too. It was certainly very welcoming and an experience to remember, and not only for the food.

  4. I’m guessing that the cow isn’t just there for decoration. Does she have to work for her keep? Maybe contributing a few litres of milk a day?

    The tragedy is that in many countries “Elf and Safety” legislation would stop this from happening. Long may the cow continue to be there.

    1. Hi Kev – I’m not 100% sure but I have a feeling that the cow was too young to be milked. I think it was there largely for decoration, and – along with the other animals – an attraction in itself, albeit quite an unorthodox one for a restaurant!

  5. I love a restaurant with character and this restaurant has got it in bucketloads. We’re all getting tired of cloned corporate soulless places where the staff are trained down to the last nano-second as to when to smile before they serve up bland food. Bring it on we need more cows, more real places like this!

  6. How refreshing it is to see a restaurant with real character and a big personality. Too often I end up sat in a characterless plastic rectangle that’s just part of a chain and you could be anywhere in the world from Anchorage to Zanzibar. If I make it to Moscow this restaurant will be number one on my list of places to eat.

  7. What an amazingly authentic place. Surely it’s got to be a must visit for every visitor to Moscow. It’s definitely on my list when I get there.

    1. Thank you, Andy… I’m sure there are many other places that would take priority for first-time visitors to Moscow but, for a unique dining experience in the city, I would imagine it has to be up there!

  8. Here in tick-box crazy Britain the cow would have to do Induction Training and have a 6 month appraisal to agree on career goals.

    1. I bet that cow doesn’t even belong to a union and do you think it has an age at which it has to retire?

    2. I think it was just a heifer so would imagine it only spends a short time at the restaurant in its early years before being a replacement is found.

  9. Is it really a resident cow? Is it always the same cow? Or does it get a break to get back to the countryside?

    1. I don’t know for sure but I got the impression it was resident at least for a short period. I guess with time they’ll replace it with another rather than have its entire life there and, even for the cow that is ‘resident’, I am guessing they have somewhere at the back where they can let it out for some fresh air. I hope so, at least!

  10. It is brilliant to see a restaurant with character doing it’s best to keep regional cuisine alive and thriving. The Russian salad sounds really authentic. Too often restaurants just follow the latest crazes and fads. I think that’s one of the reasons why so many restaurants fail in Britain, they don’t carve out their own distinctive niche in the market which would develop a loyal following.

    1. Yes… as far as Russian salad goes, I think this is pretty authentic. I can’t admit to being a big fan, though – a bit heavy on the mayo for me!

      Did you know… the average Russian eats 2.5kg of mayonnaise a year??!!

  11. It’s interesting that you say the dishes kept coming. Too often when I go out with my friends to a restaurant that’s a bit different I find that they are still in a constrained starter mains pud way of thinking. Then they eat too much of the early courses and are stuffed by the time the later courses arrive.

    1. This was a dinner for a large group to showcase the cuisine from the restaurant. I think you could eat like this or order in a more convention starter/main kind of way. But yes… I quite enjoy eating like this… the Greeks do it really well with meze!

  12. This place looks full of character, quite left-field. Next time I’m in Moscow I must visit. Many thanks for the tip.

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