“ 65 Ifield Road / London, SW10 / Tel: (020) 7352 6326. „
As some of you may know it was my birthday last week, and with all birthday's come the family meal. This year, we wanted to go somewhere a bit different, so we started scouring tinternet for ideas. We came up with quite a few, Beach Blanket Babylon, The Zetter, Aquasia and various other restaurants of the same calibre.
In the end we went for a curve ball, searching on Toptable.com I came across Nikita's, a Russian place, it claimed that there was live music, that it could get rather rowdy at times and that it had a huge selection of vodkas. I had a quick look at their website and decided that this was the place for me, the pictures & virtual tour on Toptable looked good, it looked really rich and opulent, a lot of reds and golds, very Russian looking, also, I had never had Russian food before and apparently, they had done the catering for Elton John's White Tie & Tiara party. If it's good enough for Elton John then it's good enough for Tazzy!
Nikita's closest tube station is Earls Court. Looking at the map it looks fairly close, it is on Ilfield Road, about half way down the east side of the cemetery, so we decided to walk.
I would not suggest walking, it is a good 20 min walk, walking at a decent pace. I think it took us about half to three quarters of an hour. I would suggest going to Earls Court and then catching a cab to the restaurant, this would probably only set you back about 4 squids.
If you do decide to walk, head down Old Brompton Road, turn right into Finborough Road, which forks off onto Ilfield road, the restaurant is about a five min walk from the top of Ilfield Road, if you see a pub called The Ilfield, you have gone too far.
Alternatively you could drive, there is parking at the top of Ilfield road, which is metered or free after about 8 o'clock.
The restaurant looks really strange from the outside, Ilfield road is a really residential street and then all of a sudden is a very bright red, very Russian looking building. Anyway, getting into the building is a bit strange, you can't see very much through the window, and there is a massive wooden door, it looks really heavy and solid, to gain entry you have to press the buzzer and wait for someone to let you in, that someone is the proprietor, Anthony Zager Panic - which I think is a nice personal touch.
Upon entering it is quite wooden looking and you enter into the bar area, we arrived at 7:30 and there didn't seem to be anyone in the bar (other than the staff of course). There's not too much to tell about the bar area, and we are ushered downstairs to our seats. At the bottom of the stairs turn right for the main restaurant and turn left for the private rooms. The restaurant itself is really small, and I think it only seats about 40 people, but at the back of the restaurant is a big private room, nobody was using it, so the doors were left open - it did look nice (there is a link at the bottom of this review so you can take a virtual tour). The decor is quirky, there are a lot of deep, rich reds, pinks and golds. The lighting is dim and it does feel really cosy on a cold winters evening.
We arrived at 7:30 on a Friday night and the restaurant was really empty, this was a little disappointing, there was a couple in the corner, and a table of four, later a table of 8 arrived, it appeared to be another birthday party, but they opted to go to a private room when all their guests had arrived.
Apparently there are a total of 5 private rooms, I do have a feeling that they count the main restaurant area as a private room. Rooms are available for parties as small as two, up to parties as large as 15. They claim that you can have a party for up to 70 people, but I am not too sure how well this would work, I think it may feel a bit disjointed as all guests would be split across a variety of rooms. On the upside, there is no fee involved when booking a private room, I am not entirely sure why we didn't go for one, there are lovely curtains to draw for privacy and a bell to summon service.
Oh this is amazing! Apparently is traditional Russian balalaika music, since I have never heard Russian balalaika music before I could not tell you if it is any good, or whether it is actually balalaika music or not, but that's beside the point, basically it was a little dude sitting on a stool, singing and strumming his little heart out - awww bless. According to the website it is played by Bibs Ekkel and he is apparently "widely considered as one of the top masters of the balalaika" outside Russia. In the nicest possible way, either not many people play balalaika or it is really, really difficult to master!
All joking aside, it was nice to have a bit of live music and it did provide us with about an hours worth of entertainment whilst we were trying to decide what he was singing, for all we knew he could be singing profanities at us!
The food is reasonable in price and we were all unsure of what to expect, one reason that I chose this restaurant is that it had a good selection of food for veggies (my sister), and as she eats fish, there was an better than average selection of things she could have.
There are set menus which are all very reasonable, and they range from £22.50 to £36.50 for a three course meal & coffee. Which I think is very reasonable, as all the dishes available on the set menu are also available on the A La Carte menu.
Before moving onto the A La Carte menu, I feel I should mention the caviar menu, well it is Russian after all, there are three types of caviar available, prices start at £14.50 for salmon caviar (that orange stuff)
Onto the good stuff....
Every dish on the menu seems to be very Russian, or at least Russian looking, prices start from £3.50 for Blinis, served with sour cream, chopped onions and egg. In total there were 5 of us, and we opted for 3 portions of Pirozhki - 6 little parcels of pastry on a plate, 3 with a spicy lamb filling & 3 with cream cheese, blue stilton & spinach. These were very tasty, they are served warm and to be honest one portion is enough for two to share. The cheesy ones were very tasty there was a very mild taste of blue cheese, the lamb ones tasted almost like the meat in a pasty....mmmm very tasty!
My sister went for a spicy fish soup, I can't remember what it was called, or find the name on the menu, but it was very tasty, apparently peasant food, lots of little prawns and a good amount of fish, my mums partner went for the traditional Borsch (traditional beetroot soup) - this is definitely an acquired taste, but then again, so are beetroots!
Onto the next course....Snarf has finally learnt to share, only because now, we always order two main courses and then swap half way through, we went for Salmon Koulebiaka, £13.50 (as did my mum, her partner and my sister) & Steak Tartar Imperial, £14.95 - which Nikita is famed for (apparently).
The salmon is apparently a classic and it is a really decent sized piece of salmon fillet with some rice, egg, mushroom and dill rice round the outside and then puff pastry, it's rather like a beef wellington, but er...not, because it has no beef and a stuffing round the edge. It does remind me also of a Persian dish, that is lamb. The salmon comes with a rather rich and creamy sauce, I am not really sure what it is, but it goes wonderfully with the salmon - I was very happy with this dish.
Now onto my favourite, steak tartar, the description says it is served with a dash of pepper, vodka and a spoonful of caviar, oh and served with a raw egg.....we decided to go the whole hog. When ordering the waitress enquired how we would like it, spicy, medium or mild, we went for medium, but I would suggest that you go for mild, it was very peppery (not in an unpleasant way though) and went right up my nose and it did make my eyes water a bit! There was a massive "patty" and is definitely enough for two as a main meal, it comes served with toast and is highly enjoyable - I would definitely order again, but request mild!
None of the main meals come with side orders, so do bear this in mind if you want some veggies or potato (based product) you need to remember to order this separately.
There were plenty of "pudniks" to choose from, I really didn't want a dessert, but wanted to move swiftly on to the vodkas, but my momma insisted that I choose something, little did I know she wanted to stick sparklers and a singing candle in them (why she couldn't have stuck it in my vodka shot I will never know but hey!), in the end I went for a Vishni Creme, which is kind of like a crème brulee with black cherries and cherry vodka - hmmm it was really tasty & creamy and much better than your average crème brulee, ordinarily I stay well clear of black cherries, it could have been the excess I consumed when forest gateaux was still fashionable, but the cherries were not overpowering at all, and any I did found where just pushed over to snaf!
As this is a Russian restaurant and as many of you will know I am a big fan of food, but an even bigger fan of DRRRRR-INK, so presented with a large vodka menu I simply had to try a couple of their fine vodkas on offer. In Russia, vodka is to be drunk neat and chilled (about -10 is good) so in Nikitas, you can buy a carafe (250ml prices begin at £22) of vodka which will come served on a slab of ice, Russian's don't believe in putting ice in their vodka - which I don't either, why water the stuff down? Now this may seem like quite a lot of vodka, but considering it is drunk through the meal (instead of wine) it is all good, and considering you only sip the vodka it's not like you are going to get hammered! We in the end opted to go for wine and have shots at the end of our meal, but if Snarf and I returned, we would definitely go for the carafe.
In the end I decided to go for a shot of Gold Wasser, a vodka with 18 carat gold flakes floating in it, after developing a taste for it at Christmas. It is very thick and syrup like, it tastes a bit like how sambuca and jagermeister might taste if mixed together....neck it, anyway, that went down well, now for another....
My second choice, to accompany my pudnik was Krupnik, a honey vodka, served warm. This is to die for, when it arrives, you give it a sniff, and I am sure that it would strip the paint off walls if left in a room, I can't seem to smell any honey or sweetness, but then taking a careful sip it is lovely, the warmth helps it go down well, and then it is really sweet and like drinking warm, fresh, honey....This is definitely one to keep an eye out for, and stored and filed away in Tazzy's favourite drinks section. Krupnik is definitely not the sort of shot you down, but sip slowly and really enjoy, like a really nice sherry or port.
All vodka shots are 40ml and prices start at £3.50.
Even though the restaurant was very quite, I think this was because it was January 05th and everyone was partied out, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the food is not something to die for, but it is something different and very reasonable for what you get and is really enjoyable. The venue itself is a definite party or romantic date venue, especially with the added bonus of having free room hire, and curtains to draw for privacy - can you imagine the shenanigans that have gone on in here! Apparently Nikita have played host to many famous faces, Kate Moss, The Beatles, Richard Gere, the late Princess Margaret, anyway the list goes on & on.
I will definitely be organising a party here in the near future, when the vodka will be free flowing, for your money you get an extremely enjoyable night out and good food to match. The set menus make this place really affordable if you are hosting the party. For five people, two ate two courses & three had three, coffee, 3 shots of vodka, 3 bottles of wine & 2 bottles of tap water & a 12.5% service charge the bill came in at just a shade under £200 which I thought was extremely good value!
Also I love the way that Russians love to drink Vodka and have a toast for everything, including a new purchase ("ombyt" to literally wash the new purchase), also the rule that it is rude to not support a toast and refusing to drink as much as the rest of the company....who wants to go to Nikita's with Tazzy? Anyone?
*For anyone that is interested the translation of my title (which is a toast) means "Hopefully it's not the last time we drink, with God's help" - thought that was quite fitting for me!
Thanks for reading, sorry it's a bit long, think I have too much time on my hands here at work! x
*first published on ciao 18.01.07