“Grown-up people do not know that a child can give exceedingly good advice even in the most difficult case.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot
A year or two ago I was in St Petersburg for an industry exhibition. I searched the guidebook for an interesting, non-business restaurant not too far from my hotel. We were with an vegetarian colleague so there needed to be a good selection for him to choose from too. I came up with The Idiot – after the eponymous book by Dostoyevsky part of which I understood had been written on the premises. It’s a wonderfully eccentric place, stuffed with bric-a-brac and dusty-looking oil painting, and with backgammon, checker and chess sets provided, all to a background of jazz. And as they say endearingly on their website, “we are happy to provide you quality service and english-speaking stuff.”
Eating at The Idiot includes a complimentary shot of vodka, but if you were feeling a bit more adventurous you could set yourself up for these mushrooms with their Crime and Punishment cocktail – as they describe it – “Crime (ours) and Punishment (for you) – Vodka, Martini, Cognac, Champagne”
These mushrooms go well with a sausage cake to become a full-blown lunch.
Also, as a lunch, they are sublime on sourdough toast, served with a salad dressed with fresh lemon juice and a walnut oil dressing – the quantities below would serve two. Make the accompanying salad out of a couple of baby gem, with the dressing being the juice and zest of half a small lemon, 4 tbsp of walnut oil, smoked salt and some generous grinds of Indonesian long pepper.
This dish does not freeze well.
Recipe for Russian Mushrooms in Cream
For four as an accompaniment – or you can make in four individual oven-proof ramekins and serve as a starter
- 600g/1 lb 4 oz Portabella mushrooms
- 1 leek (this is optional)
- 120ml/½ cup double cream
- 55g/2 oz/¼ cup grated cheddar
- Smoked salt, Indonesian long pepper
- A few grinds of nutmeg (if you are having trouble with your nutmeg grater go here to find a good one)
- Walnut of butter for frying
- Preheat the oven to 210°C (use the top right aga oven)
- Take off the tough outer leaves of the leek and slice about half of the white section very finely – throw away the rest or use it for stock
- Put a knob of butter into a frying pan and begin frying the leeks gently
- Peel and roughly slice the mushrooms
- Fry the mushrooms
- Take out the mixture and arrange artistically in a shallow dish – a quiche dish is ideal
- Season generously
- Mix most of the cream, grated cheese and nutmeg together and pour over the mushrooms – if it looks moist enough don’t add more cream but otherwise add the rest. Sometimes the mushrooms produce a lot of liquid of their own – you need to take that into account.
- Put in the oven for about a quarter of an hour – don’t let it burn so, especially if you have an aga, keep a watch on it.
This post is dedicated to Jonathan Parr, with apologies for booking him into a cupboard complete with red light on the ground floor of a St Petersburg hotel